I’m Building an Ark
In my inbox this morning was a article written by Andrew Ross Sorkin for the New York Times Deal Book. The subject line was a quote from the article (which is an an interview with the legendary hedge fund investor Ray Dalio); it reads “I have a principle: If you worry, you don’t have to worry”.
At first glance, you may infer that Mr. Dalio is advocating on behalf of those who deal with excessive Anxiety. As if to say ‘go ahead and lie awake a night and worry’….I can assure you, that’s not what he’s getting at. The next line of the principle is “If you don’t worry, you have to worry”.
It’s the second line that really hit me. For most of my life, until about the age of 45, I had a nasty habit of never worrying about anything. I would say I had toxic mix of over-confidence infused with a blind optimism that ‘everything would work out’ or that I can just ‘deal with that later’.
Then in 2007 a co-worker, office mate & friend passed away very suddenly. He was about 20 years older than me and, in my view, he was really starting to enjoy the fruits of his hard work and financial sacrifice. It was a Saturday evening in May and we had just finished a business dinner in a beautiful restaurant on the water in Palm Beach when another colleague of ours, who was at an adjoining table, asked my friend what he had for dinner. To both of our surprise, he could not recall the dinner he had just finished. I’ll never forget him looking at me and asking me what he had just eaten.
Sadly, it was just about 90 days later when he passed away from a glioblastoma brain tumor. (More on my friend later)
A longer story short, you can now add a pint of nihilism to the over-confidant/blind optimism and that left me as someone who never learned to properly worry and never really understood why anybody would ever worry in the first place.
What’s the price of not knowing how to properly worry? Well, if your not worried about the flood, you don’t build an Ark.
Websters defines an Ark as a place of protection or security; refuge; asylum. To be clear, for this the purposes of this blog post, an Ark is metaphorical symbol for a place of security and protection for you and your loved ones.
I’ve been listening to the youtube sensation & phycologist Dr. Jordan Peterson’s biblical lecture entitled “The Psychology of the Flood” on repeat for about a year now. Regardless of your your religious affiliation , I’d highly recommend this lecture. You can watch/listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNjbasba-Qw&t=7905s.
Dr. Peterson ominously warns that “when the storm comes and your Ark is half-built and you don’t know how to captain it, the probability is very high that you will drown”. Well, this hit ‘close to home’ for me.
The best answer I can give you is this; Just look around and you will see it. Scroll through your Facebook news feed and you see people who are connected to you in some way asking for prayers for a themselves or an ill family member, mourning the loss of a spouse or parent, getting divorced or dealing with some type of challenging family situation etc etc.
In every life, the flood comes. In some form or another, everyone who lives will have to deal with a flood of sorts. Sometimes the floods we face are of our own making. It doesn’t matter. The flood doesn’t care the cause, It’s still a flood.
Ray Dalio is obviously discussing one flood that investors need to prepare for. I’ll save you the research — he sees a future in which China replaces America as the worlds global center of power and influence and he’s warning investors to prepare for it and now and invest accordingly.
The flood may be a macro economical event like the next “black Monday” or the inevitable downturn of the housing market or some other industry you rely on. Maybe your flood will be more personal like the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one, a serious health issue for yourself or someone you love. If you do an honest examination of any full life, you will discover that at some point in that life there was a time when that person faced a flood sorts. Doubt me? Then ask your parents.
So what can we learn from Ray’s principle “If you worry, you don’t have to worry”? For me, I’m learning to properly worry and I’m preparing for the next flood.
And because I’m worrying, I’m busy building my Ark and learning to captain it.
Why Build an Ark?
It’s seems to me that the true value is “in the journey and not the destination”. It’s the “learning how to captain it” part that offers the best odds of making things better. It’s the who you become while building your Ark that may very well end up being more valuable than the actual Ark itself.
Questions for the would be Ark captain; How would you need to constitute yourself to be someone who can be relied on during the storm? What is it about your character that gets in the way? Is there something your doing that you need to stop? What parts of you do you need to just let die so you can grow something new in it’s place? What skills are you missing that you need to learn? How about this; can you find someone to learn from who’s faced the floods and had their Ark ready and knew how to handle it?
Here is where I come back to my friend who passed away too soon and is such a tragic way. His passing left me feeling like “what’s the point?” of planning, making good decisions for the long term like saving money and investing. If it can all be wiped away and be over in 90 days without warning, shouldn’t we just live for our short term happiness? We have all seen the memes with sage advise such as “east desert first, life is short”.
When my friend passed away he was working hard, spending less than he earned, managing his real estate investments, regularly meeting with another mutual friend (who was a wealth manager) to prepare for his future. He had been divorced many years before but all that was now behind him and he was very close to his older children.
Ironically, he had just completed the renovation of his beach house that was to be his eventual primary residence in retirement. The longer term decisions he had made in the previous years were starting to pay their rewards. He had a pretty solid structure to his Ark. Although he was in his early 60’s he was still sacrificing in the present for a better future. So maybe his Ark wasn't complete, but if the storm appeared, he was going to be able to navigate it.
He had a reputation for being honest. Brutally honest actually. Over the few years that I worked closely with him, I had come to learn that his “bark was worse than his bite” for he was a very kind man. He had the respect of those who worked with him and also those who worked for him. He had lots of experience from decades of practice. And from what I can see, he enjoyed the love of his children.
He told me enough “old stories” for me to realize that he had learned, over time, the way most of us do; by trial and error. He had earned is sea legs in previous storms. My friend had learned how to captain his Ark. Who he became while building his Ark seems to be immeasurably more valuable to his every day peace of mind and to his family than the Ark itself.
It’s a work in progress
My Ark is not built and I’m not ready for the storm. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ‘ready’, but each day is a day build and to prepare. Some of they ways I’m building and preparing:
- I’m constantly looking to learn and improve my skill set as to increase my personal value my business and my clients. I’m staying humble so that arrogance will not lead me to obsolescence.
- Reinvesting in my business as fast as I can. For right now, no other investments have provided a better ROI than those I’v made in myself and my business.
- Working to build a reputation with colleagues and clients as reliable, skillful and honest business partner.
- Taking care of my health and paying attention to what I eat and how I exercise so that I have the energy and vitality to build each day.
- I’m finding ways to repair the leaks from the last “storm” (Atonement).
- I’m paying close attention to everyone in my family. I’ll be here for all of them and I will sacrifice for them.
I’m not in search of “happiness”. I could care less about it actually. Today, Im only interested spending my time working to be someone who can build an Ark and ride out the storm. The ideal I’m striving for is that of a “master seaman” who can captain his Ark and protect himself and his family. Please don’t misunderstand, I am happy. It just not an aim — it’s a result of something else I guess and for that I feel fortunate.
I’m grateful everyday when there is no storm and I can see the Blue Sky (pun intended) and continue to work and prepare.
I do know that whenever the storm comes and whatever it brings, I will face it honestly. I’ll be better prepared for the next one. I’m worried, and as a result, I’m not worried.