Just One (more)

Excerpt from my coming book “Just One More”
(yes, it is finally coming together)

This is a book about how to become happy, productive, healthy and wealthy, without sacrificing leading a meaningful life on the way.

It’s an (eventually) optimistic recount of my personal experiences and lessons about self-discovery, world-awareness, and managing the intersection between the two, to gain maximum perspective, context and meaning. It’s about ever moving forward, without feeling the pressure of ambition. It’s about tricking yourself into all but effortlessly becoming who you’d want to be.

Sprezzatura and Wu Wei

The book’s written over the course of my “Ecstatic Five”, my five golden years between 2014-2019 as a dog owner, angel investor, gold bug and retired hedge fund manager. But it’s finished in the second half of the year 2021, when I’m back in the hedge fund seat, having healed from some in retrospect highly educational wounds I suffered right before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Let’s start on the saddest of notesno man is an island

On midsummer’s day of 2019 my dog Ronja, an 11 year old German Shepherd Doberman mix, unexpectedly died. After that nothing seemed to matter anymore. My days were spent either sad or empty. Mostly empty. And meaningless.

It’s my own fault, though, as I disconnected from the real world five years earlier, after a successful career as a hedge fund manager. I always thought it was the best decision of my life, and I truly have had an amazing half-decade. But I guess I finally had to pay the price for not committing to anything but my freedom and myself. I finally learned no man is an island. For a long time after Ronja’s passing I was too scared, and lazy, to care for anything or anyone again. But I healed of course. I reconnected to my friends and family and I found a deeper meaning with my time on Earth.

Ronja’s death triggered a journey into my subconscious. That psychological trip unearthed a traumatic combination of events that had festered unchecked in the forgotten recesses of my psyche for 39 years:
In the summer of 1980, when I was 8 years old, I witnessed my big brother drown before my entire family. None of us, not my big sister, my little brother, or I, nor my parents saw a therapist. Not a single hour of counseling for any of us.

Just weeks after Ola’s burial, years of senseless and merciless bullying began, as we moved to a posh neighborhood where my cheap and worn clothes, northern accent, and parents’ toxic divorce were all easy targets for the rich kids with their perfect families.

The psychological scars, from living out my 9th year, more sad, lonely, misunderstood and afraid than imaginable, were soon effectively closed off from my conscious self. There they would remain for almost four full decades, yanking my puppet strings without me ever suspecting anything. I should have known I was damaged and needed help, but I simply thought I was stronger and better than everybody else. Little did I know I was the weak and hurt one with loads of baggage.

Being an emotional cripple served me well as a hedge fund manager, but also resulted in one relationship after the other just fading away — not that that really bothered me at the time. I thought, there’s more fish in the sea and always nice with a fresh start.

I had no inkling of what was really going on behind the scenes of my damaged mind. I was too busy living what I thought was an extremely charmed life, every year better in all respects than the last.
However, the emotional pummeling I took in 2019, after Ronja’s demise set off a series of events and an intense period of introspection, woke me up. It’s as if I had been color blind all my life, but since the last dark months of 2019 I suddenly have the ability to experience and understand the complexity of the human emotional rainbow.

— Achieving true wealth, health and happiness

Chapter summary: Perspective of yourself and the world are prerequisites for meaning and happiness. Above all, your relations are what define you, and matter most. Points without relations aren’t really points at all. That tenet holds in foundational physics as well as for conscious entities.

-What are you?
The body is a pattern recognition system, fine tuned for survival. It rewards itself when it’s engaged in moving away from annihilation and toward survival. 

When you’re on social media,
the brain still thinks you’re alone.

-What do you need?
Food, sleep and exercise are basically all there is and all you need. Well, that, and some company.
Actually, social context and relationships are more important than your health. Humans are deeply social, and since we rose up on our hind legs we’ve inherited a deadly fear of being left alone on the savanna to face certain death.
Without our fellow humans, our tribe, we are nothing. Loneliness soon turns into depression, and first spiritual and eventually bodily death.

