Why you must manage your short term decisions or suffer long term consequences

Topic: Short Term vs. Long Term

Reading time: 30 minutes

-perspective on the choice between the short term and the long term, and some related snippets on acne, a book tip, role models, alcohol, stocks, weight lifting and a billionaire with a back ache

 

Never trade what you want the most

for what you want in the moment

 

John Bougen from New Zeeland visited 191 countries in 167 days, to get a good start on his ambition to visit all the 247 official countries on Earth.

Going to a new place, where all your routines are upset and you meet new people and face new situations and learn new things is good for you. It induces extra brain plasticity, among other things.

Mr Bougen however has perverted the original idea completely. All he has seen is the same flight attendants and hotel rooms, over and over again, experiencing the opposite of novelty, while growing more and more tired.

He must have gotten the idea that travel is positive, visiting different places is inspiring, and then suboptimized in the worst manner possible. That’s exactly how I see most people’s careers and obsession with money and trying to impress strangers they don’t even like.

Bougen might actually feel some kind of exhilaration, a build up of tension as he anticipates reaching his goal. He might even experience a short moment of glory and fame right after his stunt. But then what? He will have wasted a lot of time, money and energy experiencing just about nothing.

How well did Bougen really do in maximizing his short term and long term well being?

Did he want to travel that way? Did he want to spend hundreds of nights alone waiting for transfers at airports or in cheap hotel rooms? Did he want to become that douchebag that always claim to have been to a country, but turns out not to have visited any of its cities or sites or met any of its people?

 

“A long term position is just a short term position that went wrong”

-a classic adage in the investment world, meaning you should avoid sticking long term to something you didn’t actively choose yourself. See my last post on sunk cost for more detail on that.

Instead, try the opposite, i.e., cutting your profits short: “If a long term investment appreciates too much too early, make it a short-term investment“. (very typical Retard’s Playbook)

 

Stop profit

Case in point: my oil trade earlier this year. I bought a levered position in oil, thinking that oil should rise to approach its marginal cost (60 USD?) within a year or two. However, I exited with 100% profit after just a couple of weeks. Enough is enough. I like to call it taking a Stop Profit (a notion you would never hear on Wall Street where it’s all about letting your profits run or stopping your losses).

By the way, you should still never aim for 10-minute, 10-day or 10-month holdings, unless you are prepared to stick with them for 10 years. No, that’s not contradictory advice.

 

Don’t listen to ‘cool’ brokers

There are a lot of cool soundbyte advice on the street – just as cool as they are false (or at least just one side of a fair coin). Brokers and other stock market people are all about the short term. They don’t care if the market goes up or down or if you win or lose. They want short term turnover to earn commission (or possibly sell books).

broker

I could never play that game – partly because I’m honest, partly because I score zero on intent and sales skills*.

“Nobody knows where the market is going anyway”, they say, “so why not always be fully invested” … “but switch stocks as often as possible”. Then they line that message with a lot of coolness and jargon, and the suckers buy it every time.

It’s easy to recommend arbitrary deals when you take zero responsibility for the outcome and pocket the commission either way – not to mention get saved by the government every time things go really bad.

* as a side note, when I worked as a sell side analyst, peddling IT stocks in the boom years 1996-2000, my boss said to me that I was “a God gifted talent in sales, but perhaps I should think twice about what I was selling“. Still zero on intent though.

 

The market is as predictable as the weather

-which goes to say, actually very predictable

In the very long term it’s true that the stock market will rise (at least if the economy grows and profits grow). And in the short term, the market tends to continue in its recent direction. Mid term its a coin flip. And finally, longish term the market is drawn toward its long term trend line (with over- and undershooting).

 

It’s a bit like the weather. Even if you can’t tell what the weather will be two weeks from now, you know summer and winter will manifest eventually.

 

Jackets are cheap during an Indian summer

-but the warm weather makes it hard to remember to get one in time

Right now it’s high summer in the stock market. It’s so hot it’s difficult to even imagine Winter Is Coming. However, even if Yellen and Draghi somehow manage to turn fall into an Indian summer in the market, by luring in the last fools with leveraged money, winter will follow right after.

