A Letter to the Next Generation (or Two): Six Lessons That Will Change Your Life

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When I was young(er), there existed a mechanism for what I’m about to tell you. Had you been born any time prior to that which you were, it’s likely that like me, you would have experienced it first-hand. It was called mentorship. You of course have heard of this mechanism, and perhaps think that you’ve experienced it, but it’s unlikely that you really have – because it’s all but gone now. And that is our fault; we who should have been there for you and weren’t, and now we belittle and condemn you with exasperated intolerance, shaking our collective heads at the behaviours you exhibit. Behaviours, of course that we are responsible for, through our disinterest in doing the job that was entrusted to us.

We were supposed to mentor you. We didn’t. And now increasingly you are mentored by peers and ‘influencers’ (savvy code for what a decade ago we would have called “frauds” and “bullshit artists”), and remain confused when those lessons do not bear the fruit you had thought they would. That’s on us. I am sorry for that transgression, and for the part I’ve played in it, and in an effort to make amends I’m going to share with you now what I should have been sharing for the better part of half a decade. I’m going to teach you the six most valuable things I’ve learned in my 43 years on this little spinning rock; the things that have made the greatest positive impact on my life. If I do this right, then regardless of who you are or what you do with yourself, you should derive benefit from what I have to share, and I’ll cut a good couple of decades off your learning curve. If I do this wrong, well…then you’ve already closed this window. So here goes.

Human Connectivity is the Key to All Business

People don’t buy things from robots. People don’t hire robots. People don’t want to spend time with robots (well, some do, but I’ve gotta say, they seem a bit freaky to me). Whether you’re selling your physical skills, expertise, a product, or even an illusion, whether or not you do that successfully depends on whether you connect with the people to whom you’re selling. Even if you never directly engage with a client, as in the case of an online store, the client is making a fundamental qualitative decision based on emotional comfort, often subconsciously.

Make the most valuable product in the world, and sell it for the best price, via a website whose primary colorscape is black, red, green, and yellow, with no discernible navigation structure or aesthetic unity, and you won’t sell anything. Why? Because people might not like your style choices? No: because that says “I am a disorganized, clueless, cheap person who could have hired a professional to make this experience better for you, but I chose not to because 1) I think I know better, and/or 2) I don’t care enough about you to do that – and THAT is how I’m going to handle your business”.

Spending time cultivating excellent interpersonal communication skills – listening, far more than pontificating for your own self-pleasure – will net you far more success than every lynda.com tutorial combined.

Join a book club. Go out and engage in discussion with strangers on whatever topic you find interesting (art, literature, sports – whatever), in whichever groups you can find, and you will develop those skills if you work at paying attention to the reactions of others. Connect. Don’t fucking broadcast.

Anger is the Biggest Time-Waster and Serves No Purpose

Think about it: what does anger do for you? Nothing. Is it a left-over caveman survival mechanism? Nope. You don’t get angry when you hunt and scavenge; you get angry when someone (even if that someone is you) violates a rule or standard that YOU have. Absorb that. When you get angry at something or someone, it’s because you have an expectation for an outcome that is not being met. Who created that expectation? Where was the guarantee of the outcome you thought should have occurred written? The answers are: you did, and nowhere.

Given all of that,

…anger is a waste of time. It will eat up your brain cycles; it will colour your interactions with people around you; it will cloud your judgement; and it will rob you of every single tiny opportunity for pleasure that comes your way. Screw anger.

Next time someone or something delivers an unexpected negative outcome, put all the energy that would have gone into visualizing the destruction of that person or thing into finding, with as much rapidity as possible, an acceptable solution, and the quality of your life will increase ten fold. Take it from someone who has been extremely angry for much of his life: it’s a complete waste. Let it go.

Embrace Your Ignorance

Think you know everything? Well you don’t. Think you know 10% of everything? You don’t. You probably know basically nothing, because ‘knowing everything’ is a protective mechanism you’ve had to use in your young life to be accepted and admired, and unfortunately when you think you know everything – even if it’s just a facade – you can’t learn a damned thing.

So get comfortable with your ignorance – because then you’re ready to learn. And you will be floored at how fast you can learn when you drop all the pride and bullshit that goes into ‘knowing everything’.

Yes, you will feel it at first, and it will sting because you’re not used to it. But in a shorter timeframe than you think, that feeling will be gone and you will start enjoying the satisfaction that comes with real knowledge – not the applied knowledge you spent the better part of 2 ½ decades regurgitating. Me? I love not knowing shit, because that ‘not knowing shit’ led to ‘knowing shit’, which in turn led to living in the friggin’ Caribbean on the ocean shortly after my 43rd birthday.

“I have NO idea how to do that” is my favourite damned phrase.

Don’t Rule Out Dating an Older Person

Now, I’m married, so this isn’t a self-serving suggestion. It of course presumes you’re not in a committed relationship, or that if you are, you may not be at some time in the future. It may seem a little odd, but honestly I attribute much of my interpersonal communication skill to the time that a couple of women 10 years my senior invested in me in my youth. Because if you want to talk about ignorance (see point 3 above), believe me, the pinnacle is probably a 23 year old male.

The reason I say “date” – that this advocates a romantic relationship rather than a platonic one – is that (and I’m assuming you’ve had a romantic relationship so you know this) the communication mechanisms and interpersonal responsibilities you have with a partner are far different – and I would submit both more subtle and varied – than those found in platonic relationships. Your buddy calls you a “fat bastard”, and he’s an asshole; your partner calls you a “fat bastard”, and he/she is likely sleeping in the yard for the rest of the week…

Like it or not, the romantic relationships you will have in your life will factor significantly in your overall happiness.

