Expelliamus – life lessons from an unlikely career path

Warning: this is a long one, 5300 words


 

Executive summary: The article deals with blows dealt, burdens carried, triumphs achieved and some of the most important lessons my unlikely educational and career path taught me.

For example:

  • Save your alcohol for when you want to drink
  • You decide where you fit in, but there is a time for charades and another for being yourself
  • Turn on your metacognition as soon as possible (I almost missed the chance)
  • Make sure you have a Plan B, then you can be spontaneous
  • Don’t let prejudice come in your way (like I almost did with economics)
  • Sleep and take care of your body
  • Deep Work – maintain and enhance your ability to focus and learn deeply and rapidly
  • Close calls are just that, “close”. Don’t let them shape you

If you aren’t really interested in the personal details behind the lessons, you can stop reading now. Unlike most of my articles, there aren’t any profound insights hidden deep in this article, just more or less inspiring anecdotes about my shortcomings and naivete. Mistakes you can and should avoid.

Tip: Sign up for my newsletter to get future articles about personal development, career, education, finance and technology for free (and my free eBook with my most important investment lessons)

Not interested? Try this article on how you can prosper from the coming era of robotics instead. Or, alternatively, this really cool article with 16 useful quotes. Guaranteed.


 

But first…

A few facts that make the picture more nuanced. I actually don’t want to come across as fully retarded or one-dimensional.

I’m complex. We all are, but it’s easy to forget.

I didn’t drink any alcohol or try tobacco until I turned 18, i.e. in 1990. A wager with my father. I definitely don’t have a drinking problem.

Gute visby biceps lördag 27 juni 2015 Sprezzaturian

Summer of 2015

 

I thought exercise was for pre-computer era cavemen only, until I turned 13 and saw Rocky IV…

Now, at 44, I benchpress 140kg (309 lbs) and aim to increase that PB this year. And I run 2 miles (3.2 km) in 12 minutes as a warm-up before lifting weights.

I was bullied as a child, but actually didn’t really understand it until my 20s. I somehow thought the fighting and name-calling was normal. Mean, but normal.

I’m certain I have a (high functional) autism spectrum disorder, “Aspberger’s”. I only realized this a few years ago, first as a joke, but gradually more and more as fact.

I’m naturally contrarian… independent to a fault, but also inherently gullible (well, I was the latter. Not anymore)

I can be unbelievably oblivious to obvious phenomena, and stubbornly certain of “facts” most people miss. In that respect, I do bear a certain resemblance with Michael Burry in The Big Short.

I’m extremely risk avert, and extremely risk-tolerant at the same time. This one is just weird, as I take immense financial and physical risks at times, while acting as chicken little incarnate at others.

Patient – you have no idea how patient, and I’m only getting worse/better. Already as a teenager I was known to just wait idly for hours at whatever meeting point was decided or bus was supposed to come.

A shy exhibitionist…

Alright, enough, let’s get this story started. There are valuable lessons in here.


No (business) sense at all

I had no business going into business (finance) to begin with – and yet, it was the perfect match; obvious for everyone to see from middle school and onward.

Since I was 10, I made money programming, later lending money to class mates (hungry for sweets) at a steep interest rate. I was always good at math, and I loved counting money, loved stories about money… So, born to be an investment banker it seems.

And, yet, in middle school, I praised Sweden for making sure I could live off of welfare once school was out. That was my plan.

Who would have thought that weird kid with a northern accent, failing in school, wearing but a t-shirt in winter, always hurting himself (8 concussions) and a communist agenda would become a full blown libertarian and managing the European hedge fund of the decade? Still enjoying the occasional barefoot walk though.

 

Train wreck

Actually, I really had no business going into anything but natural sciences. I loved physics and chemistry, I was proficient at math, philosophy and logic, and held nothing but contempt for economics and similar social “sciencies”. I hadn’t even heard about the Stockholm School Of Economics until a few days before the application deadline.

Despite no business doing business, a few years later I graduated with flying colors, with a Masters in Business Administration and Financial Economics.

Actually not only should I never have applied (contempt, ignorance and lack of ambition, just ‘happened’ to get the perfect grades required for getting in), I should have been expelled…several times over.

All this ‘no business doing business’ business is of course meant ironically; apparently it was exactly what I was meant for

I was 18 when I commenced my first semester at SSE. I was 18 when I had my first taste of alcohol. It was a beautiful disaster, a train wreck in slow motion. Luckily I was both poor and cheap and thus only drank at home before going out, and had no habit of partying every weekend, just a few times per semester. Luckily, since…

At the prize ceremony after the hazings during the first week, I had to be restrained and carried out by six older students.

hazing

seems more like “hosing”

Another time I apparently decided to lock myself in one of the toilets overnight after a party to save time. I was quite unruly during class that day.

After a school pub, I woke up in a small outside air and water cabinet at a gas station some 20 miles from home, wearing a t-shirt in early winter and with surprisingly bloody jeans.

But the partying was only half the story, or a third. E.g., during the first year, I usually brought a sharp knife to school every day… for my loaf of bread and jar of honey, that I kept in my big jacket, for lunch and snacking during the day.

In Harry Potter, the spell “expelliarmus” disarms the opponent.

There is a new HP book coming out this spring. HP was close to not getting in, as well as expelled, himself.

expelliamus

Expelliamus

The final third was when I and my closest friends at SSE turned in an assignment to our female and feminist teacher in Management, with a seminude picture of Madonna, marked below, in a ‘romantic’ font in italics, with the word for “female teacher”.

