The question things come down to for ambitious young people with few connections and fewer resources is “What’s the cheapest, fastest interesting thing I can do?”. It’s not how to make the most money, avenues for making lots of money aren’t available to those who don’t already have some. It’s not necessarily about the most important thing, the really long term important things in life probably haven’t even been figured out by a young person yet. Even if they have, it takes resources to get there that generally aren’t available for youth. It’s about the cheapest, most immediate concrete contribution that proves someone is capable of doing something.
To some readers this may sound entirely obvious, but it can be a hard idea to internalize. Recently I talked to a young man in the throes of existential despair. He lives in poverty after a bitter online feud with political rivals, is seemingly unemployable with a liberal arts degree, and feels alternately that it might be best to self-immolate outside an Ivy League school’s diversity office or change his gender to become intrinsically valuable. I asked him what the cheapest interesting thing he could do right now is, with his current skillset, something that would make him feel like he’s going somewhere. He told me he’d like to start a political magazine. I asked him how much that would cost, on a scale from 500, to 5000, to 50,000 dollars. He said it could be done for $5000.
Reader, I want you to imagine considering suicide when the closest stepping stone back to self actualization is a mere five grand away. The agony! The anguish all for want of such a moderate sum. Now it should not be handwaved away that this gentleman is in terrible poverty, but he also has many friends who would probably be willing to help. I immediately pointed out that in the grand scheme of things, $5000 is not a lot of money. There are indie films from no-name directors which raise twice that. I asked him to consider who would be interested in the political speech he’s looking to fund, and how he could prove to them that he’s a good investment.
There is a common misconception that you must do something big to ‘have an impact’. Nonsense. The truth is that you would be much better off starting with something small and executing it competently. Do this several times, and you will be able to attract more resources by conspicuously providing a quality return on yours and others investments. Skills gained during even ostensibly ‘small’ endeavors are essential to making the big ones work. Think of it less like a glorious battle and more like building a cathedral. Historically, a cathedral was a project that took many people and multiple generations to build. Someone who began a Cathedral did so in the confidence that they would pass the torch to their son. The ‘dragons’ of our age are slain by a million men cooperating across vast distances of space and time on a shared mission, rather than a lone knight in shining armor.
So stop waiting around to put your stone in, if you die tomorrow your dreams will go with you but the stone will still be there.