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Bobby Seagull rose to prominence through his appearance on University Challenge and is now not only a school maths teacher and Cambridge University Doctorate student, but appears regularly on television and radio programmes and is a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers and co-host of the podcast Maths Appeal. In our conversation, we discussed how he navigated various careers before becoming a teacher, why we should say yes to all opportunities that arise and how to adopt the right mindset for success.
Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:
Knowledge is like a snowball, the more you have, the easier it is to accumulate. It becomes a virtuous cycle – through accumulating more and more information, we start to make links and connections with prior knowledge which expands are overall cognitive abilities.
We need to be prepared to be perfectly imperfect with our writing. Being consistent is better than being inspired and this philosophy can be extended to many other aspects of life too. We often want to wait for the perfect moment – but the reality is that the stars will never align for one to write a book or start a YouTube channel, we have to make the most of our circumstances and be prepared to be perfectly imperfect.
Be content to take risks and be thought foolish. When we are willing to put ourselves out there with openness and honesty, it shows humanity and allows us to connect with others.
In everything in life there is a normal distribution in terms of talent but for the vast majority of us it’s NOT talent that makes the difference. When we're trying to understand why people are successful, we often refer to talent as the driving force. But there are a host of other factors like circumstance, opportunity and sheer luck that can have an equally significant impact on people’s success.
Consult, consult, consult. We develop the faculty to have an internal monologue with ourselves but someone externally can provide a fresh perspective that we simply couldn't have by ourself. Therefore, having others around you, who you trust to provide that fresh perspective, as well as who can provide honest advice as to when you should stop going down a particular path in life, is essential for all of us.
Process is key. When we enter a new venture, we usually have an end goal in sight but if we are solely driven by the end point we forget about the process and the journey. If you are just living off a particular moment or goal, you lose the value and enjoyment of the process and the little victories that you take along the way.
We shouldn’t worry about what other people think about us. Although we may notice all the micro issues or mistakes that we make, most of the time other people don’t notice and don’t care half as much as we believe they do in our mind’s eye. A sense of perspective is equally important - as Carl Sagan wrote, “the Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena”.
Saying yes and seizing opportunities is key to capitalising on luck and maximising serendipity. Increasingly, the world that we live in today lends itself to the door knockers who seek out and seize opportunities rather than window openers who only follow the predetermined path that they can see laid out in front of them.
Having a breadth of knowledge of a wide range of topics has social value. It gives you an entry point into conversations and enables you to connect with a breadth of people which would be impossible without having acquired that wide range of information.