Today, we would have been expelled no questions asked. And that would have been the end of it.

In 1990, however, questions were asked, all the way up to the head of the faculty of Management, as well as the dean of SSE. We got away with just a warning though, after I made the case that a male teacher would just have laughed at a Schwarzenegger picture from “Conan the barbarian” on his assignment.

So, what should have happened is this:

I should have been expelled from Sweden’s most prestigious school and had to start over somewhere else, probably studying to become a chemistry teacher in the small city of Uppsala (which I had given serious thought before going for SSE).

Cook

Given I had tried making cocaine from coca leaves when I was 17 (I liked chemistry and I had a stock of the right chemicals at home, as well as a bag of leaves), it’s not unreasonable to assume I could have become a real life Walter White (“Breaking Bad”) and probably done hard time sooner or later.

Instead, I soon realized I actually had decent grades already, despite doing my best to ruin my studies of the lowly subjects of economics and accounting. I’ve had to re-take one test… accounting 101. I just couldn’t get those debits and credits right in the t-accounts… They kept switching sides all the time.

 

t-accounts

 

Whatever wasn’t top notch would later disappear in the aggregation process to the final grades. And with a conscious effort in the key subject during the last semester, I aced it so hard I could hardly believe it myself, and thus got perfect grades from the school I had dissed so uncompromisingly during the first year.

Did I mention I used to sit at the very back of the auditorium, one level up where there were a few seats typically reserved for latecomers? Up there, I made childish signs that I showed to the lecturer… and threw airplanes at my fellow students from 15 feet up.

Talk about being “retarded” and wanting to ruin any prospects of “making it”.

I think I subconsciously protested against my decision to go to SSE, when the “right” choice obviously was physics at the Royal Institute Of Technology (which I actually also had applied to and been accepted to).

 

A thousand flaws, and only one right

One thing only saved me from day one:

I learned to read and write, to count and do math by myself, watching TV (clip below from the 1973 pedagogical children’s show) when I was 4 years old.

Math always came easy and I always “over studied”, thus making the next step almost too easy and so on and on. That meant that no matter how disinterested and slow to learn I was in “text subjects”, I had all the time in the world to master those too.

I did it mostly because I thought it looked more symmetrical with equal numbers on all subjects on my grades in secondary school (not to mention the few bucks my father gave me for every perfect score on a test [1 USD] or grade [5 USD each per year for subjects 1-10, and 50 USD each for subjects 11-17).

 

Street fighter

So, I was admitted to SSE. And once in, I wasn’t expelled, even if it was a close call. Consequently I never turned to meth cooking or did any hard time.

But I fought.

I fought in the streets, I fought at school. I fought in my neighborhood. I fought abroad. I tried not to, but there were always people attacking or challenging me.

I tried to back down, handing the victory to them verbally, but they almost always pursued.

Once, I got accused of wanting to be the “king of Vallby (my neighborhood). I said I was happy letting him keep his crown. He, however, was very eager to fight me over it, and started with a right kick to my left shoulder. That ended very badly. For him. My immediate response was a long, straight punch to (through) his larynx.

Fortunately, I almost always ended on top (except in middle school where there were always too many fighting me at the same time), sometimes plucking their teeth from my elbow afterward, or finishing them off with a series of knees to the, face peeling the flesh off their cheekbone, or with a straight punch to the back, or front (that does it quite nicely!), of the neck.

Blood, teeth, hair, flesh, naked bone, but never gouged eyes, broken bones or death. I had a code.

I don’t regret a single punch, kick, knee or elbow. They started it. One of my most hard-core principles is ahimsa=non violence. However, if you have other principles you’d like to use… Sure, we can do it your way.

split TKD

Yup, no business doing business.

So, you see, I should have become a hacker (programming and selling games at the age of 10-12, remember? I also loved the movie “War Games” when it came out in 1983) or a drug cook, being my own crazy ass bodyguard.

And I graduated. Kind of.

I actually started working in spring 1994 as a broker’s assistant, before finishing my thesis. I finally got around to it two years later when an inner voice said “you may have your career cut out for you, but you don’t want to be a quitter“.

Mainly, I wanted that diploma, in order to go back to Argentina and marry the young girl I met after my stint as a mountain climber there (“andinista”; reaching the summit of Aconcagua, mountain of death, 6961m/22838ft), and still have a way back (Plan B) in case it didn’t work out.

Always have a plan B

She was the daughter of a shoe mogul, one of Argentina’s richest men, at least one of the top legitimate tax paying men, so as a bonus I could look forward to a life of relative leisure – which was tempting in my state of constant sleep deprivation.

Summit of Aconcagua in my underwear

Summit of Aconcagua – I wonder why so many amateurs die on that mountain

 

Now on to the real struggles

I studied at SSE 1990-1994, during which time Sweden experienced a deep financial crisis, with among other things all major banks at the verge of defaulting, and the national debt inflating out of control. Not unlike Greece these days.

In 1993 and 1994 I applied for jobs at the largest management consulting firms and investment banks, as well as a few other top notch jobs. Eventually, due to wanting to secure just about anything in the crisis, I went for a broker’s assistant employment at a third tier broker. After several interviews there I (barely) got it.

Phew.

Six months later, my test employment was up for review and possibly made into a real hire. The following words sealed my fate: “The others think you are a little weird and don’t really want you, but I think you could grow into this”.