Anybody with just a little experience in the market can remember the call of the sirens at the market peaks of 2000 and 2007. Just like then, the current bull market is long in the tooth, extremely expensive and built on leverage.

 

Suffer now and prosper later?

Could you wait 15 minutes to get twice the goodies when you were a kid? Most can’t. To be able to postpone gratification is exactly what investing is about, and the marshmallow test is a strong predictor for future success.

marshmallow

However, it also means just that: postponing. Possibly too long, or forever.

I used to save my Saturday candy, and eat a little whenever I wanted. In fact, I typically ended up hoarding ever older candy, never eating it at all. I did the same with my allowance (1 USD/week); forever saving without any particular goal in mind. I guess I was predestined to become an investor just looking at my saving/hoarding personality.

School worked similarly. When I was in 7th grade, I started to consistently read a week ahead, i.e. keeping the same pace as everybody else – just a week ahead. That way I stopped having to raise my hand during class.

However, I never bothered about my grades directly or contemplated what they meant for my future. I just wanted to be left alone, and avoid shame (meaning anything below the highest grade). Short term thinking. Possibly mid-term, since I was quite disciplined about it.

Even at business school I only thought about a year ahead (just as with the candy and my allowance). Fortunately that still meant finishing at the top. Slightly longer mid-termishness; just barely enough.

For a long time after that, I believed my own hype; just invest 6-7 years of focused studies in high school and college and the rest of your life will be a rose garden.

It’s only the last few years that I’ve realized that that strategy and perspective never existed in my mind. I just did one more (again: Retard’s Playbook for workouts and investments), without really thinking ahead or having an investing state of mind.

I wasn’t thinking long term. I wasn’t actively choosing my own destiny. I wasn’t getting to know myself and then plan my life around me.

I was doing what everybody else was doing: getting a “good” education in order to get a high paying job with “status”. For that I more or less wasted 25 years between 1990-2015. Years I could have spent doing something meaningful or fulfilling. On the other hand, I got lucky enough to be able to quit reasonably young and with a hell of a lot of knowledge and experience.

 

Is the long term worth the short term effort?

And now? Was it worth it? What’s the lesson here? Should you postpone pleasure?

Well, I personally wouldn’t re-live my years in business school and finance, if I had to go back. And I definitely wouldn’t have made it through school, had I realized the total effort that lay before me. Sometimes being perspective blind can produce good long term results.

On the other hand, having what I have now in terms of knowledge, experience, friends and financial freedom is a dream come true. More, since I never even dreamed about more than getting a good night’s sleep, not having any homework or having to raise my hand in class.

Then again, the likelihood of repeating my career, with all it entails, is so low that the expected financial outcome for that particular path is also close to zero anyway. Hence I would choose something more personally rewarding every day.

småmynt framför ångvält

For me that would probably have been starting out as a programmer/consultant/gamer, solving mine and other people’s problems, developing apps and games along the way, and eventually becoming just as financially well off as today anyway – but without money or awards as prerequisites for feeling successful. The crucial question here is…

 

How long term should you be?

How long is a piece of string?

I can’t choose for you. I don’t know if you in particular should go to or finish business school and start your own hedge fund.

Perhaps you will find starting and running a fund just as fun as playing Bloodborne, GTA or FIFA. Or you might get a hint of what I felt in geography class in middle school.

Perhaps you are a born programmer, but probably not. Most likely you would hate it.

In short, my advice is to realize that you will for the most part still be you in the long term. Find out as quickly as possible who that person is and what he likes.

Then go about fulfilling those wants and needs as directly as possible. Neither present you nor future you want to spend the next 15-30 years as a mindless drone, doing things just to possibly have financial freedom later, if you even make it to that point [time-wise or financially].

If you love golf and warm weather, play golf in warm weather now, instead of waiting until you are a rich pensioner with a bad back. If you don’t know who you are or what you want, by all means copy someone else (e.g., formal education and career for money in Whore Village) until you do. Just don’t get lost in the Money Buys Happiness Fog.

