You Are What You Do
When you see stupid billboards. Like the one I saw yesterday that had pictures of some people’s faces (token black guy) and then said “Toyota.” It’s easy to dismiss that as bad marketing. You forget though that someone with a fancy title -” VP of West Coast Advertising” – wrote a 40 or 50,000 dollar check for your viewing pleasure. Some other artist rushed to work each day to put the finishing touches on his big campaign. And of course, there’s the pesky little problem of advertising not working.
What about those Hedge Fund managers that go through divorces, raise fucked up kids, work 90 hour weeks that they need coke to get through, all for the glorious pleasure of not beating an Index Fund. A life exchanged for the privilege of deceiving people that you have a skill that you objectively do not. A gambling addiction without the self-awareness.
Or think about all the sleepless nights executives at Microsoft and Yahoo have spent over the last three months. Traveling, phone calls, lunches, dinners, frantic memos and pages of reports. All of that and they know – empirically – it will be an enormous failure.
And at least they were in the arena, marred in dust and blood. Unlike the journalists, analysts, consultants, trend watchers, coaches, authors – whose skills lie in breathlessly reporting the same story with different words. Apparently forgetting how laughable the chatter looks a few years later.
All those people subjugated their lives to showing up every day to an office. That is, in most cases, in the place of doing something they want to do. They stressed. They put shit off. Bogged in office politics. Missed the little pleasures. Philosophy. Reading. Thinking. Improving. They deferred. Wondered why their not happy. Debt. Turned around and tried to impart their ‘wisdom’ on the next generation.
Maybe they think about this daily and go ahead and do it anyway. Or, they never stopped to consider it. Probably the latter. No matter how many times they use the words “war room,” “attrition,” “4th quarter” – it’s not going to change the fact that it’s all a big charade. A joke. A lie.
Is that what you want to work your whole life for? I don’t. It’s my worst fear.
Honesty Box: I feel like all the time I am right on this edge. I’m trying to put this stuff on the record now. Reverse pressure. So I’m always thinking “but it’ll look bad if I become the person I said I never wanted to be.” I think I need all the help I can get.
But to what extent are the coke addled hedge fund managers and manic corporate executives stylized ideal types you have concocted in your own mind? They are probably the exceptions and not the rules. Not all white-collar corporate workers slavishly work 60-80 hour weeks while neglecting other aspects of life like family, friends, self-improvement, and philisophic inquiry. I think it is possible to find and develop your own niche in the white-collar world. It is possible to win the game of capitalism while maintaining your sanity, without having to lie to yourself that this is what you wanted. What do we want anyway? And will what we want today be the same as what we want tomorrow, a month from now, a year? Life is about building and developing things. They could be ideas, companies, products, or departments of an organization–whatever. Work hard and be proud of what you produce. That’s what is really important.
Once again, you totally hit the nail on the head, dude. And that last part – the idea of selling myself to all that bollocks almost literally scares the shit out of me. I will NOT let it happen.
Once again, you inspire. You’re in a league of your own, man. A league of your own. I look forward to Ryan Holiday, Glorious President of Earth, Conquerer of Champions. Or something. Shit, tell me you couldn’t do it :D.
It always brings me back to that axiom saying you are destined to be what you tried not to be. Whether it is being like our parents, or whatever. And that old thing about fate.
So what would an ideal world, where mindless office work doesn’t exist, look like?
So what would an ideal world, where mindless office work doesn’t exist, look like?
This is the first time I have read one of your posts and not understood what you were talking about. I mean I get some of it but I don’t understand the overall message.
I’m not totally sure what the message is but I think it’s something like this: You have one life and most of us will have to work for a good chunk of it. Do you want to spend it doing something that is just a thinly veiled racket?
Maybe some other people understand it better than I do. My apologies if its not clear
For some reason this post reminds me of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. However, I sometimes wish my chains never broke. Do you ever get that same feeling, Ryan?
