- History Investor
- Charlie Munger
ButWhatFor? Four for Friday | No. 045
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It’s been a while! I hope you have had a great 2023 — and hopefully it is alright that I am back in your inbox this morning!
As a reminder, back in July 2022, I hit pause on sending weekly emails, saying that…
During the following year and a half something interesting happened to my writing — total subscribers actually grew by ~30% — from about 1,700 to 2,200. This mainly happened through a number of my long-form posts on history, people, and ideas getting found, shared, forwarded, debated, and just generally posted around online (hint hint 😉).
An intelligent person might look at that trend, conclude not writing was fairly effective, and leave things to continue upwards and onwards unadulterated. I, however, have had a number of things coalesce into the inspiration to jump back into writing, include:
I read less than I did last summer. I thought writing less would lead to more time spent reading. I found that not having a reason to share new things with others lead to me not being as active in seeking out things worth sharing.
I am a worse writer. I write slower, and with less ease, than I did before. I believe an ability to communicate well is one of the most important skills a person can have, and skills are improved through practice.
I had my first child. I knew it would be a new, difficult challenge — but, man, I had no idea. Beyond the sleepless nights, relax-less days, and added stress, the desire to share ideas with my child in the future means I need to come across more ideas, and then distill them into something useful.
Charlie Munger passed away. His death reminded me of how much value I got from reading random things and thinking about how they applied to my life — whether it was my job, my relationships, my health, etc.
Taking that last bullet as specific inspiration for this Friday’s email, I thought I would focus all sections on Charlie.
Long-time readers of BWF know that I have a special place in my heart for Charlie. I’ve written a few things he inspired, and shared some of his original material here before — such as:
I am happy to be back giving this another go — so please drop me a reply or leave a comment if you have anything to share or ideas about what could make the newsletter better the second time around!
ButWhatFor? Four for Friday
1. One Quote: Your Only Option
2. One Long: What You Pretend to Be
3. One Short: Charlie Munger’s Bookshelf
4. One Poll: Before He Passed Away
• Supporting: 50 Charlie Munger Quotes
More on this topic was written by another writer at The Rationale Walk in their post called Soldier On. Special thanks to him for surfacing this specific quote.
Becoming What You Pretend to Be
Shortly after ceasing these weekly emails, I realized my health was in a terrible spot.
Having recently entered my 30s, I was the heaviest I had ever been by a fair margin and old photographs of me stared back asking the question “Who are you?” My asthma wasn’t under control, I had persistent foot pain from nonexistent leg flexibility, moving furniture in the house required a second hand, and with a first child on the way, I doubted I would have the energy needed to handle late nights with a little one.
One Saturday morning I happened to pull a book that I had bought a couple years prior off my bookshelf. I had never gotten around to opening it. It was written by a mentor of mine — an older gentleman who wrote this self-help book in the 90s after a career in the military. I’ve never been a big fan of self-help books — they feel a bit cringy to me. A lot of “rah rah” and “you are great,” and “all you have to do to unlock your potential is…”.
That just doesn’t resonate with me. Pep talks and motivational speeches are the same. They feel over-the-top and forced.
The difference here, though, was that my mentor wrote this book when he was in his early thirties, having just left the military and not yet really transitioned into the business world. He wrote out his views on building good health, a meaningful life, and financial security. At the time, he could really only personally claim he had the first.
As far as I am aware, the book was a moderate success in the 90s, but it didn’t make him rich. A few decades later, however, he’s one of the wealthiest people I know. He’s also one of the healthiest — and from what I can tell, he is happy to wake up every day because he spends his time doing what he wants to be doing.
That made the self-help book seem a little less “self-help-y” and more of a snapshot of a young man’s mental models for life that were empirically proven to be effective over time — which is more interesting.
There is a lot in the book — and I am purposefully not sharing the book title because the world I work in is small enough that I think some things would triangulate back towards my day-to-day self — but early on he focused on visualization and accountability around your goals.
For him, the key to tackling a new goal or skill or challenge was to first write down a description of the person you would need to be in order to achieve said goal. You are then supposed to read it over and over, and do that multiple times a day for multiple weeks.
After you have done that for a bit, you are supposed to tell someone else what your goal is and how you are tackling it. That creates accountability and social pressure — now, beyond just yourself, someone else knows that you are not yet the person who can achieve the goal they wish to achieve.
The combination of those two things mean you are constantly aware of this future person you want to become — a person who speaks Spanish fluently enough that people laugh when you say you aren’t native, a father whose son doesn’t miss him at night, a person with a large enough investment portfolio that they can retire at 50, and so on — and someone else expects to see you eventually become that person.
So, I laughed a little at the idea of actually writing down things like “I walk around with good posture. I can walk up a couple flights of stairs at work while talking to someone else without getting winded. I don’t get sick often. I look like I workout. I …” but I did it anyway. I had started and stopped exercise multiple times over the past decade, so what did I have to lose but the ink from the pen and the blank page in a notebook that hadn’t seen use since I got obsessed with fountain pen calligraphy for a period of time?
Once done, I then took the second piece of advice and texted that mentor to tell him what my goals were and who I was trying to become. I made a thoughtless comment that I would give him an update every Sunday.
And I regretted that immediately. The moment I hit send on that text, I felt a cold wave of fear pull itself into my core and lash out to turn my fingers numb as it dawned on me… that what I was about to do sounded terrible, and I didn’t really have a choice anymore.
I knew I wasn’t who I wanted to be. Someone else who I respected knew it too.
