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A Curious Investor
How finance and investing introduced me to new ideas and perspectives
My interest in investing and finance was, ironically, sparked after I completed my MBA. The stock market, bonds, real estate.. these were topics I occasionally read about. Investing was limited to setting my 401k contributions - which defaulted to a target date fund. As long as I paid off my credit cards and put money in my savings account, personal finance was taken care of.
My journey into finance began with a simple book on saving for retirement. It raised numerous questions that I didn't have answers to:
Were there options besides a 401k for retirement investing?
How do I determine how much to invest in non-retirement accounts?
How do I design a portfolio(s) that can accommodate a mix of short, medium, and long term goals?
Can I “time the market”?
Should I use a financial adviser or try to figure this out myself?
I quickly realized how much I didn’t know!
That kicked off my hobby - sifting through various finance podcasts, studying investment portfolios, trying different investment platforms, reading books about market crashes… I started with the assumption that I’d find my answers here.
I still enjoy doing all of those activities. But the best resources I’ve found actually redirected me to behavioral psychology, economics, statistics, history, and philosophy. It turns out that knowing your own biases and habits, thinking in probabilities, defining your values, and developing a life philosophy are far more valuable than any personal finance hacks and complicated approaches to investing.
My choose-your-own-adventure approach to these topics has been far more engaging than any school curriculum I encountered. As a hobby, I’m following my own curiosity, setting my own questions, and searching for the best materials.
For example: listening to a discussion about famous investors loving odds-based games like poker led to a primer on probabilistic thinking. This emphasis on the interplay of your decisions and randomness naturally flowed into an exploration of Stoicism’s focus on understanding what is and is not in your control.
Every book and podcast along the way introduces new concepts and people to learn about. One of the common themes of these authors and podcasts is their eagerness to explore seemingly unrelated fields in order to derive new insights.
“Intuition is the use of patterns they’ve already learned, whereas insight is the discovery of new patterns… We can increase insights by exposing ourselves to lots of different ideas that might help us form new connections….”
- Gary Klein
I believe that this ability to make connections across different domains - to be a generalist - will grow in importance. Two great books - Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World and Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation - explore this idea in depth.
It’s relatively simple to identify new technologies, such as AI, already mastering narrow domains. The ability to coordinate these tools and people across domains in the midst of constant upheaval is the lofty superpower I’m aspiring towards.
“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”
I really admire writers like Derek Thompson, Morgan Housel, and Packy McCormick, who regularly publish new ideas and analysis. They are great creators.
In an era of information overload, curators are also valuable. They can promote creators and identify the relationships between ideas.
With that in mind, here’s some timeless wisdom from Seneca.
Life is Long Enough
Seneca is considered one of the most influential Stoic philosophers whose writings include numerous letters, essays, and dialogues that explore topics such as ethics, virtue, and the nature of the universe. Two prominent works are "Letters from a Stoic" and "On the Shortness of Life."
Note his use of wealth management to illustrate a larger life lesson.
“It is not that we have short space of time, but that we waste much of it.
Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.
But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing.
So it is - the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.
Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner, while wealth however limited, if it is entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so our life is amply long for him who orders it properly.”
- Seneca “On the Shortness of Life”
Thanks for reading.