Astronauts vs YouTubers : Optimizing Leverage and moving the world
"Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world" - Archimedes
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
There was a time when an entire generation of children answered this question with two words- “An Astronaut”
Nowadays, that has been replaced by a different word- “YouTuber.”
There’s nothing wrong with that. Being a successful YouTuber is not easy by any means, and that is a fact that many are made painfully aware of when they begin their YouTube career. It can take years before any of your videos take off, and even then, once one does, there’s no guarantee that the audience will stick around for the rest of your videos.
Earning a viable income, which is a viable metric of YouTube success, takes a long time as well. One must have over 1000 subscribers and over 4000 hours of combined watch time to be monetized. Based on these two metrics alone, only 0.25% of YouTubers are making money, and even then, 45% of your earning will go to YouTube.
Many YouTubers go around this by having affiliate links and sponsored ads on their videos leading to products of different brands, or by using sites like Patreon.
Even then, despite all these different ways, the percentage of YouTubers actually making any money is shockingly low. That is not surprising, as where there’s competition and the barrier of entry is low, there’s bound to be unfiltered competition.
There are 51 million channels on YouTube right now. 25 million of them have less than 100 subscribers, while around 17 million channels have less than 1000, but over 100 subscribers.
But, while it’s difficult to make any money on the platform, all you need is a decent camera (or sometimes, not even that if you don’t want to show your face), a decent microphone and a computer with a decent internet connection.
Compare that to what you need to be an astronaut-
At least a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in a STEM field
More preference is given to doctoral candidates, i.e., those who are two years into their PHD
Even after these six years of post-secondary schooling, they have to do two years of training to be qualified. Even then, 1% of candidates are chosen, but at this point, it’s not like the STEM field grads are starving if their application is rejected.
Why then, do kids of US, think being a YouTuber is the best career choice?
For the same reason that we think that doing anything is easy until we do it. Being an actor is easy until we sign up for the auditions and never hear back. Being a writer is easy until we sit down and try to write a book and keep on hitting “writing blocks.”
What has changed is the barrier of entry in these fields. Anyone can hit upload on YouTube from a decent computer regardless of the quality of their content. Anyone can spend 30 seconds lip syncing to the latest pop hit and upload that to TikTok.
But just because anyone can do it, that means that those who do it well are increasingly valued over those that don’t.
All of it boils down to one of the most interesting concepts of humanity, known as “Leverage.”
In this essay, which is a big one at that, I’ll explore what Leverage is, the kinds of it that broadly have an effect on our lives and how to use them. Oh, and if you’re a YouTuber, I’ll also have some advice for you at the end of this.
Let’s get started.
Leverage is how you can maximize your upside, while making sure that downsides are limited.
You do it through capital by investing in equity, crypto or hard assets, where if their price falls, you only lose what you invested, but if they go up- your upside is unlimited. Some even go further to borrow capital to do this, which sounds good on paper, but is increasingly harder to execute well.
But capital isn’t the only kind of leverage. There are many, and once you understand what they are- the world will make a lot more sense and you can position yourself correctly to take advantage of everything at your disposal.
There are 5 different kinds of leverage-
1. Inherited / Marital Leverage - This is the hardest kind of leverage to acquire and refers to the leverage you have if you are born with or married to someone with a prominent title.
2. Capital Leverage - This is when your money works for you. VCs, angel investors, hedge funds, high net worth individuals, hold this kind of leverage and usually get to multiply their wealth if they play with it intelligently.
3. Personal Leverage - This refers to the leverage that you uniquely have over the world because of your unique personal knowledge, skills and experience.
4. Time Leverage - This refers to the time you have left and how you leverage it.
5. Permissionless Leverage - This refers to the things that you don’t need permission for.
Because Inherited/ Marital Leverage is largely out of our hands and Capital Leverage requires a different post entirely, I’m going to focus on the latter 3 in this essay.
Let’s start off with Personal Leverage.
Personal Leverage is one of the highest forms of leverage anyone has. This is because every single human being is unique, looks at the world through their unique perspective and no one can effectively be “you”.
We can optimize this further by incorporating a couple of different habits that increase our personal leverage, which in turn, would increase the value we provide to the world. In the end, that’s one of the main things that give us our purpose in life- what we add to the world, how we affect the people in it and how we leave the world a better place. There is no formula to do the things above, but I think that some habits are better than others in improving the value we provide at large, and in turn,
What are these habits?