So those people – the journalists, analysts, consultants, trend watchers, coaches, authors – are of no value to you? Or are you suggesting that these people are of no value to anyone?
What if those people honestly enjoy and value what they do? Would that mean that they’re delusional, as by your standards, their contribution to society is worthless hot air?
My first response to this entry: ‘someone’s gotta do it’. Someone’s gotta write about and analyse the present, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to learn from the past.
Clearly that someone is neither you, nor I, but it seems overly pessimistic of you to write off entire professions simply because you feel that the ‘wisdom’ they impart is negligible.
I might be missing your point. Please clarify, dude.
My other question is – where exactly have you seen this kind of people? What industries?
A lot of what Rudius contributors like you, Phila Lawyer, Tucker, junior executive turned soldier from Hoo-Ah seem to talk about runs contrary to what I’ve seen from various jobs, but then I’ve never worked for a law firm or in media…
Hasn’t Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway beaten the S&P 500 for the last 20 years? So what’s his point – No hedge fund manager deserves his money , except me?
Its possible that people enjoy finance. Maybe they like thinking of ideas to make money. and being rewarded if those ideas are profitable. And if you’re trading a market like Oil or Foreign Exchange – Trust me your day isn’t boring.
Ryan, I think you’re imputing the laziness, lack of professionalism and general stupidity of hollywood executives on the whole corporate system.
This is the first time I’ve read something by you where I have simultaneously wanted to attempt to tell you about how little sense you’re post made to me and also praise you for writing genius and identifying something I think about each day. It doesn’t make sense, and I’m sure this doesn’t make sense to anyone that reads this. I just needed to write something to initiate a collection of thoughts.
What a polarizing post. I loved it.
Some of the examples may be extreme but for me it comes down to this: have ever worked one of these jobs did you feel deep down that something fake about it? Did something feel off about the fact that everyone was busting their ass, racing towards something that just didn’t click with you? Maybe it was the day you met the partner you were aspiring to be and found out that he was miserable. Maybe it was the girl who’s uncle got her the promotion despite her incompetence. Maybe it was a layoff that came after your boss promised you you’d be rewarded for your hard work. Or maybe it was just the facade each and every person had to put on in the name of professionalism. Whatever it was, you either felt that uneasiness of the game being artificial and this post resonates with you or you didn’t.
Ryan’s post didn’t hit me as saying these people are useless or that there would be some kind of Utopia in the absence of these jobs (and BTW, Warren Buffet does NOT run a hedge fund). It hit me as saying you have SUCH a limited time on this planet, can you really afford to compromise that time by spending it on something you feel intrinsically is not ‘right’.
The hard part is many people in this position are experts at convincing they enjoy their profession as a small cog in a big machine, and subsequently get off at convincing others to achieve these same weak goals.
Furthermore, it’s my experience that family pressure is a huge part of this. I often feel tension between family members at reunions who come to find I ditched the idea of becoming another block in the professional charade to pursue my own passions.
“So Ashley, I hear you want to be a radiologist. Good for you, they are in high demand these days!” … Yuuuuuck
“Or, they never stopped to consider it. Probably the latter. No matter how many times they use the words “war room,” “attrition,” “4th quarter” – it’s not going to change the fact that it’s all a big charade. A joke. A lie.”
Heh, I could say the same thing about this blog and your use of ‘define yourself’, ‘new media’, etc.
You will probably just dismiss this as ‘hate mail’, but fwiw here is my one suggestion :
– Please write about who you actually are. Relationships, friends, what you actually DO at work. I’m sure it’s intentional but you never actually reveal anything interesting without shrouding it in fluff. I want to actually know about your life instead of feeling I’m playing a game of Bullshit Bingo.
That’s funny because that’s what this blog is. The posts are always him him him. If I remembr he said he can’t get into the details. Better for us more focus on the things that matter.
I don’t give a crap who is friends are.
Buffet runs a holding company, which “holds” various assets. hmmmm What does that sound like?
