Life in the Saddle


One of the issues with steering the content of this blog away from work is that it leaves 5/7ths of my life off-limits. What I do from Monday through Friday almost exclusively is work – I get up at 5:30AM and come back at 8:30PM. Other than a 1-2 hour gym break every day, there’s little time or mental energy for anything else. Even the clothing that I put on in the morning is more a regularly rotated uniform than an actively chosen outfit.

Now, my weekends are plenty fun and sometimes interesting, but the truth is that at this point in my life, I am the best and most unadulterated version of myself from Monday through Friday, 5:30AM to 8:30PM. Work is where I deploy (and demonstrate) the bulk of my time, my intelligence, my personality and my creativity.

I don’t know whether to characterize the one-sidedness of my life as a condition that has been imposed on me (i.e., I MUST work these hours) or as an active choice (i.e., I “deploy” my talents at work). But I suppose the truth is somewhat in between and really a function of timeline: in the short term, if I wish to do what I do and get paid what I get paid, then I have to put in the time. But it is also true that over the longer time period of career choices, it is I who has put myself in this situation.

Now, we can debate my long-term choices and whether they have been correct, but what I really want to do here is record my feelings and observations in the short term, in this current state of existence.

My first observation is that sometimes I feel my co-workers have the clearest view of who I am and what I am capable of in my mid-twenties. Again, I demonstrate the height of my creativity, diligence, intelligence and social skills at work. This saddens me.. because I like and respect the folks I work with, but I don’t know that they should be the people to know me best. Such deeply personal understanding is in some way wasted on professional acquaintances… or at least that’s how I feel at the moment. One might respond that professional acquaintances should and could become personal friends, but I think the professional context is just too different from the personal context for the worlds to overlap.

My second observation is one around control and stress. Investing is a much less stressful job compared to consulting because I have control. In consulting, my work was the production of ideas, for which the ultimate outcome was out of my hands – it depended on whether the partner liked the idea enough to share it, whether the client liked the idea, whether the client’s boss liked the idea, whether the client could actually execute the idea properly, etc. And my end of year rating was based on a subjective assessment from partners who had limited first hand understanding of what I was doing and no calibration for degree of difficulty (e.g., if I was working with a brand new manager, as I did on all but one of my projects). I couldn’t control my working hours on any given day, given frequent and unexpected partner-imposed or client-imposed artificial deadlines. And I couldn’t even control getting home to Chicago on time on Thursdays because of the vicissitudes of airport travel.

Contrast that world to investing. The quality of my output is extremely clear: there’s one number that matters – your risk-adjusted profit. A clear metric of whether you’re doing well or not. And even if the partner doesn’t like a given investment idea and the investment isn’t made, we’re still going to be able to find out who was right or wrong and over time, he’s going to come to my side if I’m good. As a result, I arrange my own working hours and prioritize the companies I think we need to look at because after all, I’m paid on production and not on face time. When I’m doing poorly and a stock goes down, there are clear things I can do (e.g., more research) to remedy the situation. Contrast that to a poor review in consulting, where there’s little you can do to remedy the situation immediately… other than respond to the negative feedback and hope it’s reflect in a review that will take place in 365 days.

In a word, investing performance is incredibly transparent and there are job-related perks to that. That being said, the transparency is also its own form of stress: when you do poorly as an investor, there’s nothing you can blame: not consulting partner favoritism, not getting staffed on the wrong consulting projects, not the client… just you. The feeling of being an investor is one that is incredibly exposed and there are so many days at the office when I feel a sensation of nakedness and being alone. My group and my firm help me and support me, but doing well over the long term ultimately comes down to me.

So the stress of being an investor is a more fundamental type of stress: you’re finding out how good you really are – how smart you are, how creative you are and the level of emotional control that you have. And in the dark, deep ocean that is the market, where there are frequently unexpected gyrations and moves that can drown the unsuspecting investor… and you have millions of dollars and more importantly your sense of self-worth on the line, there are definitely days when I leave the office with a bizarre sense of emotional fragility.

My imagination tells me that this experience, of having to step up and prove your self-worth night in and night out under pressure is probably similar to what a professional athlete goes through… And maybe that’s the right comparison, because like professional sports, there’s limited correlation between the pressure you experience in the markets/sports arenas to the health and functioning of the real world. After a bad loss or a bad stretch in the markets where it seems like the world might be ending because of all the red you see on your screen, you walk outside and the sun is still shining and birds are still chirping and you wonder why it all mattered to you so much. All I can tell you is that that’s life in the saddle.


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