Substack Library


The Journey

“How, how Cordelia? Mend your speech a little,

Lest you may mar your fortunes.”

Lear to Cordelia in King Lear, Shakespeare

To my paid subscribers-note the call-in details below for a Thursday (tomorrow), 11 am, Eastern Time, ask me anything, conversation. Russia? China? Markets? The next book, questions about the last book? Future podcast guests? Ask away.

We are all on a journey, from birth to death, from young to old, and from inchoate self to your most true self, incorporating new information along the way. Today I am writing about that last part, your true self because it is interesting and relates to learning how to make sense of the world and manage money.

I worked for “the man” for almost fifty years, the “man” in this sense was both corporate America and a formal education. College, grad school, and three companies were all very different from one another but all had one thing in common—a distinct voice. To get paid or grades, you had to mimic the voice. Deviations, like Cordelia’s attitude, would “mar your fortunes.”

To be clear, this is not always nefarious. People reflexively respond well to being asked questions about themselves and having their thoughts echoed back to them. But it is also true that if I searched a Professor’s previous work and reflected it back to them in my own words, my grades rose as if buoyed by helium.

Three years ago, I broke out on my own, creating Still Press. Still Press grows if I and my invaluable team (an admin, a sound engineer, an editor, and a designer) work together to produce stories you value, be they in a book or essay or podcast. All of us have just two eyes and 24 hours in a day, so for you to read our material means you are not reading something else. Tough competition.

In the process, I’ve had to learn what my authentic voice is. With that in mind, some notes on what I’ve noticed, which might be useful for you either to compare your own path or, for those who have yet to begin, guideposts of what the journey looks like.

  1. Schools and corporates inculcate, they don’t elicit. A certain amount of knowledge has been accumulated over the centuries and students are rewarded to the degree they can faithfully give back that information. An extreme example is learning a foreign language. There is nothing imaginative about it. You need to regurgitate. The top universities are rife with people with fast processing speeds who do this well. There is no correlation I have observed between processing speed and either creativity or wisdom.

  2. You may live in a Democracy, but you don’t work in one. Once you leave school, there are forks on the road. Private sector or public, entrepreneurial or corporate. I was a young father with no scratch and wanted the stability of corporate life—a regular paycheck, health care, and structure, so I took the corporate fork. A corporation is structured similarly to a top-down state, with a supreme leader (CEO), politburo (board), secret police (compliance and HR), and propaganda (marketing) departments. Like in any authoritarian structure, fealty is rewarded. Authoritarian structures that are well organized can be profitable because that scale allows them to produce something unique, like an iPhone, that people will pay big bucks to own. Authoritarian structures also struggle with succession, which is what King Lear is about.

  3. Incentives matter. Fealty means recognizing the biases of your professor and boss and working within those biases. To take an extreme example, there is no doubt some senior Russian officials who recognize Putin is wildly off course but will never speak up. The penalty for doing so is too severe. One might wish school or work were otherwise, but that is the reality. Once you are outside these structures, none of this matters, however. But, this independence comes at a cost, you must start from zero. People know the name of your school or your former employer, but not you or your ideas, and in a crowded field, you need to work like hell to distinguish yourself and develop a community. When I worked for the “man” I both took days off and paid vacations. Now I don’t.

  4. You can’t create something original in someone else’s voice. One of the things I did when I left corporate life was to carefully read and sometimes re-read what are considered the literary classics—Cervantes, Shakespeare, Melville, Dostoyevsky, Hemmingway, Faulkner, McCarthy. Two things are immediately clear. First, they are classics for a reason, they are truly a cut above. Second, they all write in very different voices. There is no way you could mistake Shakespeare for Dostoyevsky. You need to create in your voice, which only you have. It requires digging and experimentation to discover that voice, to get the tone just right. That’s why comedians describe years of getting destroyed on stage before something clicks.

  5. All the above holds true in general, but it is also true of money management. There are different tribes within money management—macro versus micro, value versus growth, passive versus active. I worked for a guy, Ray Dalio, for many years who had a very specific investment approach designed for his wiring. Since setting out on my own I’ve taken pieces of what I learned from Ray but also abandoned large pieces of it, because they don’t align with how I am wired. If you really want to own assets that you believe in, you need to arrive at that view from your process, which is aligned with your wiring.

  6. The north star is “what’s true.” I’ve had to develop a “practice” to try to elicit what is true as opposed to what a superior thinks is true. In the process, I changed. Gone are alcohol, multiple meetings a day, and suits. I’ve replaced that with sleep, daily writing, daily deep reading, and curiosity conversations, meaning speaking with people from fields not immediately related to mine that can help me understand the world. I am not saying I have found “the truth.” I am saying that my day is now organized around trying to dig it out, wherever it is buried, as opposed to managing a boss.

Separately from all the above, this will be my last regular post for a few weeks. I will be traveling to some unusual places and, if the chance affords, will post from there. I’ve also reflected on the pricing of the paid portion of this service. To those people who initially took a bet on me, thank you! Your prices stay the same. For those of you that got in at $70/year, good job! Ditto the rest of you that came in at higher prices, which I have gradually raised as the track record lengthens.

When I return from my travels, I am going to boost the price to $750/year from the current $350. I realize this will price this service beyond the reach of some of you. However, for others managing even a relatively modest sum of money, the learning in these posts and asset allocations will pay for itself pretty quickly, I think. I’d also like to invest in an analyst and that costs money. While these posts are not investment advice, I am not a registered investing advisor, and you need to do your own research, they are a look over the shoulder of an experienced investor, with an associated value. Competing services cost as much as $2000 to $3000 a year, sometimes more.

Below is the UNAUDITED track record that aligns to the ideas I’ve shared in posts.

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