We take zero classes in the skills you need for these relationships to be successful, and unless you’re extremely lucky, had shitty role-models in your own parents where blissful co-existence is concerned. Someone older than yourself has made many of the mistakes that you would likely repeat, has (again, likely) had more partners from more varied backgrounds and certainly more experience than you, and you can only benefit from that.

This is learning to communicate needs, feelings, vulnerabilities, and desires on an intimate level, and in this ultimately most sensitive of areas, the experience of your partner (good or bad, actually) can only help you. So don’t rule our the divorced single mom or the distinguished older dude (unless he’s a Sugar Daddy, which means he lacked skill so badly in his own bracket, he’s now descended to yours because you won’t know any better).

Materialism Loses to Experiential Living Every Time

Fast forward to The End. If you’re lucky, you’re 90+ years old, you’ve accomplished what you wanted to with your life, and you’re lying comfortably in your bed gasping out your last breaths, with those who matter most to you by your side. What’s going through your mind? What are your desires for those last few moments? Are you going to ask someone to carry you out to your Lamborghini collection one last time? I doubt it. Are you going to fire up your laptop to check that account balance? Nope. Will you ask to be wheeled through your house to look at all the stuff you spent your life slaving away to buy? Probably not.

No, it’s likely that those last few moments (if you’re lucky, we’re talking ideal world here) will be spent reflecting on the quality of the life you lived, and your treatment of people you lived it with. And there won’t be a Philip Stark chair anywhere in those reflections. You like exotic fast cars? Want the experience of driving one? Rent it. Sticker price of a new Ferrari F430 Spider: $279,000. Cost of renting it for a day? $995. Even if you rented the thing for 12 consecutive weekends – every weekend in a summer – you’d spend ~$24K and still have a quarter of a million dollars to spare. You’d have the experience of driving the car, which would likely stay with you for the rest of your life, without the insane maintenance, upkeep, and insurance costs – to say nothing of the initial capital outlay required for ownership.

Ownership of something like this is not a status symbol – it’s a bright shining advertisement that the concept of Value is completely lost on you.

So does it make sense to have goals rooted in materialism? Not really. I know very few millionaires and billionaires who are truly fulfilled, but an awful lot of extremely happy middle-income folks. Check your goals. Check why you want the physical things you do. I will bet you that it has more to do with a visible symbol of your significance and sense of personal accomplishment than the enjoyment it will provide you with. So why work towards that?

Altruism Continuously Pays the Highest Dividend of Any Investment I Know

I said that in another article, somewhere. It is, however, true. It’s also the lesson that took me the longest to learn. Because we all want to give, right? If you had a million dollars in front of you right now, wouldn’t you use at least SOME of it to help someone? But you don’t. In fact, you have not a whole hell of a lot in front of you, and what’s there you need. You have goals, responsibilities, and basic human needs that your money needs to go to first, before you help anyone else. But hey, when your ship comes in and you’ve got more than you need, then you’re going to donate some of it. But you won’t, because you’ll never have “more than you need”.

Western society has a limitless capacity for human consumption, on all levels. If working in capital markets has taught me anything, its the truth of that statement. Look at the waistlines of the people around you, the debt they carry to support the toys they “need”, and you cannot deny the tragedy of that observation.

Time and again you’re going to see guys like Tony Robbins extolling the virtues of altruism, and preaching that it’s the “key to fulfillment”. Sounds cultish, right? Only it’s not.

Day to day, my job consists of finding behavioral and mathematical explanations for statistical probabilities, and correlations in repeating patterns – and I have no idea why altruism is the powerful force that it is.

I hypothesize that at our core, we are fulfilled beyond what we can experience as individuals, when we offer our support, with no expectation of any return, to someone or something in need. And it’s precisely when that gift is made at a time when we cannot afford it, that the dividends it pays are the highest.

That strange observation then leads to the final element that I leave to you to theorize and debate, because whether you call it Karma or Cosmic Energy or a Gift of God, there are a near-limitless number of hypotheses for this phenomenon: reciprocity.

I shit you not, with few (if any) exceptions I can recall, every time I have engaged in altruism an unrelated area of my life has improved exponentially. This may be cosmic or it may be self-generated, but it is certainly not psychosomatic. What this effectively does is create a snowball effect, whereby the initial act of charity yields it’s own dividends in the guise of a profound sense of positive contribution, followed by some other peripheral area bringing further joy into your life. It gets addictive. There’s no way I can prove that to you beyond suggesting that you canvas those who regularly engage in altruism and I can guarantee they’ll tell you the same thing. Sadly, the concept of enriching your life and gaining joy and fulfillment by giving things away is not something that’s in line with most current global cultural values, so this lesson is one that few will learn. But if I had to pick one from this letter, it’d be this one.

In closing, I hope that what I’ve written here benefits you. My experience tells me that it will, though it may take time for you to see the truths here for yourself. It may resonate with you now, or take some years and several changes in perspective to sink in. You may have doubts, or think that all of this is bullshit (and I don’t care if the latter is the case; I’m a GenX’er, and fund manager or not the “I don’t give a shit what you think” part of my personality came with the Star Wars sleeping bag). But if you can take what I’ve written here – if you can extract the value and apply it with an open mind to your own life – then you will get to where I am a lot faster than I did.

After all, that’s the goal of mentorship: to increase the rate of evolution of the next generation.

Image source: Life Lessons

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