Consider the following:

Computer games

Here’s an analogy I thought of the other day when walking my dog, listening to a podcast about micro fungi producing increased crops as well as reduced fertilizer needs and thus less of the unwanted toxic algae blooms and uncontrolled growth in lakes:

Think of life as playing a challenging computer game. No gamer would say his activity is boring, but there still is a lot of investing, learning and tedious repetition going on. The anticipation of victories to come, and the reward when succeeding more than make up for the tougher stretches. However, the balance is important. Too difficult, too long term or boring and even hard core gamers will quit.

lll

Non-gamers need not apply whatsoever, meaning you should not choose an education or career that bores you to death. It’s just not worth it, unless you somehow with absolute certainty know you’ll be rich and able to quit within 10 years. Sounds too much. Set the limit to 5 years – comparable to formal education.

Life guidelines

In line with that, here are a few investment rules that work just as well for any other area in life:

  • Act in conformity with your nature
  • Accept being at variance with the majority
  • Don’t be afraid to fail.

Whatever career you choose, be it formal education followed by becoming a plastic surgeon, management consultant or fund manager, or freestyling on the web or working with your body, make sure it rhymes with who you are.

Your education/training and career/business should be at least comparable to playing challenging computer games or doing serious sports.

It’s not super fun to practice your golf swing every day, but it’s worth it when you get to the course. Same thing with tennis serves or weight lifting. Somehow it’s still fun doing the hard stuff thanks to the anticipation of the fun ahead as well as the feeling of progress, of building something, of investing – but there are limits to how long that is sufficient.

As always, the hardest thing is knowing who you are. The next to hardest is accepting it.

 

Find role models

-as inspiration for who you yourself actually are

A few of my most important role models are Richard Feynman (who wanted to turn down the Nobel Prize in physics, but accepted just to minimize the attention) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (billionaire heiress who fucked that, and made her own hundreds of millions of dollars as the funniest comedienne in the world, not to mention dared play ugly in Seinfeld, despite later revealing she is [one of] the most beautiful 54-year olds in the world).

Read “Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman” for some deep inspiration of a happy, productive, inquisitive and wide-angled life that began with some haphazard radio repairs and left a legacy of starting nanotechnology in 1959, as well as contributing immensely to the field of quantum mechanics.

Was Feynman long term or short term? Whatever he was, he was always investing, always enjoying, always trying and learning new things, experiencing ten times more than most, while still aiming and succeeding very long term. Heck, it took 30 years after his speech before people even understood there was a nanotechnology to be discovered.

In the world of finance there are so many, but I’m inspired by, e.g., Hugh Hendry, Seth Klarman, John Hussman, Howard Marks and Marc Faber (and many more).

And anti-models

I had lunch with a billionaire today (not quite in dollars but not far off; possibly already there if some unlisted assets count). He used to be quite active and athletic, but 35 years behind a desk has given him a hernia and now he can’t run or lift weights, he told me.

With a few hundred million USD in liquid assets you might expect a kind and likeable, nature loving, sporty guy to… I don’t know…perhaps pursue his inner interests? But what does he do? He stays behind his desk, has a back ache and complains about having to go through hundreds of pages of legal documents for the Swedish SEC.

If I wasn’t already happy about my decision to get out of finance, that definitely sealed the deal. By the way, the lunch was a covert job interview for a new hedge fund: “So, Mike, what are your plans now? Are you thinking about getting back to finance anytime soon? We are starting a new fund…

“If you don’t change direction you might end up where you’re heading”

 

P.S: More side stories

Acne

When I turned 16, I started getting acne. I still get a few pimples now and then, especially after binge drinking. Almost daily during 25 years I’ve faced the question whether to squeeze or not. Typical short-term, mid-term, long-term problem.

At the time, I read about a model who only used water on the face (despite making commercials for face products). I just knew it had to be a lie (I used plenty of soap, alcohol, uv light and tons of various chemicals spelled with z’s). Now I know so much better:

I haven’t washed my face with anything but water since 7 months back and my skin has never been better. The really big upside is that I save a lot of time in the present, and science says my skin quality is much better (in particular for the long term I assume) thanks to allowing my bacterial ecosystem to stabilize. Not least, I feel calm and confident that I don’t have to take care of my face every damn night before going to bed if I’m tired or drunk.