Reading the right things will get you further in life than anything else. In an age of Netflix and TikTok, reading will get you ahead than most of the population. It also matters what you read. Reading a science fiction classic is better than reading the latest, greatest vampire novel. Reading a book about changing world orders is better than reading Fifty Shades of Grey.
Reading the right things matter and there are a lot of outstanding books to read out there. These books, at least some of them, take people their entire lifetimes to write. Those are the books where you get an entire life’s wisdom of a person in a month. Absorbing these books, is like downloading the best thoughts of an entire human being to your brain. Imagine the leverage you have, once you do.
After books, there are blogs and newsletters like this one. Popular blogs and newsletters about non-cultural topics are usually popular because the writer is well read and articulate enough to communicate over the written medium.
One step lower than this is twitter and Reddit. That’s where the signal-to-noise ratio is low, but if you find the right people or subreddits to follow, you will find the right collection of insights about current or evergreen topics that you’re interested in.
Overall, reading a book a month is a habit that will always serve you well. If you don’t like to read, start off with reading what you like to make that a habit. Then you can take that forward.
Writing looks easy until you start to do it. But once you do it, you’ll realize it’s not just an effective tool for communication, but a powerful tool for thinking clearly. Most of the time, our thoughts are scattered and jumping from one thing to the next within seconds. Writing helps to slow that down, and helps us think deeply about the things that matter.
Getting into a writing habit is hard, but once you do it, it’ll be become entirely apparent why the best thinkers and creators on this planet have always been writers. You can start off by journalling and then move on to writing a blog or a book if you feel like it. There is no shame in writing for yourself, and this is a skill that will help you throughout your life.
Soon enough, you’ll want to explore storytelling- which is another great facet of writing. Human beings have told stories for thousands of years and that is how we connect to each other. Regardless of any market conditions, excellent storytellers will always be in demand, and stories will always provide lessons for humanity at most, or worthwhile escapism at the least, to take us forward.
Storytelling is an art, and it is fulfilling in several ways. Learning to leverage this well can serve you in business, relationships, life and everything in between.
Reading and writing well are essential components to exercise your freedom of speech, and this freedom of speech is the greatest tool of the powerless. Whichever country or democracy moves to curb this, shows that they are afraid of the ones they’re being elected to serve. Knowing this, and thinking well are an essential component to living freely.
Just like there are 51 million YouTube channels, there are nearly 25 million developers right now. Then why is there a developer shortage?
This is because most of those who start off coding, usually get to a stage where they can easily follow tutorials and follow along. But they fail at creating something new, or solving difficult problems. This is why, regardless of how many entry level software programmers exist, the demand for good coders will always exist and AI won’t replace that anytime soon.
Coding is also permissionless leverage, thanks to the vast majority of open-source software and tutorials. Once you get good at it, you’ll realize you can build anything you want with anything you want. You’ll hopefully start by building things that make your life easier and then society at large, and you will be adequately rewarded for it.
You can also work for the best people in this space, building things together and making the world better at large. In a world that’s more and more digital, coding is an undeniable leverage multiplier.
In the metaverse, I imagine the people who code to be like Neo in the matrix, those who see the green code falling behind the virtual world and manipulate them according to their will. If that’s not enough power, you can supplement this skill with the two above and find an infinite number of things to do that exceed the capabilities of those not doing any of these.
Speaking of supplementing skills, you can create content around things you know and monetize that. YouTube is a fantastic medium for that, if you want to build an audience there. Say, you know rust and can use it for game development, you can show it on YouTube for free and then direct users to platforms like SkillShare and Teachable and earn a decent amount by selling that course. Because not everyone who starts up on YouTube, dreaming to be a YouTuber, targets a niche audience like those wanting to develop games using Rust or can even provide them with what they are seeking, you’ll have an immediate audience who will be more than willing to pay for your knowledge and expertise.
Personal Leverage is one of those things that’s unlimited in nature. To many, Elon Musk may just be a billionaire car salesman. But look past the funny tweets and you can see someone who has multiple levers at his favor.
To name just a few-
He’s at the bleeding edge of tech with neuralink and OpenAI. Any significant advantages in those two fields will benefit him before literally anyone else on Earth.
With Starlink, he owns a part of the Internet that’s theoretically unstoppable. No one can disconnect him from the greatest distribution network that Humanity has. He can choose to connect entire nations deprived from the network, as he did with Ukraine.
