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).

 

Ignore the power of distilled wisdom at your peril

A collection of 16 profound, important and useful quotes that actually mean something

I should add though, that purely philosophically, not least from a phenomenological perspective, I’m not entirely sure quotes and introspection really are better than, e.g., watching a soccer game. That, however, is topic for a whole different article.

Reading time: 5 minutes (it is possible)

  • Bonus quote: “if you think investing is easy you are stupid“; risk is perverse
    • high quality assets can be risky and low quality assets can be safe. It all depends on the price.
      • The higher the price for a given asset, the lower the expected return and the more time spent in negative territory, i.e. the more risk of loss.

Warning: male nudity


programmet för alla som blickar framåt

Om du kan svenska får du gärna lyssna på min podcast “25 minuter”  som började sändas 2 nov. Du hittar den enklast på TradeVenue/25 minuter.


 

What’s all the fuzz about quotes? Why should you care?

Quotes are distilled wisdom from entire lives of deep thought and hard-won experiences. 

Imagine taking just one single quote from your entire life. That’s what we often do with historical philosophers, writers, leaders etc. Imagine the wisdom collected in that person’s best quote.

The right quotes can be shortcuts that work

But sometimes quotes are just artificially crafted for public appeal, while lacking meaning or being outright paradoxical, or just shallow truisms.

 

Why should you read, memorize or collect quotes?

To benefit from other people’s endeavors, errors and success. To avoid mistakes and as a pair of steady shoulders to stand on when peering toward the future.

To be inspired to change, to improve, to grow.

And, maybe just maybe, to make yourself look a little better, wiser and more interesting.

 

What quotes should you shun?

The ones that are mass manufactured, lack meaning, are contradictory or made only to fit today’s media landscape of maximum 140 characters.

Almost all gym slogans, thinspiration pinterest posters and instagrams, as well as exercise tweets, belong to this category – even if many gym goers actually seem to draw energy from them.

How bad do you want it?

Avoid quotes that just sound good (in particular if it’s in another language). Avoid quotes where you’re really only interested in the person behind them, rather than the actual wisdom.

ceci n’est pas une pipe

(that’s actually a quite profound and versatile meme, while still sounding cool, and being in French)

 

Which quotes should you collect?

Quotes that make you think, question, change and grow.

Quotes that inspire change. Quotes that make you want to be better. Quotes that speak to your innermost and help you become more yourself.

Quotes that make you reflect, make you understand something new and useful – and take action.

 

16 quotes that actually mean something

(without reference, since I don’t care who said what; I only care about the meaning. Sometime a famous name or a foreign language can distort your perception of a quote)

  • Losses are in the past
    • period
    • Yup, that’s it. In the past. Can’t do anything at all about it. Learn your lesson, forget about the loss, and look forward. The loss is firmly in the past and there are no time machines.
    • Don’t waste time dwelling on past events, unless you’re actively trying to learn from them (Spitznagel’s Dao Of Capital: “a loss is but a lesson for future gains”)
    • By the way, brain science shows we adapt quickly to even life shattering events, if framing the event adequately and looking forward, focusing on what’s left

losses are in the past 2

 

  • Try pouring a ton of steel without rigid principles
    • whenever accused or ridiculed for being overly precise or “too logical” and stiff – without principles we could all just put our faith in some made-up god.
    • hold your horses when too eager; take a step back and establish the principles before rushing in – it’s fools who rush in

rigid principles of physics can save your life

 

  • When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man
    • trust no one, question all truths, be prepared to re-learn, accept the evidence of harsh reality, not the confidence of other men
    • never take action on a stock or investing tip – for one it’s unknowable, and two, the tipster won’t be around to tell you when it’s time to get out

exact information

 

  • Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity
    • few people are truly evil. Try to understand how they think they are being good, and then change their way – or yours
    • It’s not evil to broadcast your celebratory stock purchases at new all time highs; it’s just ignorantly misleading for newcomers to the game

misleading

 

  • The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it
    • remember that those in power will do anything to keep it; that’s how they got there in the first place, to powerfully administer their variety of good: “I’m from the government and I am here to help you”
    • read between the lines of every person in power, be it politicians, bosses or other authorities
    • this one works well for communities of stock fanatics as well
    • Oh, and if you deliver the wrong truth or message to a Spartan…

kill the messenger thruth sayer

 

  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it
    • be open minded, take a chance, don’t fret unnecessarily
    • equally weighted decisions are actually easy, not hard – flip a coin if you like if the decision is such a close call. I bought my first car (red BMW) on a coin flip.
    • research shows taking the active choice increases happiness
    • PS: may you live in interesting times
    • Take these forks in the road; try balancing two forks and a coin like this:

fork in the road

 