I think that what Ryan is saying is the traditional liberal arts , don’t work for the man message that I find on the streets of Haight-Ashbury , and all in my college years.
Its an admirable dream , to be sure.
But how do you get to BE the man without working for the man?
The soul-sucking drudgery of middle management does flow from the capitalist system. Capitalism is very hard on those who are average but is VERY good to those who have either extraordinary talent or put forth extraordinary effort. Middle management isn’t meant to be a resting place, its meant to be a conduit to better things.
Dude, if you think Berkshire Hathaway is a hedge fund then you need to stay out of the finance debate.
And I’m not talking about middle-management. I’m saying that massive multi-billion dollar industries have been factually proven to be almost utter and complete scams. Being good at them doesn’t mean they aren’t scams. Besides, most of the people you think of as “good” are, if you look at it with some statistical perspective, just lucky.
That’s the soul sucking drudgery. Waking up everyday and tricking yourself and other people into believing something that you know isn’t true.
No thats not what I’m saying, and Id bet bottom dollar that I know way more about finance than you.
What I’m saying is this:
The central thesis of buffet’s bet is that investing/stock picking is just luck. But then, is he just consistently lucky? Why does Mr Buffet hold on to his 40 billion dollar net worth if the gods of probability have singled him out.
There are lots of famous financiers , just as successful as Buffet who debunk the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. George Soros and his ex-partner Victor Neiderhoffer debunk it in their books. Neiderhoffer also mentions that his performance under the Efficient Markets Hypothesis is ~700 Standard Deviations from the mean. This isn’t just statistical improbability here. Its an overwhelming rejection.
I also don’t understand what you mean by “multi-billion dollar industries have been proven to be utter scams”. Didn’t Microsoft revolutionize the PC industry? Didn’t Yahoo pioneer internet search? Didn’t google actually make it efficient?
Waking up everyday and tricking people into believing lies …. has worked for the church just fine.
Good Post. Very Nihilistic, actually.
I typed out a mini-rant but I found that I was depressing myself. I think that most people don’t think about this stuff because it makes them realised how empty their lives are. Talk like this makes me think about ditching formal education and fucking off to carve some wood like Soupy G.
Bet your bottom dollar? What are you Annie?
I noticed you’re the only one commenting on the Buffet bet. I bet that’s because…wait for it…you’re in finance! Kindly quiet down.
JON is the only person who seems to share my sentiment about this blog. I’ve been coming here for a while now, and at first this blog was interesting and had some relevance to anything…however, over the past few months it’s become this festering boil, oozing candy coated and pretentious maxims and aphorisms, all the while, meaning nothing. Which I guess is the ultimate irony; is this supposed to be some allegory for life? How Ryan can be full of sound, fury, etc. yet signify nothing? ehh I just hope and pray you come around
I used to work in radio advertising sales and quit because I decided it did seem like a sham…but now I can’t get a new job, am living at home with my parents and working as a construction worker to pay the bills….it’s all well and good to dream big and go for your goals…but sometimes real life comes up and pecker slaps you (pause)…. for every success there’s a failure…depending on how you look at it – ponder..
@ Smokey: How is it nihilistic? The heart of the post was about living a purposeful, authentic life. You missed the point.
@ Ryan: Yes, it’s pathetic, but when ons has no real value to add to the economy what option do you think they’ll choose: poor and unemployed with their integrity intact, or a highly-paid marketing VP churning out the products of a mediocre life? They won’t just go away, and since they can’t improve, what do you expect? Just be better than them.
I’m interested to hear more about that. Almost every single one of my posts relates directly back to me and my personal experience.
Where am I “signifying nothing”?
Most of this has to do with the fact that I won’t reveal specific, exact instructions about what I’m doing. I totally understand why that would be frustrating but it is a non-starter. It interferes with my ability to do my various jobs.
Fifth paragraph, fourth line; they’re not their.