When I was young and ignorant, I used to say “every man is an island”. Luckily I grew to realize no man can be totally independent for long without seizing to be much more than an empty shell. As much as loving and losing hurts, belonging[ “Be long” could refer to how long one would have to be, how stretched one’s persona over time and space, to deal with a loved one that’s far away] and thus risking loss is paramount. Whether belonging to a family, a partner or a tribe, meaningful connections are more important than living.

If your use of technology
doesn’t lead to more quality hours
of socializing in real life,
more sleep
and more increased heartbeat activity
you’re using it wrong.

-What do you want?
You want to live, live happily [ I use “happiness” as shorthand for whatever your ultimate utility function and end objective might be: fulfillment, meaning, total experience, joy or lust, e.g.], fully, and you want to live on — for another day, or through your kids, or possibly through technological advancements leading up to the technological Singularity and immortality. 

Humans also crave company. Those that didn’t became extinct as they were easy prey. So, being social is hardwired, more so than most might think until they find themselves truly alone (I used to be one of them, enjoying my voluntary solitude which is something wholy different from being alone, rejected, abandoned).

In order to find food, friends and f… mates, you have to analyze the world and your place in it, using the brain’s powerful pattern recognition abilities for knowing what to evade, and what and whom to approach or investigate. The eternal question of fight, flight or f…

Patterns to the rescue
Due to their unparalleled survival value, identifying and pursuing useful patterns are two of the most deeply rewarding activities conceivable.

When the body is about to get what it needs, the brain rewards itself with powerful neuronal chemicals and firing patterns. Unfortunately that feeling fades pretty quickly, leaving you craving more. The trick to achieve sustained meaning and happiness is choosing naturally moving targets — actually not targets at all but processes.

This book deals with, on the one hand how to identify your inner wishes, and on the other how to maximize your opportunities to explore, and attain, those for maximum perceived lifetime utility. 

If you are depressed or in pain,
you are not weak or broken
You are a human being with unmet needs
-Johann Hari

Happiness through perspective
Did you know the number one reason people aren’t satisfied with their lives is that they don’t know themselves[ NB: “the number one reason…” clickbait one liners are always fun.] or their actual desires? They go chasing after other people’s dreams and wonder why they end up feeling empty and miserable

These “The Deprived” keep copying whatever behavior is en vogue, without questioning if it’s applicable to their particular situation. It’s as if they’ve had raw cockroaches for dinner every day without ever thinking about trying boiled lobster with garlic and parsley butter.

In addition, people tend to celebrate too rarely, singling out just a few achievements, somehow by some arbitrary yardstick deemed important and life altering. By whose standards? Who knows, but hardly their own. More likely some faceless crowd’s.

The rational thing to do is to continuously appreciate one’s adherence to inherently meaningful processes, in anticipation of expected success. It doesn’t even matter if you  manage to go all the way, since the process in itself is meaningful and the source of constant joy. That way you get to celebrate all the time, while forever dodging the dreaded vacuum of a long coveted target achieved with nothing new in your sights.

Without getting too far ahead of the narrative, There exists a recipe for understanding, for joy and success, for fulfillment, for a feeling of purpose and meaning. It’s having the right, ever-widening and expanding perspective [ https://mikaelsyding.com/perspective/], in particular of yourself.

Care, and dare lose
Do you sometimes wonder why it seems you’re always just in maintenance mode, and never really get anywhere? Why you aren’t achieving enough? Why you’re feeling empty and useless despite your objective accomplishments? Why you’re neither adventurous, nor feeling safe and at ease?

The bad but comforting news is you are not alone. The good news is there are remedies to feeling lost, stuck or disconnected.

If you want to become “happy” or fulfilled, self-actualized, you need to identify your own primary drivers. Then use a number of my suggested tools, methods, mental representations, and strategies, to design a process that’s both rewarding in itself and effective in getting you toward your end goals, thus providing the basis for purpose and meaning.

