Real-Life Antifragile

Color Commentary

Bonus Interview

We have an Audio Extra in this issue, and I’m so excited to feature it exclusively for The Invested Practice! My guest was Veronica Dagher, who is the host of the Wall Street Journal podcast Secrets of Wealthy Women, and as she told me about her extremely surprising money story as a kid, all I could think was how, from the outside, you never know what people have dealt with or are dealing with. She’s such an open and authentic person and I send her huge thanks for being willing to reminisce candidly for us.

1. Conscious Changes

Tiny changes can create massive results. As I wrote my Mostly Invested course and shot it in the summer, I’ve been thinking incessantly about how to structure my space and my day to naturally improve my practice. Life has gone in that direction, indeed, but with a pretty big twist.

As I’ve mentioned, I had surgery on one of my eyes a few weeks ago. Since then, I have not been able to comfortably look at screens for longer than a few minutes. I’m typing this with my injured eye closed. This situation isn’t going to change anytime soon, as I also have to have my other eye operated on soon for the same problem (nasty little white nodules growing in my cornea, which have to be cut out) in the next month or two and then go through the recovery time for that eye. It’s going to be like this pretty much until the end of the year.

To state the incredibly obvious, the loss of comfortably using both my eyes has made me realize how much I depend on them and how much I use screens. Now, I knew this surgery was coming and I thought that I had noticed beforehand just how much I use my eyes, but I thought the recovery was going to be a few days, not a few weeks or months. Nor did I expect how hard it would be physically. It’s been an education for me on how to work around it and I’m still learning.

I know there are many of us with physical and other kinds of limitations that make investing practice a challenge, and this is the one I’m dealing with right now. No doubt some of you also have eyesight limitations. If you have tips on how you structure your practice, I’m all ears! Please email me. I’m so lucky and grateful (and hopeful) that it will be temporary and, after the second surgery, by January I’ll be better than ever with happy eyes, and I’ll have learned a bunch of new ways to broaden and deepen my investing practice.

Luckily. I’ve found just how many audio resources are out there. Audiobooks saved me from death by boredom while I was lying on the couch for a full week post-surgery in an exhausted medicated haze with strict doctor’s orders not to stress myself or my eyes. So I lay there, and got an Audible account, and skipped around from Sherlock Holmes fanfic to WWII histories to economics lectures (got bored, haven’t finished that one yet, but I know I SHOULD) to medical history. I REALLY wanted to read a book about the South Sea stock market bubble in 1720 but couldn’t find one that had an audio version. Can you believe that? Made me remember that before digital audio, audiobooks were extremely expensive (I mean, they’re still expensive, but I remember one book being $35-$40 back in the early 1990s and they came in huge plastic binders of cassette tapes). Because of that expense, only bestsellers were audio-recorded. We’re so fortunate these days with most books being audio-recorded.

Still, I got kind of obsessed with finding a way to read a book about the South Seas bubble. After some serious searching online, I discovered that my Kindle has a text-reading function and learned how to use my iPhone’s accessibility features to use it. The voice that reads the book is the Siri robot-sounding voice, so it’s not fantastically melodious to listen to, but at least it exists as an option.

My biggest challenge with all this is that I don’t retain information very well through my ears. In school I always had to take copious notes to make sure I could SEE what the instructor was telling us, or else it was, as the saying goes, in one ear and out the other. I’m trying to see this situation as an opportunity for me to develop my audio senses much more, and I hope that will serve me well in the future.

I have been making conscious changes to my investing practice, beyond audio, and was inspired by two books in particular that changed the way I think.

