Aligning personal interests with adding value

A reflection on helping others while doing what you love

I often sit and think about what I should work on next.

If time, money and purpose weren’t a factor, I would probably just follow my whim. But they are very real, so I need to be strategic.

It is important to me to be (1) doing something that contributes positively to the world in a tangible way and (2) for that to have the potential for scalability.

However, these are both slightly vague, blue-sky ideas, and this week I realised they can essentially be boiled down to the following:

Align your personal interests with something that adds value to others.

As a superficial example: I may love machine learning in medicine and obscure Japanese anime in equal measure, but I believe that devoting time to the former is more likely to add value to the world (although I could be wrong).

The issue is, the process of figuring this out (on a more nuanced level than AI vs anime) can be hard. I’m still trying to figure it out.

🤠Obvious to you – amazing to others

Firstly, it can be really tricky to identify what we have to share that is valuable to others.

Derek Sivers wrote:

You think, “I never would have thought of that. How do they even come up with that? It’s genius!”

Afterwards, you think, “My ideas are so obvious. I’ll never be as inventive as that.”

I get this feeling often. Amazing books, music, movies, or even amazing conversations. I’m in awe at how the creator thinks like that. I’m humbled.

But I continue to do my work. I tell my little tales. I share my point of view. Nothing spectacular. Just my ordinary thoughts.

One day someone emailed me and said, “I never would have thought of that. How did you even come up with that? It’s genius!”

Of course I disagreed and explained why it was nothing special.

But afterwards, I realized something surprisingly profound:

Everybody’s ideas seem obvious to them.

My friend Ali Abdaal has also written about this.

This is one of the reasons I think it can be valuable to do your thinking in public, and is a motivation behind this newsletter, my YouTube channel, etc.

🙋‍♂️Learning from your audience

Seeing what your audience responds to can be a reasonable proxy for what is valuable.

Working in public, therefore, can be a great source of feedback. If you share something online, people vote with their eyeballs.

Following this rationale, if you make something and it’s popular then you should make more of it. Some conventional wisdom in the ‘content creation’ space is to first find your niche and then double-down on making more on that type of content.

However, finding your niche (that both interests you and is valuable to others) can be challenging.

I started my YouTube channel properly around early Feb this year. In the nearly four months so far, it’s grown what I would consider quite slowly; from around 10 to 270 people. It’s hard to know if this is because my content isn’t good / hasn’t resonated with people, or I just haven’t been making content for long enough.

The conventional wisdom is “if you make it, they will come”, but it’s up to you as a creator to figure out what it is. That’s the hard part.

This week’s links:

(1) A blog post

I’ve been thinking about whether or not to bite the bullet and start my own company (and when). I really enjoyed this blog post on an approach to take to decide whether your idea is worth pursuing.

(2) A way to learn languages

A friend tipped me off about the ‘Language Transfer’ series for learning a new language. I started learning Spanish this week (my partner is from Latin America), and have been working through the tracks on YouTube (which are freely available). The idea is that rather than learning a language in the conventional way, you learn by knowing how to transfer your existing knowledge of English into Spanish, which seems to be more effective and enjoyable. I’m loving it.

(3) A video: “I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything in life”

The title of this video is something I have often felt, and I really enjoyed the video creator’s fresh take.

This week’s video:

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About Me

Hi! I’m Chris Lovejoy, a Junior Doctor and Data Scientist based in London.

I’m on a mission to improve healthcare through technology (particularly AI / machine learning), but along the way I want to share learnings that are relevant no matter your career choice or background.

In this weekly newsletter, I share my top thoughts and learnings from each week, as well as links to the best things on the internet that I come across.