Ryan, I am a regular reader of your blog and love your stuff, but you are not the expert on EVERYTHING. (Though you do know quite a bit more than most people about most things.) One area that you might consider spending some time on is finance. Berkshire Hathaway is not a hedge fund? Really? Please re-read Warren’s most recent letter to BRK’s shareholders: http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2007ltr.pdf and get back to me. While it is in no way advertised as such, Berkshire Hathaway is very much a multistrategy hedge fund (albeit a massive one) that just happens to focus its main efforts on value investing. Don’t believe me? What else would you call a holding company that invests in illiquid private equity deals, directly trades currencies (long Real) and commodities, amasses large ownership positions in foreign companies (Petrochina, for one), sells credit default swaps, and takes short volatility positions in long-dated index options (sold puts on the S&P, among other indices)? Regardless of how he spins it, Buffet is indeed a “hedge fund manager,” though he is a superior one who manages risk exceptionally well. While the vast majority of funds in both the traditional and alternative space are indeed rackets, I point not only to Buffett, but also to James Simons, T. Boone Pickens, and especially to Julian Robertson and his “cubs” as very real exceptions to your assertion. If you’d like to discuss more, you know where to find me.
I should probably disclose that I’ve owned a baby Berk since high school.
Fax, correct me if I’m wrong but it’s rare if unheard of for a hedge fund manager to own companies outright (Gieco, the furniture stores, that Israeli steel company) and then to actively help in the management of that company.
There are an entirely different set of incentives for someone like Warren Buffet, who owns most of the equity in his own company, hasn’t split his stock, looks to long term growth etc, compared to your average hedge fund manager who is essentially trading with other people’s money. I think that is the essence of his bet.
That’s where the line starts to blur between hedge funds and private equity- there are more and more hybrid funds that do both. Buffett functions like an activist investor (think Bill Ackman et al) in many of his companies, though he is a “friendly” one by their standards: he takes a large minority or majority equity position and then, as you said, actively manages them. He also will buy an entire company and do this, like he did with the examples that you mentioned, which is basically what private equity firms do. Fortunately for his shareholders, Buffett has been good at stockpiling cash, so he doesn’t have to use leverage when he buys a company, systematically destroying value by loading it down with debt. The common theme among the “good” managers with the best LT track records that I mentioned above is that they are properly incentivized- they eat their own cooking and have substantial amounts, if not all of, their own net worth tied up in their own funds. The only difference here is that Buffett’s company is publicly traded- though I will note that other alternative managers that IPO’d (Och Ziff, Fortress, Blackstone) did this purely to line management’s pockets, effectively fucking everyone that bought their stock.
The main issue I took with your post was over what is and isn’t a “hedge fund” and whether these guys are all part of some Ponzi scheme. Again, most are, but purely because talent flows to wherever the best economics can be had, the few investment managers who are smart/hardworking/savvy enough to consistently outperform the market are all found in the “hedge fund” space: by that I mean within loosely organized holding companies, either publicly traded or held as private partnerships, focused on generating absolute returns for their investors while minimizing risk over the long term, whose management is properly incentivized through performance-based pay and the reinvestment of a substantial amount of personal wealth alongside their investors. If you’d like to learn more, the best blog that I can recommend is Veryan Allen’s: hedgefund.blogspot.com. Pretty much anything you can find on Robertson or his proteges will also give you a good overview of how extremely successful “traditional” hedge funds are built and sustained.
Ryan, it’s been 3 years, have your thoughts changed?
I am galvanizing the idea that a great and happy life (for me at least) is the one where you do projects you like and work towards big ideas that allow the world to be more dynamic – whether it be the 3 point line or the ipad.
Imagine the progress this world could have made if more people felt this way instead of chugging yet another redbull on the way to cubicle land
I haven’t thought of this post in a long time, but yes, I absolutely still stand behind it. My thoughts haven’t change.
But dynamic? What does dynamic mean? Maybe better, clearer, safer, simpler–those would be things to strive to make the world “more” of.