Right now I’d usually be sweating bullets.
As I look out into a full auditorium, at least 100 people stare back at me.
I’m extremely introverted. And this certainly isn’t my comfort zone. Nothing scares me more than the heat of hundreds of eyes.
My professor had assigned us with the task of explaining economic ideas to the rest of the class. My group and I decided that we’d kick it off with something killer, something absolutely enthralling like the foreign exchange market and international capital flows.
Here goes nothing
My group is obviously far less interested in my topic than I am, which gives me some pause about how we’re going to deliver this thing.
I’ve a PowerPoint on the screen above me, and it’s definitely representative of how I’d explain something—all colloquial language. Something I made after a few too many drinks, one side is named “Oh Snap, the US is broke.” My mind starts to race about how overconfident I was putting the presentation together, and how lacking in confidence I am now. I blame my 12 year old friend Elijah Craig.
But it’s my turn to start talking. And talk I do.
For the first time in my life, I’m completely owning a presentation. I cover it all, explain the history of abstract concepts like dollarization, foreign exchange mechanics, and how the US Dollar became the world’s reserve currency.
I’m walking around like the best dressed man in the world giving a presentation on the most interesting topic in the world. Rockin’ 501s like a $10,000 business suit. It’s game time.
I naturally look to make eye contact with everyone. Not because I know it’s some “must-do” thing to deliver a good presentation, but because I want to connect with everyone in that auditorium. I want to genuinely interest people in what is, to me, one of the most fascinating subjects in the world.
I explain charts I’ve pulled off MetaTrader 4, my home away from home when I have nothing better to do but study the relationship between international currencies.
And I deliver what might have been the best presentation of my life. Following a perfect delivery, my professor, who knows that I am very interested in the topic, decides to give me what might have been the toughest grilling of any group that day.
And I absolutely nail every single question thrown at me, explaining the real cost of interest, and how, if the dollar loses its reserve status, higher interest rates affect everyone. How reserve currencies limit hedging costs, creating a competitive advantage.
How central banks affect currency prices with price floors and ceilings. Why economic institutions play a role in global finance. How structural rigidity exists and where it exists in the marketplace.
I’m fairly convinced that before his questions he thought I had absolutely no understanding of modern finance—this class isn’t exactly a 500-level course. But after his questions, I’ve removed all doubt. This is something I know inside and out.
The very next day
One day later I’m giving another presentation to my business communications class. No longer am I in the safety of my hobbyist interests. I’m going to be graded not on my knowledge, but on my ability to deliver it.
And this presents a problem. This class is tiny, a fraction of the size of my economics class. There are fewer than a dozen eyeballs on me as I walk up to give my presentation. It should be a cakewalk.
I pick a topic I am interested in. This topic also revolves around economic and business interests. But, because being able to “know your audience” is a critical part of my grade, exploring abstract concepts is hardly important.
I go up to give my presentation and absolutely blow it. My voice shakes. I’m trembling. I have absolutely zero interest in the direction that I’ve taken this presentation. It’s just not me.
It’s not what I love. The presentation is so topical that I could have given it based on a synopsis of a Wikipedia page. There is nothing unique about it, which makes it perfect for the purposes of getting a grade in this class, but awful as far as keeping my interest.
One day after giving the best presentation of my life, I’m giving the worst presentation of my life. I feel like a complete idiot. Just yesterday I was on cloud nine. Just yesterday it felt as though I could walk on thin air. Yesterday my favorite shoes, my beloved Onitsuka Tigers, didn’t even touch the ground as walked around the stage to deliver the presentation of my life.
And now I can’t even deliver one sentence without visibly shaking. This sucks.
Finding Love in the Shower
Paul Graham is probably one of the most important people in Silicon Valley. One of his best quotes is this:
“I’d say it’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.”
I love the foreign exchange markets. I love finance; I love abstract concepts.
I think about these things in the shower.
I would spend hours in the shower thinking about these things if I could. I spend hours each month, in the shower, thinking about Bretton Woods, discounted cash flow analyses for my favorite companies, or thinking about how a company or industry earns a competitive advantage. I love every minute of it.
But I don’t love remembering information for the sole purpose of repeating it. The irony of performance in anything requires that one has the freedom to do what they wish. Had I diverged to a new topic to the second classroom, my presentation skills would have been 100x what they were.
Finding Love in the Shower
I learned a lot from both of my presentations, not in terms of actually thinking about the issues at hand, but realizing what it is that I truly love in life. Sadly, those things are finance, economics, bourbon, and Dots candy.
I’m okay with that. Because, as I see it, you can’t love anything until you think about it in the shower. You’ll (I’ll) never do a good job on anything if you (I) haven’t once thought about it naked.
What do you genuinely love?
Do you think about it in the shower?
Photo by: Barkbud