And there it was, toward the end of 1994 I had secured a real full time employment with a salary of 14 000 SEK per month (20k USD per year), before Swedish taxes, no paid overtime or bonuses…

In parallel, I worked extra at my father’s business, making and translating technical manuals for pulp manufacturers and programming real time databases for the same.

Since the head broker stayed late, I did too, usually until 10-11 pm, and then I stayed some more – not seldom until midnight or later. Sometimes, after that, I had to head over to my father’s office to do some programming before going home to catch 3-4 hours of sleep.

I was in charge of the morning report and had to get in by 6-6:30 am to write it (based on Financial Times, the Lex column and some other sources nobody in Sweden seemed to read) and put it in the fax (1994-1995, remember? Very few had e-mail back then). Once I got the comment my report was the best in the market, it became sacred to me, which basically ensured I never got to sleep in.

 

Doing 110 on the financial freeway

A few weeks I hit 110 hours of logged work. My average was over 80. And we still squeezed in quite a few nights out on top of that. Many times I felt weak, shaky, right on the brink, but was more or less ordered out and about on weekdays – and still had to take care of my sacred morning report. A few times I slept just one hour or so in the staircase outside the office and went in together with security at 6 am. Later I got my own key and could sleep in the reception couch instead.

For a while I seriously considered moving to the office, and save my rent (approximately 10% of my wages before tax)

I didn’t know any better; I thought I would risk my job if I didn’t drink.

Don’t do what I did. Put quality before quantity.

Think about what’s actually reasonable, and ask outright what your priorities should be if you aren’t sure. Typically, drinking on weekdays is not requested or desired. I would have gained more respect and authority sooner, if I had been sober, slept more, performed better. So, decide explicitly who you are and what you prioritize to make it easier to stick to.

I didn’t

 

Among other stupid things…:

I didn’t take a single day of vacation during my first 18-20 months and I typically worked weekends.

I gave up martial arts and working out. Between 1990-1994 I used to work out 10-15 times a week.

I even broke up with my girlfriend the day before my first day at the job “I won’t have time for you anyway”.

I ate at McDonald’s three times a day (lunch was paid with food coupons that were included in my wages, after office hours dinner and late dinner were paid by the company). Soon I was pale and fat enough that my ten year older colleagues noted “You have given up, no question about it”.

During my first vacation, the Aconcagua expedition of Christmas 1995 I got even fatter. So, by the start of 1996, I was fat, pale, sleep deprived and bottom feeding in Swedish finance and with no graduation diploma. You could say I had exactly lived up to expectations set in middle school a dozen years earlier.

 

The turning point

Then, in early springtime 1996, I made a decision: I was going back to Vicky in Argentina.

What?!

Not what you expected, was it?

I got out of my chair several times, heading for the Managing Director to resign. In the end, however, I realized I had to have a plan B, before burning any bridges, and decided to finish my thesis and get that Masters diploma before buying a no-return ticket to Mendoza. In the meantime I got asked to consider a job as head of IT research at Sweden’s largest bank. Around the same time I got in shape for a TV show, learning a lot about dieting in the process.

The summer of 1996, much like that of 1994, was one of the best in several decades, with warm, dry weather – the perfect Swedish summer -both of them. But I never saw them apart from through the office (1994) and school (1996) windows, as I worked long hours or wrote my thesis.

I love summer. I love the sun. I love being outside. And the two best summers of my lifetime were completely wasted, spending myself futilely at a line of work I still didn’t understand and a worthless thesis.

Anyway, by the end of 1996 I had my diploma, I was back to lifting weights (albeit at half my previous weights), and I was the head of IT research at a big bank right at the start of the internet era.

 

A little less work, much less partying, and no 100+ hour work weeks

At Swedbank I reduced my workload to some 70-75 hours a week on average. Sure, during earnings season, I often worked past midnight, but I partied less and probably averaged 6 hours of sleep a night. Still too little of course, and I often longed for a normal job, normal hours, a full night’s sleep. Sometimes not even my evil and very loud alarm clock could wake me…

In addition to sleep deprivation I didn’t eat any fish whatsoever. Hardly any greens either. I lived off of cheap minced beef and pork chops. I had colds at least twice a year, often 4-5 times. My guess is my average daily intake of Omega-3 was less than one gram.

At least I started lifting weights again, first alone in the bank’s employee gym in the cellar. Later with a colleague and friend at a gym club. After 3-4 years at Swedbank I was pretty fit again and had a 110kg bench PB (243 lbs).

“Pretty good” compared to my broken down, sleep deprived drunken self a few years earlier that is. Pretty weak compared to now, 16 years later, when sleep and Omega-3 rich fish oil have helped me manage a 140kg bench press.

Anyway, by the year 2000 I had become a top ranked analyst, increased my income more than 10-fold, almost slept enough and “only” had 1-2 serious colds a year.

My tip to you is to make up your mind and prioritize. Decide what’s important to you and go after it. I just did a lot of things I were told or thought I was expected to do, without ever asking them, or me, what the end game was.

More tangibly I would advice you to practice deep work, to shut out the rest of the world, turn off all notifications for an hour or two once a day, and produce high quality intellectual work at the top of your ability. It will make you relaxed, fulfilled and amazingly productive at the same time. Everybody will respect you for it, and never think twice about why your e-mail turnaround time sometimes extends to several hours or days.

There are bad days, an there are bad days

Oh, before I forget, there was still room for the occasional crazy bender. Like that time by the end of 1999, when I woke up on a workday morning, in a small room with nothing but a thin plastic mattress.

