ButWhatFor? Four for Friday | No. 034

Envy, a New Theory, If, and Thinking About Life

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ButWhatFor? Four for Friday

One Quote

Envy is a really stupid sin because it’s the only one you could never possibly have any fun at. There’s a lot of pain and no fun. Why would you want to get on that trolley?

Charlie Munger, in Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor

I have a colleague that is much older than me — approaching retirement — and sometime last year he said something along the lines of “Well, I realized I will never have private jet money, and there isn’t a lot of lifestyle improvement between an average person and having jet money, so why stress about it?”

I laughed at the time, but that idea pops into my head whenever I start thinking about the things I care about. Never are those things that require “jet money”, and rarely are they even money-focused desires. However, working in investments, I find so often that I fall into the envy trap that Charlie outlines above — comparing what I have, which is enough, to things I don’t need and then feeling bad about it.

Things like… That founder is worth $100 million (on paper). That other fund pays better (than my already good pay). He has a big house (that I don’t need). That person has a way easier job than me (that I would hate even if I had it). And so.

To look to another frequent source of quotes in this newsletter…

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Theodore Roosevelt

So, while keeping up with the Joneses in terms of physical possessions is an easier practice to stay away from, the mental game of comparison is harder to avoid… and maybe just as damaging?

One Long

One culture, however, is different from the others, and that’s modern WEIRD (“Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic”) culture.

Dealing in the sweeping statistical generalizations that are the stock-in-trade of cultural evolutionary theorists—these are folks who say “people” but mean “populations”—Henrich draws the contrasts this way: Westerners are hyper-individualistic and hyper-mobile, whereas just about everyone else in the world was and still is enmeshed in family and more likely to stay put.

Westerners obsess more about personal accomplishments and success than about meeting family obligations (which is not to say that other cultures don’t prize accomplishment, just that it comes with the package of family obligations). Westerners identify more as members of voluntary social groups—dentists, artists, Republicans, Democrats, supporters of a Green Party—than of extended clans.

A number of you know that I have spent a good deal of time in Asia but grew up in the American Midwest. One thing that I have always found interesting is the clash between my own personal inclination to focus on me, myself, and I, while my friends in Asia tend to define their personal goals in the context of their family relationships and situation.

Now — before I get into trouble — that is a broad generalization and exceptions to that exist all over the place… but it is something I have noticed, right or wrong. And my friends have noticed too — I am often told I don’t think about family enough, define life through personal achievement too often, and so on.

Growing up in the U.S., my personal inclination is to say “why do they think differently?” The above article was an interesting summary of an idea that basically says, “No, you Westerners are the weird ones.”

One Short

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Apparently, this is a well-known and popular poem, but I just came across it this week. I’ve re-read it over ten times now.

There are so many things in life that can tear you down — and you can tear yourself down easier than anything else can — but if you have the right character and make sure to not lose it in the ups and downs that are thrown your way, things just might work out well enough in the end.

Rudyard Kipling | Poetry Foundation

One Extra

Ten months ago I was diagnosed with Stage 4 bladder cancer that has changed my life and that of my wife. Fortunately, we had a good summer but my diagnosis is now terminal and I will mostly likely be dead by Christmas…

If you knew that you only had ten years to live, what would you do differently with your life? This isn’t a fun question. It’s uncomfortable to think about the end. I spent about five seconds pondering this before I moved on. No thanks…

But we are going to die—all of us. What you choose to do with that knowledge is up to you.

Is ten years of life really so much less than forty that we should view the two so differently?

If you made it all the way down here, please take a moment to share it with someone that might find it interesting — I appreciate your support greatly!

Have a great weekend,

— EJ

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