  • If you do not change direction you may end up where you are heading
    • be strategic, think long-term; a 100 million small steps add up over the years; you will end up where you are heading – unless you change direction in time
    • be careful what you aim wish for
    • it’s never too late to alter your course, you are not too old. You’ll never be younger than right now.
    • If you stay in a boring line of work, a dead end life, you end up in a boring, dead end life

rat race

 

  • Forecasting is difficult, especially about the future
    • forecasts are guesses.
    • some forecasts are more informed than others, but something else might still happen
    • here be black swans
    • NB that we can’t even know the precise causality of things that have already happened – like a stock price change; meaning forecasts are hard even regarding the past

forecasts

 

  • If the world was perfect it wouldn’t be
    • life isn’t exact, life isn’t comfortable and predictable, life is change, surprises, volatility, highs and lows
    • don’t shy away from life; embrace it, warts and all
    • Strive for a certain life topology, ups and downs, rather than hide. Some comfort at the end of the day is good, but keep exploring life’s uncomfortable end points too; Break Out Of Homeostasis

cindy imperfection

 

  • Be yourself, everyone else is already taken
    • live in a way that you always without hesitation can answer “me” when asked who you would be if you could choose
    • why on earth would you want to emulate somebody else, suppress your personality, keep up with the Joneses and all that?
    • In a socio-sexual hierarchical context you shouldn’t be alpha, beta, delta, gamma, omega or lambda. You shouldn’t care at all (not that you actually can choose), but still somehow end up being a sigma, the independent outsider who doesn’t even care about the game
cock in a sock

Sweden 2014: sorry, this 7-σ persona is already taken

Note: Sigmas usually acquired their outsider status the hard way; one seldom becomes immune to the social hierarchy by virtue of mass popularity in one’s childhood (source: alphagameplan)

  • Don’t postpone until tomorrow that which can wait until the day after tomorrow
    • don’t rush, don’t force, live now, if something can be put off without consequence, do it!
    • make a “not to do” list of things you might do some day, albeit not right now; then put it away and focus on whatever it is you prioritize today 
    • what is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important
    • Read slowly
    • Savor

Sprezzatura savoring

 

  • Arguing with morons is like playing chess with pigeons. No matter who wins, they will shit all over the board and strut around like winners
    • some fights aren’t worth taking, no matter how right you are. Why do you even care what the other guy does, says or thinks?
      • this happens in social media all the time; some people turn to trolls in the anonymity behind their screens. Just walk away.
    • On the internet nobody can hear you scream “SOMEBODY IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET”

walk away

 

  • Every man is an island
    • take responsibility for yourself
    • every person lives for himself. By accepting this truth instead of altruistic paradoxes and lies, the world becomes a better, fairer place to live
    • You should instinctively cover your ass and wallet when exposed to communist propaganda like “No man is an island”

Who is John Galt?

 

  • Character shines through with power, not adversity
    • Don’t take a poor man’s noble character for granted; wait until he becomes rich and powerful. Absolute power corrupts absolutely (Old Testament God: the meanest and most erratic torturer ruler ever conceived – check!)
    • With great power comes absolutely no responsibility, and that usually shows

omnipotent Thanos

 

  • Know yourself
    • does this count as a quote? And by whom? Thales? No matter, it’s still the best there is. It guides every aspect of my life and is the root of all (good). Knowing yourself is necessary for achieving personal growth and happiness
    • Break down and dissect your feelings, aspirations, talents and shortcomings, and behave accordingly
    • Knowing your surroundings, your obstacles etc. is also part of this story
      • The quote could be changed into “break it down” – break down everything into its components, its axioms, its fundamentals. Then build upward from there
reflection 2

Break it down

  • No, you don’t want money or to become rich
    • If you already were wealthy, what would you do? That is who you are, that is what you like.
    • Don’t put the horse before the cart and waste your life becoming rich, in order to lead a life of leisure when you are old
      • What I want is to learn and to share – no need to be rich for that. I also want to stay healthy and fit (good food doesn’t come cheap, but I don’t need millions)
  • Actionable? Watch yourself in the mirror every day. What does that guy want? Need?
reflection

Know Thyself

 

  • You can’t tell the quality of a decision from its outcome
    • Many well thought through, intelligent and logical decisions can lead to losses, due to the unknowable future, while ill-informed, overly risky and generally low quality decisions can have benign endings thanks to dumb luck.
    • Out of many potential futures only one materializes – and it’s far from always the most likely one
      • What’s the most likely sum of two thrown dice? It’s 7. How often does another sum turn up? 83% of the time.
        • So, were you wrong in betting on 7? Were you wrong in going short that story stock? [FING, AMZN]
    • If you think you can, think again

2 Red Dice on a green table in a spot

 

Which quote resonated the most with you?

Please share your view, or another favorite quote of yours, and its meaning, in the comments.

 

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