Yes, the police station. With no keys and no watch it turned out when they released me. Eventually I found my way back to the crime scene of the night before, where both items were retrieved from a glass full of water. Thank you Omega for making the James Bond Seamaster so sturdy and waterproof.

Once I got to my apartment, I learned that one of my friendly neighbors had filed charges against me, and in addition would do his utmost to get me evicted. And, then, I dragged myself to the office, hoping I wouldn’t get fired. One thing kept me up that day, I knew that most of my anxiety was purely chemical with no real bearing on reality.

 

Not like other children

Well that thought was just about as f*** up as when I less than a year later crashed on a motor bike alone in the woods, bending my right knee sideways, thinking, while screaming my lungs out, that in due time nanotechnology would fix that knee perfectly. I actually had torn my right knee ACL 8 years earlier without knowing or checking. My days as a ninja had raised my pain threshold a bit… I didn’t check my knee this time either, despite limping severely for months.

 

Still not right in the head

I still suffered from chronic sleep deficit though. During my summer holidays I partied a lot and often slept far into the afternoon. I often took a break from working out as well and typically returned 20-25% weaker just a few weeks later.

Early in the year 2000, I was 27 years old, a top ranked analyst, and attended Swedbank’s key employee management program “Top 25”, or something like that. The final week was held at Wharton, Philadelphia. Despite all the hype, I just wanted to sleep, to stop burning my candle from both ends with 70-80 hour work weeks and client liquid dinners. I was thinking about downsizing, going back to my home town, perhaps get a 9-5 job as a bank teller. And sleep.

Then it happened. Something weird and unlikely. This burned out wreck of a 27-year old, who just wanted out, was suddenly hired by a hedge fund startup.

handing out free stock recommendations

I decided to keep office hours in check, to sleep well, drink less and be fully focused on work while working. I thus finally planned to really work at the top of my ability.

Just one thing… I was interviewed twice that spring and made quite big headlines, making the bosses of my bosses to be consider not letting me start at all. Yup, that close of no retarded HF manager, just a retard. Again.

vision 1vision 2

The first few months, I was like a machine. I worked exactly 12 hours a day on weekdays, from 7 am to 7 pm, completely focused on building the perfect excel models and learning as much as I could about the companies I covered. Every little detail I might have overlooked at the sell-side, I was now hell-bent on finding, understanding and putting into context.

After a while, I finally realized there are no perfect Excel models. And finding everything out isn’t optimal either (due to time constraints). I also gradually reduced my typical workweek toward 55 hours rather than 60. On the other hand more and more work sneaked home with me through cell phones and faster and faster internet connections. Almost every day I was on the phone, or reading earnings reports or monitoring the US stock market for several hours after leaving the office.

By and large, when I was made partner and portfolio manager in 2004, I was back to 70 hours a week on average. At least I managed to squeeze in 3-4 workout sessions a week but I hardly had time for anything else.

During the most intense years, let’s say 2004-2006, due to increased responsibilities as analyst, managing director and client responsible in addition to my main gig as portfolio manager my aging body took issue with the stress, long hours and amount of alcohol that went through the system. I decreased the number of weight lifting sessions from 4 a week to 3 a week, and started planning for backing down to 2/week. I thought I had peaked at 32 and the game was basically over.

And right there and then, my golden era started. I established a pattern of working 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, i.e. 50 hours a week at the office, and limited amounts of time from home (mainly during earnings seasons). Thanks to eating better (more fish and fish oil), I stopped getting several colds a year after 2006 (I haven’t had one since). I also increased the number of weight lifting sessions to 4/week and added a couple of hours of cardio each week.

The period 2006-2012 was truly amazing. We grew, I worked less but better, we hired several really good analysts, we won awards, I made a lot of money, and not least, remarkably my yearly colds just vanished. In addition I became a lot stronger, increasing my benchpress 1RM by 30%.

We were walking on water, but gradually I was losing my Deep Work routines. First I noticed I didn’t really learn as much as I used to. I also had trouble focusing in the hectic environment at the trading desk. I tried hiding behind my headphones, blasting very familiar gothic power ballads to drown out all else. It worked, but I still thought I had to respond quickly to e-mails, DMs and other calls. That made me distracted, as if all the meetings with clients, brokers, analysts, CEOs, presentations, board meetings, IT and admin meetings, accountant meetings didn’t already crave too much of my time.

I gradually lost my ability to focus, which morphed into an unwillingness to focus. I found it harder and harder to remember names, even inside my Dunbar number. Often the days just passed in a blur of non-productive reactive behavior. Only when I really had to get things done n time and with a certain quality, I made sure nothing could disturb me and I went deep for a few hours, increasing my productivity 10-fold. If I had only known about the framework of Deep Work back then. Now, I had an intuitive feeling for the concept, but not enough confidence to consistently benefit from it.

As an added burden the summer of 2012 was when Futuris lucky streak ended with the head of ECB, Draghi’s retarded “Whatever it takes” speech. Just about a year later we were back on track, but for various reasons were wrong-footed again.

Lacking the ability to focus, feeling I didn’t learn as much anymore, having central bankers and others push the fund around out of my control, I eventually lost my last appetite for the business toward the end of 2013.

What really did it in the end was the realization that there was almost no correlation whatsoever between my efforts and the outcome for the fund. Thus I longed for a situation where a certain input would more or less reliably render a desired output – at least on average and over time.