Weight lifting

Weight lifting. A long term effort, constantly pushing the body just a little further. But is the aim, glory (and possibly money) or health? How long term is it to win glory but sacrifice your health? Most if not all professional athletes sacrifice a lot when they are active and then suffer from broken down bodies after their careers. All for some short term glory?

aneurysm SpreZZaturian

Alcohol

I like to drink. Things happen and I laugh a lot. Even the hangovers are tolerable, and I invariably go to the gym the day after, if I have a scheduled workout (I train every second day, year in, year out).

Still, it’s kind of bad in the mid-term (hangover) and quite bad in the long run (diseases, aging, looks, premature death, missing the Singularity).

However, alcohol also make me more relaxed, forgiving and outgoing – actually opening the door to making real friends. But how much and how often? There’s that string again.

Ibiza sofa throw

Coffee

Science says you should wait 90 minutes after rising in the morning before having your coffee (due to hormone levels, according to the gastropod).

Most also should stop drinking coffee for the day after lunch time. Still, most people sacrifice their sleep or long term well being for the taste, the smell, the wonderful pleasure that a cup of coffee can be in the now.

Personally, I wait around an hour and I usually only drink coffee in the morning, i.e., not even at lunch.

gastropod

Fossil fuel

Okay so we kickstarted the industrial revolution and our current technological civilization by burning fossil fuels.

Great, we actually might make it far enough to live off of clean nuclear energy going forward. We might even be able to reverse fossil fuel derived pollution and global warming.

However, if humanity were to suffer a serious setback (e.g., an EMP, an asteroid, a super volcano, massive solar flares), could we do it all over again? We might not. We can’t just skip the industrialization part and jump right to solar and nuclear, but with only wood and tar sands available it could prove difficult to clear the hurdle for true recovery all the way to enough sustainable energy sources for continued progress.

human energy use over 150 years Can We Do It Again

Ninja

I’m a ninja. Yes, as in swords, weird footwear, shuriken (throwing stars) etc. I’ve also practiced Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing, not to mention weight lifting (30 years and counting). All those things take a long time to learn. However, there is constant progress which makes every training session worth the effort. That more or less reliable progress was the driver behind my engagement in the mentioned inherently useless, hard and painful activities (albeit healthy).

That’s how studying and working also should be. Building layer upon layer, every step being an investment for the next, satisfying in itself, but still possibly, likely even, leading to some sort of success.

Always Be Investing – like a ninja

 

Summary of the summary: Enjoy the incremental process, instead of total sacrifice moonshots

If you skipped the whole thing and scrolled right to the end, this is for you

  • I’m not just a retard, I’m a ninja too.
  • I like Julia Louis Dreyfus, but I like Dick Feynman even better. Read his book Surely…
  • The struggle between the short and the long term is eternal. Just deal with it. You simply can’t tell how long a piece of string is. But you can think about it, and that helps.
  • Be you and make sure to have some fun all the way through life. Investing is not about total sacrifice, it’s about enjoying the incremental process, like playing a tough computer game or practicing your golf swing
  • Don’t waste your best years doing what every body else is doing to impress strangers. Dare to be different. Accept that you are.
  • Subscribe to get my eBook and thoughts on gold (next post, I think)

Gold: you know that stuff that is forged in large supernovae, alternatively neutron star collisions, drifting through space for billions of years, and turning the heads of humans since the first nugget was discovered thousands of years ago, possibly up to ten thousand years ago.

gold

Gold is very long term; too long term unless you’re a billionaire. Gold simply is gold. The thing is it is just that forever. More about that next time.

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8 Comments

  1. one of the best blogs man that i found across the web, coming from Lithuania ;) i really thought that people like you gone Galt and i missed when that happened :D

    • Good to hear you’re reading Ayn Rand. We are too few. I wonder if Putin is fostering any new of her kind right now.

  2. Amazing blog i found it yesterday and have been reading your book this morning and I have to say I love it. I,m finishing business school this year and would love to work in a hedge fund one day, until then I have fun investing money and trying to understand the world through history and economy.

    Best regards from Spain

    • I just hope I’m not discouraging you or anyone else from pursuing your dreams about investing,… unless you are looking to be derailed and look for fulfillment somewhere else ;)

      I know I can sound a bit dark when talking about working in finance. All I want is for you to really think hard about what it is you actually want in the long term. For some it’s investing. For me it was just a way to get money.