You have to care enough to connect, and dare fail and lose that connection. As much as it hurt losing my life companion Ronja, it was loving her without compromise that provided meaning to my life as a mid-forties financially independent retiree.

Whore Village — selling yourself for admiration
It’s all too easy to think our “survival of the fittest” heritage, coupled with today’s consumerist society, means we are forever doomed to compete and consume ourselves to death. My journey from poor to rich, from unassuming to conspicuous and back, however, shows it is possible to be both effective at creating materialistic success, and capable of enjoying it without futilely endlessly striving for more.

For a while, though, I lost my perspective completely in “Whore Village”, raining mannay on stuff and parties to be ‘somebody’ in the eyes of strangers. OK, let’s back up a little: 

I came from a background of poverty, without any contacts, prospects or ambition. Paradoxically, that very sloth-y constitution made me study ahead in primary school, in order to avoid having to raise my hand in class to answer questions, while eliminating the risk of being put on the spot not knowing. All I wanted was to avoid relating to others, so I could focus on my coding and gaming. How painfully clear it is in retrospect that I shun true connections to compensate for my trifecta of traumatic losses that occured before I even turned 10 years old.

Eventually, my particular variation of teenage antics, i.e., being the perfect student, resulted in outstanding grades. Thus, on the one hand, my plan was to live on welfare. But on the other, I happened to have created the freedom to choose any education I wanted. Higher education is completely free in Sweden, except for the text books. So, all you have to do to climb socially in Sweden is study hard. Rich parents are neither necessary, nor enough. 

A throw of the dice at the last moment put me in the unlikely place of the nation’s most prestigious business school, The Stockholm School Of Economics (SSE). I still to this day more than 30 years later always look at the huge, massive doors of the main entrance, with a mixture of relief, gratitude and pride:

“I got away. I got through. I made it. I just as well could not have”

From SSE, I went on to soon become a nationally top ranked financial analyst, and about a decade after that received an extremely rare award, for our hedge fund’s achievements[ Futuris/Brummer: The European Hedge Fund Of The Decade (2000-2009)]. After 15 years as an analyst, partner, portfolio manager and managing director of that billion dollar hedge fund, I realized “happiness” resided outside the typical “status, fame and money” triple. I consequently retired and sold my bright yellow [Midas Gialli] Lamborghini convertible, which in turn had been a replacement for a Ferrari convertible. I told you, I used to be materialistic.

I thus went from being a poor and asocial child, to a rich and powerful hedge fund dollar multimillionaire, basking in other people’s admiration for my conspicuous consumption, and what I might get them.

It all was a dangerous, soul-sucking and dementorous detour to Whore Village. However, I seemed to need it to gain a deeper insight in who I am at the core, and what’s meaningful to me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t avoid a visit there at all cost. But at least do yourself a favor, and pay attention to if that is where your time on Earth is most well spent; and get out as soon as you realize it isn’t.

The path out of Whore Village
From this book you can expect my pragmatic advice on financial, physical, and mental health. It’s all based on personal errors, failures, hits and misses.

Some of my favorite guidelines include “How long is a piece of string”; “Aim low”; “Convexity” and “Wu Wei”. Personal anecdotes, and straight forward practical tips go with them for proof of concept, explanation and calls to action.

An autobiographic undergrowth ties it all together like sprawling mycelium. However, don’t worry, the book is not at all about me; it’s about how mushrooming ideas, spawned by my experiences, can inspire you to get the most out of life, whether the object is worldly success or inner serenity.

Summary: I want to inspire you to explore your inner workings and their intersection with your environment, to find your purpose and meaning

Working titles for Just One (more)

Excerpt from a 2-page (work in progress) summary of the book

Don’t live your life for a legacy. You’ll be dead. Live your life. And do it together with your chosen tribe.

Knowing isn’t doing. Theory isn’t practice.

A goal is not a strategy, the process is.

Who you are when nobody’s watching, is a good place to begin looking for your core. Start with why you are here at all, why you are going through all the motions of maintenance and preparation. Preparation for what? What is that all important activity you keep postponing? Just do it already.

