Two stories I share with my nephews, to help them take risks and follow their curiosity

Stepan Parunashvili
Stepan ParunashviliOct 7th, 2019

Story 1: The Dice

I ask them:

Imagine there’s a game of dice. If you roll any number but 5, you give me one dollar. But, if you roll a 5, I’ll give you 600 dollars.

Would you play the game?

They invariably say yes.

(Some say, “depends on how much money I have”, which case I pat them on back, as they discovered expected utility. I then tell them though they have a hundred bucks at hand, and they say yes again : ))

Now I tell them:

Imagine someone walked by you and saw you play the game.

Most of the time, other people will see you lose. They’ll think you’re dumb.

Here they get heated, and say — heck, that person doesn’t know how big I’ll win! I agree, and then ask them:

Imagine now, it’a a 60-sided die. You still lose a dollar each time, but if you get a 5, you win 6 million.

They get excited by the millions, and say they’ll take it. Yet, I remind them, now if someone sees you, they’ll almost always think you’re dumb.

And from there, we get to the lesson:

It’s important to try for things, even if you have a small chance of winning. So…apply for that scholarship, try out for that team. Yes, maybe you’ll lose, and heck, you’re likely to lose, but that’s the whole point.


Story 2: The track captain and the climate change speaker

Note: I discovered this story as a kid myself from one of Cal Newport’s blog posts. I can’t find it, so will reproduce here. Highly suggest checking out his blog!

I start with:

Imagine two stories:

A. One person is the captain of their high school track and field team.

B. One person gave a speech on climate change at the United Nations.

Who is more impressive?

They invariably say B: climate change.

(If I tell this to Eastern European parents, they say A. track captain, because they think the UN person got in through insider connections. I tell them to ignore this though, and imagine it was earned :P)

I then ask: why?

After some minutes, I explain:

With track captain: you can _imagine_ how they did it.

If someone wakes up every day at 6am and works very very hard, they can become the track captain.

But with climate change it’s hard to imagine — how the heck did they get there?

From there comes the remarkable lesson about remarkable things: Remarkable things can’t be planned. If you can plan something into the future, surely it’s easy to imagine how it can be done looking backwards.

So…then, how do you do remarkable things?

The only path is to follow your curiosity. If you follow what you’re interested in, no matter how wacky it looks, you’ll look back after some time and say “huh”, how did that happen.

I then give them an example of how it could have happened for the climate change person: maybe they were into it, they started a blog, they got a group together, they wrote something that got shared, and boom, they made it to the U.N. That would have been impossible to plan.

This means follow your curiosity. Don’t get caught up by the urge to be #1 in some list at your school. Instead, talk with your like-minded friends, play, and see the world unfold around you