  3. As always, the hardest thing is knowing who you are

    This came from Thales if anyone needs a reference

    —–

    Excellent article Mikael!

    I think the ultimate question you raise is… what type of harvest do you hope to create?

    Everyone has so many distractions, so much confusion, so much stress & fear (of the unknown) that they forget one simple fact → every minute of the day you are doing things. Those activities, multiplied over a long period, grow into “results”. Those results are what you, and others, see.

    What you’re referring to with a question of long/short term – to me – is about whether you’re willing to spend the time to focus on what “harvest” you would be proud on creating. This “harvest” is NOT what you get out of it. It’s what you create for the world, what others can take from.

    This is very difficult – it entails “knowing thyself” (what you’re really here for) ;).

    From all the best people I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with, one subject always emerges – the idea that you only get this one shot, and you are the only one who can make it count. Leaders etc are an exception – they give others a reason to make their own lives count, which is why they attract a following.

    If you think from an eternal perspective, long/short term ceases to be about what “you” get out of things, and becomes what you’re willing / able to focus on in order to create the most potent, delicious harvest possible, benefiting as many sentient beings as possible (esp animals).

    It’s only when you reach the part of your heart which has all it needs – doesn’t require anything from anyone – that you’re able to truly work towards creating the harvest of your dreams. This is where “attraction” comes from, and is why some people always seem to be successful, whilst most others are not.

    This principle of eternal creation is what all the world’s religions are based on, what people fight (and die) for, and where huge fortunes are born. It’s the underlying reality of life, where passion arises ( how committed you are to your harvest).

    Of course, the hardest part of all of this is knowing which harvest you’re here to build. Or… to “know thyself”.

    Knowing thyself is very simple, yet supremely complicated.

    It’s simple because you already know what you’re here to do (deep deep down). It’s complicated by the ego’s necessity for dominance, control & admiration.

    If you want to “know thyself”, become an artist. Learn a trade, a craft, a language. Experience life away from the TV screen. Indulge in culture, ingrain your mind with the delicacies of old; become a sage of wealth.

    Apply yourself to help others. Everyone is born; everyone dies. People become nasty because of their environment, and their perceived helplessness. How you help those people is part of your harvest.

    Dream of a future worth dying for. Take each breath as if it’s your last. Be the good times that everyone will remember you for.

    Because in the end, we all came from nothing. We all go to nothing. The beauty of life lies in what you’re willing to dedicate yourself towards in the middle. This is your harvest, your Babylon. It’s carried with you everywhere you go, resides in everything you do – and – ultimately – is what inspires the people you talk with.

    Knowing thyself is simply about appreciating the task you’ve been given, and investing every ounce of energy into making it real. You may get involved with short & long term things, but in the end, your ultimate obsession will govern everything you permit yourself to do.

    • Deep and thoughtful as always, Rich. Usually takes me about 5 times before I begin to understand what you are saying.

      Humans needed to be pattern recognizers to survive. That’s why discovery and novelty both feels good and does your body and brain good. When we turn that pattern recognition drive inward, and understand the self, there is an added dimension of pleasure.

      I’m however not totally with you regarding the legacy part. It might be a productive guidance to feeling good, but it is uncomfortably close to religious advice of sacrificing this life for the glory of heaven or a better reincarnation.

  4. Super interesting about John Bougen.
    I’ve thought about this topic–of doing a thing, and ending up defeating the original purpose–many times. It is a pervasive phenomenon is self-development, productivity, and fitness.

    “Nobody knows where the market is going anyway”, they say, “so why not always be fully invested” … “but switch stocks as often as possible”. Then they line that message with a lot of coolness and jargon, and the suckers buy it every time.

    –> Are there any currently famous examples of this that I might know of?

    Obviously, it’s a dumb idea due to paying extra brokers’ fees and/or getting taxed. But I guess the brokers don’t bring up that. Where’s the incentive in that? :)

    “a God gifted talent in sales, but perhaps I should think twice about what I was selling“

    –> Do you think he might have meant in the sense that you are well-read and knowledgeable on what you are selling?

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