It’s almost ironic; I finally slept well, almost enough, even if I still had psychological scars from my earlier severe sleep deprivation and was looking forward to retirement with plenty of sleep and some calm and quiet. I made a lot of money (OK, not in 2013, but there was no reason not to expect more going forward). I had found a nice rhythm for my workout routine. And yet, I had all but decided to quit.

 

I quit

At our first Portfolio Managers’ strategy meeting for 2014, I said I’d better go first: “I quit”

When I said the words in January 2014, I felt a wave of relief. No regrets, no negative feelings at all, only relief and happiness. Maybe, just maybe the thought “I should have done this sooner” surfaced momentarily, but was quickly replaced by “No, this was just perfect”.

I agreed to stay on as just the managing director for about a year, to make the transition smooth, I started sleeping 7 hours a night, maybe even a little more. The biggest change, however, was not having to engage in the market chatter anymore. That freed up almost 50 hours a week for reading blogs and articles about self improvement and science. I studied Portuguese, French, Javascript, Python, math and even signed up for a Stanford course on AI (but quit after a few lessons).

That’s when Alexander and Mike (Cernovich) inspired me to start blogging for real in June/July 2014 at my previous site AlwaysBeBruceWayne.blogspot

And outside the office I built up a list of science podcasts that I listened to during my long walks in nature – sometimes barefoot, even below freezing. As of today I listen to over 20 podcasts regularly, every single show.

The articles are still there; and I often draw from them when writing new posts. Slowly I found my own center again and gradually realized all the profound insights I had accumulated during my 20 years in high finance. I’m still often surprised by the underlying quality there and the important thoughts I put down in writing in 2014.

All my struggles, all the hard work, all my mistakes, gullibility, all the flaws I exhibited between 1994 and 2014 now power me instead. During, it felt like my entire life, but after, it’s actually just 20 years, which really is nothing.

 

Summary

Phew!

That was a long way to say: “think through who you are, what you want to accomplish and the most effective path there”.

In short: don’t be me.  But do keep reading me, in order to avoid my mistakes. Sign up for my free newsletter by providing your e-mail and you won’t miss a thing. You’ll get my most important investor lessons for free as well in my eBook “The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager”

Before you go, please share this article with your social network to make sure as few as possible of your friends go into finance or economics (unprepared).

 

Shorting stocks for 2016, going long life

A sustainable new year’s resolution – executive summary

Get your bearings*, and if you don’t like them, or just aren’t sure, change direction little by little.

-Done.

*I’m not talking about balls of steel here, but those are useful too


Man in the mirror

Are you aiming for your goals? (OK, that was weird, you think)

Are you heading where you want to go? (eh, duh! Or…?)

It might not be as straight forward as you think. It’s easy to be led astray, climbing the nearest hill instead of the right one, suboptimizing…

So, my advice is: watch that man in the mirror every once in a while.


As Yogi Berra used to say: “You can observe a lot just by watching” and Lao Tzu: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading

At least once a year, I like to gauge my momentum by comparing where I was a year ago to where I am now (Berra: observe by watching). Then I change things as needed to get me where I want to be (Lao Tzu). I rarely make drastic changes. Quite the opposite; I stick to my “just one, just one more” principle and start making small changes every day, week or month, thus making the change require as little willpower as possible to carry through. Breaking out of homeostasis is hard enough as it is.

 

Try this (I do)

Ask yourself:

  • Are you happy with your body? Is it functional (and/or aesthetic)?
  • Are you learning and progressing the way you had hoped or wanted?
  • Are you spending more or less time than planned or desired on various activities?
  • Are your finances and investments under control?
  • Your social life?
  • Are you happy?

A year ago, on January 1, 2015 I was finally freed of my final obligations at the hedge fund I had spent close to 15 years on.

January 1, 2015 was also the release date for this blog.

Now, it already feels like I’ve been blogging like this my entire life. The amateurish look of my blog, however, reminds me of my newbie status. In 2016 I want to fix that, maybe get help with the design.

A year ago, my eBook “The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager” was yet to be released. Now, it’s been downloaded several thousand times. In 2016, that one will get a face lift as well. I just might get some help with logos and pictures and format it for print on demand (!) I think I know just the guy for the job (but he doesn’t, even if he’s reading this). 

Back then, a year ago, I was stubbornly short the stock market and expected 2015 to be quite hard on the bulls.

Instead it was quite hard on my balls! In particular during the first few months. Both my stock shorts and gold longs performed spectacularly poorly. Luckily I made a few really good oil trades to make up for some of the losses.

 

Fingerspitzengefühl

After the disastrous spring, I made it all back, despite gold continuing its fall. I added to the gains by shorting the story stock Fingerprint at two occasions, with all but magical timing, (from 480 to 313 in just one day, and, later, from 676 to approximately 510 in about a week). 

 

Investing in 2016

For today’s post, I was actually planning to write an article exclusively about investment thoughts ahead of the new year, but realized I didn’t have that much to say right now. So, here are just a few bullet points instead – with no or little qualification.

I’ll stay short the stock market in general in 2016 – stocks are hideously expensive, economies are sandcastles built on zero interest rates, malinvestment and speculation on unicorns.

I’ll buy small amounts of interesting companies on sharp drops. I’ll announce my purchases after I’m done with them, unless I feel there is more downside left. Some people perceive my information as recommendations. To prevent unduly criticism, I’ll keep my investments to myself until after I think we have seen the trough.

