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Building your life portfolio

A few of us put everything on the line. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and the CEO of Tesla, comes to mind. Buoyed by an unshakable faith, he plowed most of the $180 million fortune he accumulated at PayPal into these two companies-to the point where, by his own admission, he ran out of cash in late 2009.4 Since then, he's recovered just fine, becoming one of the world's richest men. But his bet-it-all strategy isn't an amazing recipe for success; it's just as easy to imagine thousands of would-be Musks doubling down only to lose everything. Their stories aren't told in Fortune or the Financial Times.

Most of us, though, take the opposite track. We know the risks are enormous, so we play it safe. We go to a college or grad school our parents recommend, get a steady job, and follow the script. In Jonathan's analogy (renowned innovation strategist), it's like buying a bond: you know you're not going to become a billionaire, but you're also unlikely to go bankrupt. Of course, there are drawbacks here, too. The point of life, one hopes, isn't just to "not go bankrupt."

What if there was a third way, one that could balance the risks of Musk-like innovation with the security we need to feel safe and provide for our families.

At its heart, that's what 20% time provides. Jonathan has applied this principle in his own life.

Every year, he focuses on landing what he calls "heartbeat income" a baseline of money that will pay the mortgage and give him the minimum standard of living that he needs. But beyond that, he's actively looking for opportunity. "Then I figure out, where can I spend 20% of my time on very high-risk activities?" he asks.

Here's the bottom line: you should never bet more than you can afford to lose. That's why it's only 20%. But you do need to bet something, because otherwise, you can expect a lifetime of doing the same thing over and over again. Some people suddenly become willing to experiment when things have gone badly. Their dreams have been shattered, and their backs are against the wall. That's the wrong time, Jonathan says, and way too late. It takes time to develop your side opportunities: "Do it when you're strong, not when you're weak."

This tidbit is from The Long Game by Dorie Clark

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