“Happiness” is meaning. “To mean” means “to refer to something.” Feelings guide you to the very real prospect of achieving your values and avoiding losing them. Happiness refers to the sustainable act of achieving what you value, and be able to unencumbered continue pursuing what you value. A positive experience is the ultimate arbiter of meaningfulness, of referring to something of value. Meaning without positive feelings of happiness is just empty and miserable altruism; guessing at other’s preferences, trying to fulfill a universal meaning without feelings as a guide.

Knowing yourself is an intractable problem; you can’t take a short cut, but you’ll actually have to live out life in its entirety to find out what is was all about, what it was. Be open to change, and that you are not the same as you were.

Don’t make promises to your future self, or go to unnecessary lengths to keep promises to a person you no longer are

You’re not done until you’re over and done. Split brain experiments show you are at least two yous. Further, there is no clear border between you and your cells, genes, bacteria, mitochondria etc., and even other individuals.

Will to Power: Power is the freedom to choose, but many sacrifice freedom for useless theatricals and “power”, that require more acting* instead of freedom to choose (*that only theoretically could have led to more freedom to choose your activities)

On ambition: Acquire food and shelter, do a little short-term whoring, but apart from that, focus on who you are and what you desire. There is no reason becoming rich, unless you have a specific purpose in mind for your wealth. Why would you otherwise, at the expense of your life and soul? Don’t let the system set your agenda or influence your guilt. Your emotions, desires, drivers, are what constitute the unique individual that is you. There is nothing inherently “good” or “bad” in your impulses, just potential consequences for you.

Do not limit yourself,

unless not doing so

will impose greater limits further down the road.

It takes time and effort to find a passion. Not just playing computer games. When you are really good at something, you can find flow in anything. Ikigai can be crafted; you typically tend to like or even love what you excel in, and loathe activities where you find yourself lacking. A master of even the most mundane of tasks experiences flow, thus meaning and happiness.

42 Rules For Life: Don’t Panic

  1. Widen your perspective to ineffability
  2. Aim low, Wu Wei, Do just one (more)
  3. Coin toss decision management
  4. One clear reason for every decision
  5. Trust nobody, take responsibility
  6. Deep work
  7. Don’t wash your face
  8. Find out what you like and do more of it. Primary drivers.
  9. Do what gives you meaning without taking away from future meaning
  10. Be mindful
  11. Take notes
  12. Kaizen feedback
  13. Meditate — one deep breath
  14. Focus on health first, but relationships first-er
  15. Run
  16. Sleep, don’t rise early
  17. Eat
  18. Don’t sit, mobilize
  19. Share (commune, participate, bond)
  20. Prioritize
  21. Forgive and forget — or exact revenge
  22. Accept yourself
  23. Don’t do what you want just because you feel like it
  24. Happiness is meaning, not the other way round. You decide what’s meaningful, just like only you know if you’re in love or not
  25. You decide what success is
  26. Don’t hurry, don’t be busy, stop wrongpacing, start yourpacing
  27. Don’t speed read — either read or browse
  28. Be in charge, take responsibility
  29. Just say No
  30. Design a convex life with a safety net, fully & boldly
  31. Change your state of mind
  32. Framing and Worsing
  33. Fun is not clowning before an audience
  34. Hedonistic bundling
  35. Quit
  36. Read something else
  37. The aim of a job is to make you happier
  38. Find a mentor, but don’t call them that
  39. The mentor is the true student
  40. Money, success, fame and status are not the goal
  41. Valuations are paramount and useless
  42. Life isn’t serious (Don’t Panic)

2 Replies to “Just One (more)”

  1. Dear Mikael,

    I found your blog at a cross road in my life. I’m 26, I have a comfortable life, comfortable job and I don’t want to stay here where my I’m not pushing my full potential both in execution and intellect. I’m in search of a mentor. Would you like to embark on a human experiment, to see what mentorship with a girl from Southeast Asia will yield?

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