I’ll cover my index shorts very slowly, 1% or less at a time, to finance small incremental purchases of select stocks, gold (GLD and GDX, and probably som physical as well) and oil (Brent ETF/certificate). I have no plans of initiating any shorts on single stocks.

My horizon for the above changes are about 12-36 months; 6-12 months to buy oil, 24 months to go neutral stocks, 36 months to go fully long stocks. Everything is subject to change, depending on how markets and the economy develop of course. I mean, who knows how a super extended bull market will end in an era of mad central bankers and the beginning of a (probably) tougher than usual recession?

 

Gym progression

A year ago, I struggled with 130kg in both the benchpress and the squat. During 2015, I increased my squat PB to 155kg and reclaimed 135kg in the bench (and a not too bad attempt on 137.8kg (303.5 lbs) last week – we’ll see if I manage to get it before New Year’s), i.e. if I make it tomorrow…

I have been fighting against surgery and injuries in 2012, 2013, 2014 and even in early 2015. Because of that, on paper I’m “only” right back to where I was a year ago in my deadlifting.

In reality, I’m clearly a better lifter, including my 20-rep deadlift at 140kg (309 lbs) and a 6-rep set at 165kg (364 lbs). Thirteen months ago I tore my left hamstring (weakened from surgery) when attempting a 175kg deadlift. Last week I lifted the same weight off the floor, but aborted due to my new no injury policy. That’s actually quite a solid progression from rock bottom a year ago.

In 2016, I’m aiming for a 200% bodyweight deadlift (C. 180-185kg) and 142.5kg benchpress. Apart from that, it would be nice with a 100kg clean (and press?!) and perhaps slightly bigger arms (currently 16″ exactly)… Not that 16 1/8 sounds that much more impressive than 16 ;)

 

Flung out of homeostasis

A year ago, I had a job (well…), a girlfriend (since 10 years back), an expensive Swiss watch. Now I have a blog, a dog and a podcast, but no job, girl or watch.

This may sound surprising, but I like all the changes.

Of course I wasn’t happy to be left, or losing my Gold Hublot, but with a little perspective it’s refreshing.

You are supposed to break out of homeostasis, and this time I got a little a lot of help doing it. Blogging, dogging and podding also contributed to making 2015 a truly memorable year.

 

How was yours, and what are you doing about it in 2016?

 

I’ll leave you with a gem connecting finances and that little thing called life:

Patience is required for investing, while living should be done impatiently

Maybe I got a little too comfortable, inactive…, perhaps… patient and stuck in homeostasis, despite the superficial changes with quitting my job and getting a dog.

Well, no more of that for a while. Now it’s all changes and impatience around here. Except regarding my finances, there I practice infinite patience.

Wishing you a boatload of surprises and voluntary changes for 2016!

Summary

How hard can it be?

  1. Where were you a year ago?
  2. Where are you today?
  3. Where does that trajectory lead?
  4. Do you like what you see?
  5. If not, change direction, a little at a time, to make the change easy (and thus sustainable)

Hard made easy – channeling your inner Sprezzaturian

This article is a 25 minute primer of what this site is about. And a call for you to subscribe to my newsletter for more stories, inspiration and advice.

It’s more than that though. Even if you’ve read dozens of my articles, I’m sure you’ll find a few gems in this one too.

If you prefer Swedish, lyssna på mitt svenska program (podcast) “25 minuter” istället.

Premiär måndag 2 november 2015

25 minuter show runner

 

Why should you listen to a retired money man?

In short: because I’ve been awarded the title The European Hedge Fund Manager Of The Decade, because I can bench press 140kg, because I haven’t had a cold in 9 years, because I have been royally laureled for my math and physics competence, because I retired financially independent at 41.

Because I did all this, despite being the odd one out, the bullied one, the one with no contacts or role models, the computer obsessed Aspberger child from Jukkasjärvi.

Because there is a method to my madness, that you can emulate for increased job and life satisfaction.


 

What would Batman Do?

Do you want to improve?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

Settle in for bite sized, albeit deep, advice and memes, to get you through the day, the years, and help you prosper and find meaning in life. My main goal is to show you how you can be happy and accomplished without being a total dick.

This particular article will give you an introduction to the entire site, so come back and explore the individual articles later, old and new.

Bookmark me for later, when you are in the mood for more tips, tricks, habits and mindsets that can keep you ahead of the pack and avoid being automated into joblessness and oblivion. I’ll even try to make you smile every now and then.

Would Batman give up, give in, have that snack, quit?”

 

batman age anxiety right

Then why should you?!

 

Keep investing

At this site, mikaelsyding.com, you’ll find a wide range of articles about personal development, education, skills, career, futurism, happiness, health, philosophy, decision systems, weight lifting, nutrition, sleep, meditation and finance (some hard core, some more philosophical).

personal development

education

skills

career

futurism

happiness

health

philosophy

decision systems

weight lifting

nutrition

sleep

meditation

finance

If it all seems too chaotic, check out my structured archives and delve into your specific area of interest from there.

My main motto is to “Always Be Investing”. That means to be a constant learner, to always aim for a small step upward, forward, and enjoy the journey (which can turn out to be quite surprising, and you should let it be), rather than only find satisfaction in a certain, successful, outcome.

Don’t try to become rich. Don’t put the horse before the cart and waste your life doing something you hate, in order to buy stuff and possibly quit when you’re 40, 50, 60… Instead try to become better, while enjoying the process.

