As a child, I was never particularly athletic.
Choosing between a book and a ball game, I’d always go for the former.
Suffice it to say that my popularity as a kid fully reflected my choices. Being the youngest kid in the class didn’t help.
It all changed in my teens.
First, in a classic example of a nudge, my dad installed a chin-up bar in the hallway and put a few dumbbells nearby.
I took the bait – and watched my social “status” soar as I finally started to shine in my gym class, doing better than many of my older classmates.
A few months later, we finally emigrated – and my parents had other things to worry about.
It wasn’t a problem though – because, by that point in time, I was hooked.
I got myself a part-time job – and used my first paycheck to sign up for the local gym, full of hardcore bodybuilders.
The second one – on a copy of Arnold’s Bodybuilding Encyclopaedia.
You get the gist. I was all-in. Bring on the muscles and the good looks!
Sadly, the results didn’t follow.
I worked out six times a week. Ate everything I could get my hands on – much to the chagrin of my mother, who didn’t exactly have a massive budget to work with.
And yet, notwithstanding all my efforts, I just couldn’t pack on the muscle.
Slowly, working out faded as a priority. Replaced by somewhat more destructive less productive teenage habits.
Coasting along, I felt deeply frustrated at bumping up against a wall I couldn’t scale.
It all changed when I came up with a devious scheme to pay for college by working in the hospitality industry.
One of the waiters was clearly into working out. It was also clear that he knew something I didn’t, as evidenced by his physique.
I was forward enough to ask the question.
In an eye-opening, fifteen-minute lecture between shifts, he gave it to me straight:
- Arnold’s methods of working out multiple hours a day, 6 days a week were only suitable for people using steroids.
- Most of the people at my gym were likely juicing as well.
- It was clear that I had been overtraining and not eating properly.
- Some drastic changes to my routine were in order.
My ex-colleague was also kind enough to help me with a new strategy.
A much lighter, yet intense workout plan. A dramatically different diet, with plenty of tuna, chicken breast, cottage cheese, and protein supplements.
Most importantly, plenty of sleep – something I had been ignoring until then.
To say I had gone through a rapid transformation would be an understatement.
Within 12 months, I gained at least 15 pounds of muscle.
Helped by all the testosterone coursing through my teenage body, my strength levels went through the roof.
First, my clothes started to fit. Then they started to look good on me.
People around me noticed. My confidence grew in leaps and bounds.
Noticing the change, my manager promoted me to work in his other restaurant, one of the hotspots in the downtown core.
At the gym, folks would come up to me to ask for workout advice. Some even asked if I was juicing –the highest compliment a “natural” could ask for.
It only got better from there.
All of a sudden, women started paying attention (by this time, I was working as a bartender, which clearly didn’t hurt).
And to top it all off, I was doing well at school, at least partially a function of my newly-found energy levels.
What more could a twenty-year-old ask for?
Life wasn’t just great.
I was literally floating on top of the world.
To this date, I count that fifteen-minute encounter amongst the formative event of my life.
Everything fell into place.
With the help of my colleague, I finally cracked the code, discovering the best confidence-boosting, stress-busting way to live my life.
I wish I could tell you it was smooth sailing from there.
Sadly, life doesn’t work that way.
A few injuries here and there.
An inevitable march of years.
Most recently, the lockdown.
Gone are the days of 275lbs bench presses, the fun-filled bartending shifts, and the subsequent nights out at the latest industry hotspot.
But if there’s one lesson I learned from that conversation 20+ years ago, it is the power of adaptation.
The magic of asking questions – and being open-minded about the answers.
And so, the code continues to evolve.
Zoom HIT classes replacing weight-lifting workouts (though I can’t wait to get back to the gym).
Yoga, a surprisingly effective way to mitigate the effects of aging and stress.
Meditation, with its ability to provide laser-sharp focus in today’s era of constant distraction.
A few tweaks to the code – and it keeps helping me live an amazing, happy life.
We are now 800 words into today’s post, and I haven’t said a word about personal finance.
If that rubs you the wrong way, let me address the oversight.
It’s enticing to think that once you’ve figured out the “right” way of investing and building wealth, all you have to do is to stay the course.
But as my experience proves, that’s not necessarily the way.
First of all, what exactly is “right”?
The problems of agency and asymmetry loom large.
Some folks will give you wrong advice simply because it suits them so.
The most blatant example would be the ones who try to sell you something, like a book or an investing course.
Others will do it in a more subversive way.
Telling you what you want to hear. Making things sound much easier than they really are.
Attributing their success, whether real or imaginary, to factors that fit their narrative.
Kind of like good old Arnie and the guys I used to hit the gym with early on.
The good news, of course, is that we all have brains of our own.
Sure, you need to give things a proper shot. But faced with a lack of progress, it’s only right to ask questions.
And thankfully, there are people out there who are willing to help, with no agenda in mind.
Winds of Change
The other point here is that we continue to evolve.
An investing strategy that worked for you twenty years ago isn’t necessarily the best course of action today.
For example, I don’t like gold as an asset class.
But I agree with The Accumulator that it can be a good tool to hedge the sequence of returns risk in retirement.
Likewise, I am upfront about my concerns with focusing on dividends at the expense of overall risk-adjusted returns.
But I acknowledge dividends can play a crucial role in one’s portfolio.
I’ll never be a day trader – and would strongly encourage you not to become one.
I do, however, acknowledge that some people can be successful with this strategy.
And that’s before we get into active vs passive investing, a topic that I’m sure pi$$ed off many of my readers along the way!
The point here is not to draw a line between right and wrong. Investing rarely works this way.
Rather, it’s about the importance of keeping an open mind.
Acknowledging that what works for others might not work for you – but the reverse is also true.
Oftentimes, things simply won’t work from the get-go.
Alternatively, you may get off to a great start – only to stagnate a few months or years in.
In other situations, you may have a “proven” strategy – and watch it break down along the way.
But if there’s one thing my experience taught me, it’s that you should never let that stop you.
Keep learning. Keep asking. Keep evolving.
Thank you for reading!