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Interview with Indiana University Students; Wrapping up The Book; Florida Pandemic Bellwether

I have just come back from a vacation with my family in Fort Lauderdale. Florida made me very optimistic about the pandemic. Even before the CDC changed the outdoor mask mandate, very few people were wearing masks outside in FL. People were behaving as if the pandemic never happened. Social interactions were completely normal. No awkward moments of trying to give extra space to someone walking towards you. No social distancing. People hug and shake hands. This anti-social distancing behavior is contagious; I think it will quickly spread across the country and then the rest of the world. 

From now on I’m putting vacations in the same category as sleep. They are a must for our health. We need the change of scenery, a respite from the daily grind. A soft, easy reset from whatever we’ve been doing habitually is necessary to clear the mind. 

Before the trip I was deep into finishing my book Soul in the Game – The Art of a Meaningful Life, which should have already been out in May but will come out later in the year. I ended up pouring every ounce of my soul into this book –and writing a lot more than I expected. I learned a lot while writing it and cannot wait for the world to read it. 

However, the final stretch of writing mentally and physically exhausted me. In Florida I broke one of my cardinal rules – I did not write daily. I am paying a price for this, as it is difficult for me to get back into writing once I take a break from it. But it was worth it. Between working on the book and not writing, I have not created any new shareable content; thus, you were getting reruns of “Vitaliy’s Best,” my evergreen articles. Until now.

A few times a year I do guest lectures for students at universities. Their minds are still mendable; they are in the “learning how to fish” stage of their lives but not yet in a blind pursuit of fish. I feel that an hour-long talk can make a difference in their lives. I even created an email curriculum on value investing for college students. 

Before the trip to Florida, I spoke to graduate students at Indiana University. I discussed a variety of topics: how to find your own investing style, sell discipline, what I got right and what I got wrong while investing through the pandemic, how recessions can be good for businesses, compounding small advantages, and whether or not to envy someone else’s success. You can watch this lecture here on Youtube, or can listen to it as a podcast. Here is part one and part two.

One more thing.

Unlike other social networks that are mostly net negative for their users, Twitter, if used properly, can be an incredibly powerful source of knowledge. (My wife and I don’t allow our daughters to use Instagram, Facebook, or Tik Tok). Twitter doesn’t run algorithms that amplify its users’ biases so they will stay there longer. If you are very deliberate and mindful of who you follow, Twitter can be a life-changing place to learn. (Disclosure: We own a small position in Twitter stock). Also, if you have not, you can follow me on Twitter (@VitaliyK) where I share my thoughts on a diverse range of topics.

Post Script: Florida and Masks

In the text above I made one small mistake: putting two words into the same sentence: “Florida” and (not wearing) “masks”. Some of my readers thought I was making a political statement.

I was not!

So let me clarify. Last year we were freaking out about the virus, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, when we did not know much about it. Let’s take my family. We were microwaving Chipotle food deliveries just to kill the virus. We were sanitizing groceries that were delivered to us from the store. A trip to the grocery store came with an incredible amount of anxiety. We used hand sanitizer after touching doorknobs and gas pumps. I am not even talking about social distancing from friends and family. My son Jonah has severe asthma, so we practiced social distancing to the extreme.

This is why, after we were vaccinated, not worrying about the virus was such an incredibly liberating experience. I was in Florida a week before the CDC announced the change in guidelines. At that point half of the country was already vaccinated with at least one shot.

Last year, I was seriously worried that the pandemic would change our behavior permanently. Shaking hands and giving hugs were supposed to go into the history books as pre-pandemic behaviors. As recently as February this year, Bill Gates was asked on CNN if he’d be shaking hands with people or sitting in restaurants.

Going to Florida and seeing that the pandemic has not changed our behavior that much gave me a lot of optimism about our future. But let’s put Florida aside and zoom in on a less politically contested state: Colorado. Two months ago I went out for lunch with a half a dozen of my close friends. We all brought our own lunches and sat outside, 10 feet apart.

A few days ago, I went to the 5oth birthday party of my close friend. I got to see all my friends again. This time around we were all vaccinated. We were hugging, shaking hands, standing close to each other, like we did before the pandemic. This was a completely normal, almost “pre-pandemic” experience, as if the pandemic had never happened. And while I will be the last one to belittle the extreme damage the pandemic has done in parts of society and the severe human toll it has taken, the point I wanted to communicate is my fundamental optimism about where we are headed. The magic of the vaccine. Life coming back to normal, though at different rates.

But eventually, coming back.

My assistant Barbara lives in Buenos Aires. The vaccine is scarcely available in Argentina. It is autumn there, and cases and deaths are on the rise. I told Barbara the same thing: It’s just a matter of time; once vaccines are widely available, things will turn for the better and your life will come back to pre-virus normal.

I am not advocating for you to wear or not to wear a mask. To go out or not go out. That is your deeply personal choice. I am sharing my optimism about our post-pandemic future.

Vitaliy Katsenelson

I am the CEO at IMA, which is anything but your average investment firm. (Why? Get our company brochure here, or simply visit our website).

In a brief moment of senility, Forbes magazine called me “the new Benjamin Graham.”

I’ve written two books on investing, which were published by John Wiley & Sons and have been translated into eight languages. (I’m working on a third - you can read a chapter from it, titled “The 6 Commandments of Value Investing” here).

And if you prefer listening, audio versions of my articles are published weekly at investor.fm.

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