With SpaceX, he’s at the bleeding edge of space travel and any significant improvement will benefit him while shielding him from any unfortunate emergencies on Earth.
This is not to say that starting companies is the only way to build personal leverage, but it’s an exceptional one if you can do it in the right fields. The harder the problems that field is trying to solve, the better the leverage that’s there to cultivate.
The younger you are, the more time leverage you have. The more wisely you leverage this time, the more of it you’ll have later.
Time is the great leverage multiplier for those who use it well. With enough time, there’s no such thing that you cannot do, that another person has done already with the same amount or in a lesser amount of time. There is no such concept you cannot understand. There is no such thing that you cannot develop as an individual, that is done by an individual. With adequate time, anything is possible, but we don’t have infinite amounts of time (yet).
Capital invested early, also compounds due to the number of extra we tend to leave it for. Taking risks earlier and failing is also easier for those who are young, as they are not ridden with responsibilities yet. To take advantage of this, is to know that time is limited, but what we do when we start out might help us immensely if we foster a long-term outlook.
In the brief amount of time that we do have, we want to live fulfilling lives and make the lives of those around us better. We want to be a shining beacon of light, speak the truth and inspire those younger than us to build lives worth living and improve themselves in the process.
So, to maximize the utility of time, we must be careful how we waste it. Those of us with jobs, it may be difficult to allocate time to ourselves, but we must try.
Think of yourself as a country with one resident- You. Your global export is in the value market, where you exchange your value and time for capital. Most of us use this capital, not for more time, but for bare necessities first and luxuries later. However, if we are young, invest wisely, use our time to increase our personal utility and work on things that matter to us and the world at large, we’ll be rewarded not just with adequate capital but also with time.
Whether this value is labour, ideas, skills or resources- we must provide value that society is seeking. The more demand that value has, the more you’ll be rewarded.
This is another important type of leverage to remember and use.
Permissionless Leverage refers to everything that you don’t need anyone’s permission to do. The more permissionless leverage you cultivate, the more free you’ll feel.
What counts as permissionless leverage?
Bitcoin - If you hold your currency in a permissionless self-custodial fashion, there’s no one who needs to give you permission to do this. They do need your permission (the seed phrase, in this case) to freeze your assets or take it away, so this kind of permissionless ownership is now possible only in the realm of crypto.
NFTs - If you hold your art permissionlessly, that’s another thing that no one can take away. If you own a Bansky and thieves decide to steal it, they can coordinate and storm your house to steal that work. If you own a BAYC, they’ll need your seed phrase to steal that.
Open Source Software - If you use open source software, you don’t need anyone’s permission to look into its code. You or other people more knowledgeable on the matter can easily look through the repository to find exactly what how the application works or if there’s anything malicious in there.
Open source software is also something that you ought to use to build something, rather than relying on closed apis. There have been numerous instances of closed source companies like Facebook and Google limiting the use of their apis, so building on permissionless open source software confers a power that corporate apis can’t ever match.
These are just a small number of things that offer permissionless leverage. There are others that I can get into, like 3D printing, drones, network states, DAOs, etc, but these are topics for another time.
An important thing to remember, along the way, is that the journey is more important than the process. If we assume that we’re all going to die, our journey is this one life that we all share. But very rarely do we take that fact in account when we decide on something to do.
This is also the reason why I think people crave careers where the end-result is visible while the grind is largely invisible.
We look at this-
And we think we want to be rock stars. We want to be on the stage, in front of thousands chanting our names while we play a sick guitar solo that blows the roof off. We want the red carpets, the champagne and recognition of those who we hold near and dear and those we won’t ever meet.
We think we can do it, but then you buy an instrument and realize how hard it is. You have to know music theory, you have to train your muscles to act according to the beat, and you have to get skilled enough to do it all involuntarily. This might take you a year, after which you might start composing music. Then getting good at that takes a ridiculous amount of time. Even when you do, you’ll see that there is still so much competition that even people who are really good at it, are juggling multiple jobs to keep their passion going. And those that are at the peak, are consistently producing great music and selling out stadiums.
It can seem unfair, but the hustle is real. The grind is real, and not everyone thinks about the grind when they fantasize about having the outcome.