2. Sapiens

I was in the Zurich airport a few months ago to fly to Lisbon for the Horasis conference I mentioned last issue. Before leaving the house I rushed around the apartment looking for a proper paper book to bring with me. I’ve learned that I never know what kind of technology restrictions they’re going to decide to have on a given plane, so I’ve learned to make sure I have at least one physical book or magazine to entertain myself. Nothing jumped out at me, and Nuno was calling me to leave it and buy something to read at the airport. Now, there’s only one English-language bookstore in the Zurich airport (only – I mean come on, I’m lucky there’s even one!) and I didn’t know if our gate was close to it, but WHATEVER. I left the bookshelf and got the in the cab. One must give up being entertained on an airplane sometimes for marital harmony. Turned out that our gate was indeed close to the English-language bookstore in the airport, and I scanned the shelves, looked down, and saw this:

I yelped! I wasn’t expecting my book to be there, in this international airport with only one English language bookstore, positioned for maximum eyeballs. So exciting – and terrifying: it was the “bad Buffett,” the “Booffeeyy” edition, the collector’s item copy.

How could I leave these three copies there for just anyone to buy? But what was I going to do, carry them to Lisbon?

Obviously, yes. I bought all three and carried them to Lisbon and then back to Zurich, where they joined, on my shelf, the other ones I’ve bought wherever I find them.

I also bought Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, because I kept hearing about it. That book, and another one, have been shaping my Investing Practice thoughts over the last few months.

3. The Luxury Trap

In Sapiens, Harari explains how our species of human conquered the animal world. According to Harari, we switched from being primarily hunter-gatherers, with an extremely varied diet of seasonal vegetables, roots and meats, and living in small bands of up to 100 or so people – to being farmers in stages, each iteration just a small alteration to a generation’s daily life. As hunter-gatherers, babies and the infirm were a burden, and natural selection and sometimes intentional killings kept the tribe as healthy as it could maintain. They worked a few hours a day and moved regularly, and in a bad year when it was hard to find sustenance, they moved on until they found it. Humans discovered wild grains and then, at some point, fields where it grew, and rather than being continually on the move, they established temporary camps for four weeks during the harvest – then five, then six, then permanent. Staying in one place allowed women to have babies more often, and to care for the sick, and the number of humans the tribe could sustain grew. As it grew, the tribe needed more grains to support the additional people, and they worked longer hours and harder at growing and harvesting a crop. In a bad year when the harvest was poor, many died. They could not move anymore; there were too many people and they were dependent on their farm for survival. Harari calls the transition “The Luxury Trap.” With each series of small improvements, trying to create a better life, the yoke became tighter.

Obviously we can easily draw a comparison to our current technological improvements. When I was a kid there was no email; when email was invented, the buzz was how much time it would free up to not have to call everyone on the telephone. And it was true, it did save time. The time was used up, though, by the expectation that an email is easily sent and easily returned – we get far more emails than we used to get phone calls, and are expected to respond more quickly, which, far from giving us more time, has ended the relaxed pace and created anxiety.

Harari’s beautiful writing on this topic, which covers only a few pages of his enormous book, really grabbed me. The point of my investing practice is freedom. Freedom to relax. Freedom to choose where my time is spent. Freedom from day-to-day financial worries. Am I putting those values into practice right now? Or am I creating a more frenetic life, with more emails, more demands on my time and energy, and less opportunity to focus on what I enjoy – my investing practice, my family, my health – thanks to the Luxury Trap of wanting a bigger house, nicer car, better vacations, better skincare?

I need to put structures and incentives into place that encourage myself towards that kind of life, because lord knows, I’m not going to get there without every bit of help I can find. It doesn’t have to be ideal right now (or ever), but being conscious of my goals from the beginning hopefully means I won’t have to fix errors down the road.

One drawback to my eye situation is that I have been returning emails…sporadically. Well, that’s a kind word for it. Rarely, is more accurate. I’m sure some people have felt I’ve been rude, and I’m also sure I could have accomplished more by being more on top of correspondence, but it’s not been worth the eye strain.

I have been quite liking it, I will admit, because it’s giving me the mental space to think deeply without interruption. As Tim Kreider wrote in his New York Times op-ed, “The Busy Trap,” after physically fleeing the problems arising in his email inbox: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” he explained.