 

Always Be Investing

 

Hard Made Easy

Sprezzatura is the art of nonchalance, the practice of making difficult things seem like a piece of cake. Think James Bond – when, where and how did he acquire all those skills he seems born with (wine, politics, women, technology, gems, physics, chemistry, geography, martial arts)?

Life should be a fun, albeit challenging, ride; like a computer game, where you complete one level after the other.

Sometimes you have to make more of an effort to get through, sometimes it’s almost as if you see the Matrix and can control the game, just flowing through level after level. Life is like that too – if you keep an open mind, learn instead of hate, try new things without fear and let them go just as easily, to make room for new endeavors.

Do you want to join the rank of Sprezzaturians?

Of course you do. Sign up for my newsletter right away. You’ll get my eBook for free too. Try reading just one page, maybe two. Come on, just one, then forward it to your mother/friend or go ahead and share it with all your social media contacts :). It’s quite retarded.

 

Sprezzatura – Hard Made Easy

 

ibiza pool jump

Please note how the guy to the left is carefully holding his espresso

 

Smorgasbord

Alright, here is a quick taste of what I can give you:

  • Aim low
    • whatever you do, break it down until the first step is ridiculously easy. Don’t aim for the moon or the tree tops. Aim for getting out of bed. Then, perhaps aim to walk up to the tree and touch the trunk, the first branch. Make that first thing so small you can’t not do it. Then do it.
  • Just one more
    • it’s often one more snack or cookie that gets done, but I’m talking about steps, about progress, about making it as easy as possible to exert yourself beyond what you thought possible. Aim for just one step, just the one. But right when that step is finished and you get to quit, make it a habit to think (and do), just one more, just one; that’s not too hard.
  • Live laterally
    • try new things, scary things, experiment with, e.g., 1% of your time. It will make life seems fuller and longer in retrospect, while swift, joyous and flowing in the now. Guaranteed mid-life crisis free. Oh, you’ll be smarter, learn faster and live longer too. Lateral living is the opposite of the debunked 10 000 hour-focus-on-one-thing-your-entire-life BS.
  • Sleep
    • with your feet outside the covers, outside the bed, never using the same pillow two nights in a row, red-adjusting your mobile screens or banning them altogether an hour before bed time, low-threshold meditating in bed for 10 seconds (beginner) to 10 minutes (master level)
  • Meditation – 10 seconds a day, or a week
    • how to for beginners: when going to bed, lie still on your back and go through your body parts mentally “one toe at a time, there it is, then the arch of the foot, the heel, the calves, the shins…”. Just do it for 10 seconds, or 20, whatever you like. With time you’ll like it more – but also fall asleep faster.
    • There are other easily accessible meditation techniques that don’t involve yoga, strange mantras, incense etc.
      • 1) just breathe – in through your nose, out through the mouth, focus on the act of breathing. Never mind stray thoughts; they’re okay, but go back to thinking about the breathing
      • 2) breathe with your abdomen (stomach), using your diaphragm
      • 3) do synchronized breathing with others
      • 4) power-breathing: a Johnny Drama pre-audition primal scream, or a more controlled kapalabhati breathing ahead of any kind of performance 
  • Managed life topology
    • don’t just focus on acquiring lateral skills, clever combinations of practical knowledge and experiences. In addition, hunt high and low, be cold, be hot, be comfortable, and get hurt, love and lose, get drunk or high and revel in your own misery the day after. Don’t go full retard Hangover but don’t hold all the punches either.
  • Challenge everything
    • trust nobody, do the math yourself, be independent. Every man is an island, his own nation.
  • Find yourself, know thyself
    • if you don’t know who you are, if you can’t cut through the noise of media, friends, neighbors and competitors and truly know your own inner feelings and drives, how can you be happy, be yourself, choose the right path? Don’t keep up with the Joneses, don’t keep up with anyone. Just follow your feelings and develop yourself to the next level, and the next, and the next.
  • Stupid stories
    • every now and then, I’ll tell you about that time:
      • I came four hours late (and hungover) to my first board meeting as the CEO of the European Hedge Fund Of The Decade
      • I publically advised Investor to sell its Ericsson and Astra shares at the top of the market in 1999
      • I recommended Buy the Virtual Reality company Prosolvia all the way down into its bankruptcy
      • When I kept yelling “Ola!” to SHB’s CEO “Per Boman” at an investor dinner in London. So what, three letters, typical Swedish name…
      • What really happened at the fund and in my head when the towers fell in New York on 9/11, 2001. When the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster hit and we timed our trades magically, netting me personally almost 2m USD in dividends from just a week’s trading.
      • That job interview when I was asked about a fiction role model and answered “Ford Prefect in the fifth part of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy trilogy, when he jumps out the window of a high rise to keep the element of surprise on his side“. I didn’t get the job.
      • I ran out of gas in South Africa’s countryside – I’ve never been as tense in my life
      • I actually went on an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise for ten days without even having a ticket
      • I utterly destroyed two guys that attacked me – and other street fights
      • How I’ve had 8 concussions, actually forgetting my entire family for a day or two when I was 18. Wait, no, I was 17, but I had forgotten that too at the time due to blunt force trauma to the head.
      • Or “Knife Night” 1989, in a druggie shack made of drift wood in Amsterdam. Sarphaatistraat last number…
      • When I was sure I was being kidnapped and sold during a vacation in Napa Vaelly
      • When I was sure I was being kidnapped and sold in Thailand.. What? Wait a minute. Again?!
  • Finance: There will be some boring, but useful, finance talk too: how to forecast index movements, how to value a single stock, what’s wrong with the economy, how to build an investment portfolio, how much leverage (loans) you should use, where house prices are going etc.
    • A note of caution: I am naturally independent, a natural contrarian, maybe too much so for my own (and consequently your own) good
    • This memo by Howard Marks from last Thursday (October 24, 2015) is also representative of my thoughts on investments and risk; Nobody buys that stock anymore, everybody knows it’s a good investment (already)
  • Silly pictures
    • oh, I’ve got troves; there seems to be no end to how stupid I can look, not to mention the things I say or do sometimes (like that time in the line to the Star Wars premiere on Kungsgatan, Stockholm in 2005…)