So, I got to work figuring out what exercise even was. I didn’t know how to exercise. Sure, in elementary school I ran… I had done push-ups before… but what were these “workout programs” and “super sets” and “calisthenics” and “interval runs” and so on.
I didn’t know… but I had to find out because someone — and me — expected me to figure it out.
And so, I started. I did two full body calisthenics workouts that first week… and every week thereafter for a couple months. And I didn’t realize what was about to happen to me.
Without consciously meaning to do so, within those first few weeks, I started pretending I was an athlete. I wasn’t, but man was I pretending. I was pretending so hard.
Other people noticed — and basically, they started pretending I was an athlete, too. Everyone was mistaken. We were all deluded. How did they have such short memories that the last three years of watching my slowly put on weight somehow didn’t hint at me being the exact opposite of an athlete?
But… did it matter?
I was asking athletic coworkers what shoes were their favorite to run in. What were their favorite running apps? — and then maybe I would chim in that I didn’t like the tracked metrics as much as this other app (what the hell did I know… I was running a 14 minute mile… but I like green text less than blue…).
Someone shot me a text when a set of dumbbells had gone on sale because they knew I was looking. That was funny — I didn’t know how to use dumbbells. When did I say I was looking for them? I bought them, and then woke up one morning driving to a personal trainer because I had no idea what to do with these dumbbells and someone needed to teach me.
I had no idea what I was doing. I was still pretending.
At work, I would mumble I was tired because I was up at 4:15am that morning, and someone would ask “Why?” “Oh, I run in the mornings” slipped out. “You’re a runner? Cool. I’ve never been able to do that.” I definitely wasn’t a runner, but what the hell… I guess I did run…
Soon I was bringing in pre-made lunches to work. Chicken. Rice. Broccoli. Carrots. "You bring your own lunch? Why do you do that?” “Easier to control what I eat.” “Oh, yeah, I wish I could make the time for that.” I was pretending I was an athlete, so I guess I had to watch I what I ate.
Then I find myself debating lifting approaches with ex-college athletes. What the hell did I know… but now we are talking about approaches to indoor cardio. I’m pretending I know what we are talking about.
And so on. I just kind of kept pretending I was something I was not — that I was an athletic, healthy, strong person. I wasn’t.
But, over the proceeding 18 months, I lost thirty pounds, stopped using an inhaler daily, cut my mile time in half, put back on ten healthy pounds, had to buy new pants so that they didn’t fall off my waist, and had to buy new shirts as my old ones were too tight around the back.
Am I a runner? No, not really. A powerlifter? No, not really. Any kind of athlete? No, not really.
But I am pretending — and to some considerable extent, that appears to be good enough.
Charlie Munger’s Bookshelf
Kevin over at Kingswell recently shared the attached picture of one of Charlie Munger’s bookshelves from an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. Inspired by his call to identify as many of the books on the shelf as possible, I took a stab at doing so below. I also took advantage of Google’s Bard AI to help a bit.
The below is far from exhaustive — so if you see any that I have not called out, please leave a comment / shoot me an email so that I can add to the list.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin ($)
Capital (El Capital) by Karl Marx ($)
David Sarnoff: A Biography by Eugene Lyons ($)
Einstein by Walter Isaacson ($)
Go East Young Man by Justice William Douglas ($)
Great Short Biographies by B. H. Clark ($)
Harvard Classics: The Five Foot Shelf of Books (~1910 version, I believe) ($)
Influence by Cialdini ($)
Planck: Driven by Vision, Broken by War by Brandon Brown ($)
The Federalist by Jacob Cooke ($)
The Great American Newspaper: The Rise and Fall of the Village Voice by Kevin McAuliffe ($)
The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page by Burton Hendrick ($)
Will Rogers: The Man and His Times by Richard Ketchum ($)
($’s above take you to Amazon, which are affiliated links, meaning if you purchase them there I get a small commission)
Before he passed away in November, did you know who Charlie Munger was?
50 Charlie Munger Quotes
“All I want to know is where I am going to die so I’ll never go there.”
I’ve always enjoyed this as just a fun quote to steal and use when talking alternative paths forward / decision making; I also wrote in more detail about the concept — called inversion — here, in Suppose I Wanted to Kill a Lot of Pilots.
“I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart.”
“There is no better teacher than history in determining the future… There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book.”
“There’s no way that you can live an adequate life without many mistakes. In fact, one trick in life is to get so you can handle mistakes. Failure to handle psychological denial is a common way for people to go broke.”
“It’s a good habit to trumpet your failures and be quiet about your successes.”
There are people that force this in a disingenuous way; however, it is rare that I meet anyone who is both successful and of the kind of character I respect that speaks often of their successes.
“When you know you have an edge, you should bet heavily. When you know you’re right. Most people don’t teach that in business school.“
Mistakes of omission — not doing something and thus missing an opportunity — tend to be most painful. Not betting enough in situations where I knew I should go all in — whether that be with dollars, effort, focus, etc. — are the mistakes I think about most.
“Even bright people are going to have limited, really valuable insights in a very competitive world when they’re fighting against other very bright, hardworking people. And it makes sense to load up on the very few good insights you have instead of pretending to know everything about everything at all times.”
“The big money is not in the buying or selling, but in the waiting.”
“The beauty of it is that you only have to get rich once. You don’t have to climb this mountain four times. You just have to do it once. “
Rich is relative to your own expectations, and frugality creates freedom.
“And so my lesson to all of you is conduct your life so that you can handle the 50% decline with aplomb and grace. Don’t try to avoid it. It will come. In fact I would say if it doesn’t come, you’re not being aggressive enough.”
“I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but …
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Have a great weekend,
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