What could be more vital that downtime to think to an investing practice in which discovering new fields and anticipating future developments is key? The Luxury Trap has trapped me, but I’m discovering how to open its jaws. I’m debating instituting an “email only on certain days” policy and, to avoid offending anyone, instituting an auto-responder explaining the policy so no emailer feels personally ignored. That I have the luxury to potentially do this is rather unusual, of course, but there are ways to institute the downtime to think in more regular ways too. Perhaps announce I’ll only read emails once per day at 3pm, for example.

4. The One Thing

The second book is The One Thing.

I kept noticing The One Thing showing up in my life. I had read bits of it, excerpts online, and then several investor friends highly recommended it as extremely helpful to their investing practices. A few weeks later, I went to a bookstore and saw it on the shelf while I was looking for my own book, and I thought what the heck. I’ll read the whole thing. I bought it.

It wasn’t too great in the beginning. In fact, I’d say you can skip the first chapter. But then. BUT THEN. It gets good.

This book says the key to success is time. We all know that. But here’s the difference: not just disparate, sporadic, random time. Sequential, intentional, focused time. And, prioritizing that focused time over everything else.

5. Focus

I focused massively on my space and time for investing practice when I first began OF COURSE because I didn’t have a clue what to do and had to think of how on earth to fit this thing into my life. What worked for me was creating my Investing Office, which was nothing more than a little plastic bin of stuff that reminded me why I was learning investing and which would make my practice more comfortable: a scented candle, lighter, photos of loved ones, books about investing, a talisman from when I had some heart problems reminding me that things get better. I didn’t have space in my tiny apartment for anything more formal.

Now, I’m four years down the road on my investing life. Four years! I spent the first few years stumbling around and the 3rd year focused on writing about that stumbling, so I’ve had, really, one year of competent investing practice and it feels like it’s about the right time to revisit my investing time and space. A LOT has changed in those years.

I live in a different apartment. That apartment is in a different country. Before I lived alone; now I live with my partner. Before I had no desk nor room in my apartment to put one in; I have a desk now, on which I can keep my investing talismans. Before, I worked more than fulltime at my legal practice; now, I work more than fulltime on investing and writing about investing. Before, I was focused on wandering practices and simply learning the language of investing; now, I’m developing new strategies of learning and practicing investing that build on those years of experience. My perspective is completely different.

Lovely changes, all. But changes. Unconscious ones. They’ve affected my investing practice without me meaning them to do so.

And some things stay the same. I mostly still do my regular investing practice on my phone, in the morning, while I have coffee after waking up. That’s it. Investing practice is done for the day. After that, if I have time, I’ll open my computer and get into more specialized research, into a particular company or website, but it’s a bonus.

The One Thing brought back that early feeling for me of “I’ve got to do this now,” and makes each reader examine his or her own priorities, drilling down until finally the reader arrives at the One Thing that is most important. Then, all you have to do is make that One Thing happen, each day, because you’d be crazy not to.

My One Thing is investing. I do a lot of other stuff, including writing this newsletter and my course and social media and writing emails and giving speeches and talking with other investors and entrepreneurs. All those things service my investing practice and make me feel happy to know there are many others out there doing this right along with me. But they are not my One Thing. Investing is my One Thing. It’s very easy to get them confused.

What unconscious changes have happened to your investing practice since you began?

What has stayed the same?

Were you aware of those changes? Did you feel them as they were happening?

LET’S GET PRACTICAL

If you have choose between both books, I highly recommend getting The One Thing. Sapiens is great but it’s a ponderous tome. The One Thing is actionable, immediately. I highly recommend it as great investing practice.

What is YOUR One Thing?

InvestED Podcast interview with Veronica Dagher is here.

Ownership Disclosure: Danielle Town does not own stock in any companies mentioned herein.

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