 

That time in Visby, Gotland, at a political summit when I got caught on camera with a rhubarb umbrella:

A few years later I got caught by the cops too in Visby, and another year. Oh, 5-0 was involved yet another time. And another. And then there was that kerfuffle with fireworks in the shower and being thrown out of the hotel in the middle of the night…

 

  • Taking a loss
    • Losses are in the past. Period.
  • Technical analysis
    • Lines in a chart are not real
  • Smart and easy mobility tips – 2 minutes a week to keep you young
  • Happiness
    • I often point to the importance of fun, of flow, of happiness, of experiencing and enjoying life. Of being aware. Of really seeing, really feeling, really touching, taking the active choice. It can seem a bit new age at the surface, but I promise you, I am scientific to the core. However, I often leave the referencing to others. Like Eric Barker e.g.
    • And here are a few things I’ve said about happiness in the past: Wall of wisdom, and TED Happiness research
  • Expensive things
    • Yes, I bought Zlatan’s Ferrari convertible from him, and then a yellow Lamborghini Gallardo convertible, and a Hublot Big Bang Rose Gold
      • Then I learned they were just things – that needed maintenance, that could get stolen or vandalized. Try it, but be open to realizing it really isn’t as fun as you might think.

 

Organized Chaos For Success and Happiness

Summit of Aconcagua, 6959 m / 22 831 ft

In my underwear at the summit of Aconcagua, the highest peak outside Himalaya. There I am, keeping the element of surprise on my side, should any other struggling mountain climbers, Andinistas, make it to the top during the two full hours I camped there.

 

360 spin on Gotland Ring 2006 (I’m driving)

 

It’s all empirical

I’ve lived all my advice.

I’m 44 years old (in January 2016) and I’ve done a lot of good and bad things – from appearing on TV shows like Singled Out and Man O Man to being royally laureled by the Swedish King, in front of a massive crowd as the best math and physics student; acing the chemistry olympics organic chemistry test and not least winning the European Hedge Fund Of The Decade award (and the story that followed that night and morning…, which isn’t included in the eBook).

Some, if not most, of my lessons are backed up by science too, but I’m often sloppy with references, since I believe the ideas are more important than the authors. Anyway, I know I only internalize knowledge from reliable sources. It’s just too bad you can’t know that.

In addition, I think it’s more important that I did it all myself – including tearing both my ACLs without even seeing a doctor afterward. I’m a ninja, what can I say. No, really, I am a ninja. I’ve practiced Tae Kwon Do and Kickboxing as well, and pumped some iron (benching 310 lbs = 140kg).

Bench press 140.3 kg (309 lbs)

 

When it rains it pours

In essence, you just hit the mother lode, so make sure to stick around. Start with subscribing to my newsletter, and if you know Swedish, listen to my podcast “25 minuter”.

There is so much more useful, practical and plainly presented, already written here, and orders of magnitude more planned for the future. One eBook is done and ready – it’s ugly and retarded, but fun and useful. Kind of like myself.

Another book is in the works, Retard’s Playbook: i deals with Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Public Address, Private Address, Having Fun, Zen (not least the Yogi Berra kind), Workout Methods, Why The In Between Is Most Interesting, The Power Of Tautologies, Books, How To Become An Investor, The Importance Of Walking And Brain Plasticity, Omega-3, Beliefs, Principles and on and on…

Yep, you’ll find it all here. From broccoli to BDNF and brain plasticity.

Did I mention I went from three colds a year to none in 9 years? That’s 27 saved weeks of fever, sniffling and general misery. I managed to increase my workout tolerance and my Personal Best Lifts too. Find out how right here.

 

Health in a bottle: Omega-3 fish oil with oleocanthal-rich olive oil from Arctic Med

 

As if the blog and the eBooks weren’t enough, I keep appearing in radio and TV shows, not to mention my own show: “25 minuter”, which is in… Swedish! Premiär 2 november, 2015.

My show, too, strictly follows a no bullshit rule, and focus on practical, actionable advice, albeit with some fun every now and then.

 

 

Is rich, strong, healthy, smart, laid back, successful and efficient, yet deep, something you might be interested in?

Then, be all you can be, by taking one baby step at a time, laughing at how silly and easy it is, celebrating every little victory, knowing the journey is the destination.

Take the fork in the road, end up in the direction you’re heading. Don’t play chess with pigeons…

Sprezzaturian oct 25 2015 IMG_20151025_152013

Oct 25, 2015

Say after me: “Tsuyoku Naritai!”, and I’ll help you navigate around the worst and most unnecessary pitfalls and point you in the direction of personal development, of investing in yourself, for yourself.

 

Tsuyoku Naritai

 

Now, how about that e-mail address? You can unsubscribe at any time, and you’ll still keep your copy of “The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager”.

The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager eBook