This is the same with start-ups. Everyone wants to be their own boss. They don’t want to answer to anyone but themselves. Then they start a company, and now they have to answer to their customers, their partners, their own employees and keep everyone happy. And you do have to keep these people happy. If the people working in your company aren’t happy, they either won’t work to the best of their capacity and if they do and you don’t keep them happy, they’ll find a different boss who does.
In short, you just traded one boss for hundreds, so what your business is producing better be worth it or you’re going to have a hard time running it. This is why 97% of start ups fail.
So, what should you do?
You take advantage of leverage. You increase your leverage on the world, so that your upsides are unlimited and your downsides are protected. It is easier said than done, but knowing the risks and taking calculative decisions to increase your leverage will always pay off.
The final thing to remember about leverage is to be a good person. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but the capacity to be good is something that I think, everyone should cultivate.
This “good” is often subjective, but sometimes, “good” is just someone who is just nice to be around. You don’t want to spend your time with someone who is toxic or problematic, let alone think of spending years with them. Being a good person opens you up to working with anyone at any time, and you can then play long term positive-sum games with the right people, taking advantage of Time Leverage and having a good time in general.
Win and help win. This usually leads to a positive feedback cycle that never stops spinning.
There is a difference between being good and being nice. Most of the time, when people are nice, it’s because they want something. You’ll know these people when you see them, and again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But being good, just for the sake of being good, is what counts.
You can overdo this, of course. If you are always nice, and can’t say no, you’ll be taken advantage of by people who are aware that you have a hard time saying no. It’s important to understand that and shield yourself appropriately. But most of the time, if you’re in the right place working with smart people, you’ll have a good time by being nice to good people.
There are many other things that you can do to maximise leverage, but in this essay I’ve focused on things that anyone can do. If you’re already in a STEM field, you can supplement these with the above, and even if you’re not, most of the above will still make sense to incorporate.
Finally, let’s tie it in for our YouTuber friends who started reading this essay, expecting YouTube advice. This advice is not limited to YouTube, but for all kinds of content in general.
Ask yourself this: Why should people watch your YouTube videos?
There are three kinds of things you can offer as a creator of content-
New Information. A personality. A spectacle.
If you have a combination of two out of three of the above, your content will work.
New Information - If all you’re offering are things that people already know and wouldn’t bother knowing again, your content wouldn’t work. This the reason why any channel that teaches you something tends to succeed.
A personality - Are you a good person? Do you have a personality that others relate to? What’s special in you that others can’t deliver? Most of YouTube chases this only thing, and while it may work for many, it usually requires a mix of the other two to truly do well.
A spectacle - Is your content outlandish or spectacular in some way? Is there anything in your content that is so good, it holds the attention of the average viewer to the very end? That’s what matters.
The last reason, applied to all content, is why you see news media exaggerating every little thing, why prank videos “gone wrong” are more popular than normal prank videos, why YouTubers tend to say controversial or conspiratorial things that might ruin their reputation, why influencers are written about when they do something unpopular, and why Mr. Beast gives away 1 Million dollars to a random person.
A mixture of at least two out of three of the above is essential in succeeding in any content space.
Take this newsletter, Bright Mirror, for example.
It’s informative. The essays are not typical things you’d read on blogs and “How to” sites. It contains my personality and although there’s very little spectacle, it’s still something that’s definitely not mainstream, which adds to the spectacle. Most pieces of writing on the Internet are heavily optimized for SEO, short articles that show up on Google Search, and thus, manage to explore one idea at a time, at most. Whereas, the ideas in this densely packed essay can be broken up into 7 different essays, each with their own “Search Engine friendly” title. Not doing that here today, are we?
I use this to think and it works to keep me accountable and forces me to explore what’s at the bleeding edge of tech. By these metrics, this is already something worth doing, but if ever the opportunity costs of writing these exceed my threshold of ongoing projects I have on, I can stop at any time. I am not beholden to please any algorithm, but if this reaches someone who thinks like me and wants to be a friend, or if it inspires someone else to do better, my job here is done. That’s a kind of leverage I’d never have, had I not written this.
In conclusion, learn to build the lever.
Make it long and wide and place it appropriately.
Combine different levers and play around with all kinds of leverage.
Moving the world and making it better is never easy, but it’s always a worthwhile pursuit. Many have done it before us, and they were human beings no different than us.
With levers long enough and fulcrums to place it, worlds can be moved.
And it all begins with you.