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Life - 2017 Edition
This article will be quite different from my previous ones. I am not going to talk about the stock market, particular stocks, the economy, or the new president. Instead I’ll talk about life.
If the following is of no interest to you, no worries, skip this one. I promise you I’ll discuss the regular stuff in future emails, but in this one I just want to let myself wander into topics that somehow seem more important to me right now.
Several quotes I read recently had a disproportionate impact on me. Here’s the first one:
“What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.” – Vern McLellan
That one sent me on a rollercoaster ride of new year’s resolutions. Some are personal, some business-related. One was about health. I decided that I want to eat better in 2017. I do not want to go on a “diet,” which to me means eating things you don’t like and feeling hungry. Some people can do that, and most, including me, can do it for a week or two and then give up. For a diet to be permanent I have to enjoy it. As my friend Ethan Berg puts, it has to be EFA – easy, fun, automatic.
Ethan has been trying to convince me to do smoothies for years now, and I wish I had listened to him sooner. I have discovered that I love to drink smoothies, and most importantly, I love to make them.
The difficulty in making smoothies is having consistent availability of ingredients. We don’t go grocery shopping every day, and fresh fruits and vegetables spoil. I overcame this problem by freezing portion of fruits and veggies. I peel bananas, cut them in half and freeze them. We visit Costco every two weeks or so, I buy a few bags of frozen blueberries, spinach, and kale. I take about two thirds of the spinach and kale (after I cut the kale into smaller pieces) and freeze it in ziplock bags.
I started my smoothie adventure with smoothies for breakfast. However, a few days later I came to the realization that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day (I love eggs) and I didn’t want to give it up. In addition, I only consume a few hundred calories for breakfast, and I actually enjoy cooking eggs.
Lunch is my least favorite meal for several reasons. First, it interrupts my workflow. I have to stop my research and start thinking about where I am going to eat. (The fewer unimportant decisions I have to make, the better. If my wife would let me, I’d buy ten identical sets of clothes and wear the same thing every day. Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs did that.) Also, I consume too many calories at lunch, and in all honesty, my lunch food choices are not very healthy. Therefore, instead of replacing breakfast with a smoothie I have it for lunch.
When I started, my smoothies were mostly fruit-only concoctions. Gradually I started throwing in vegetables – spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, celery, and other defenseless veggies I found lurking in the fridge. I was surprised at how, even though I was adding more and more vegetables, my smoothies still tasted fruity. I give credit to my core ingredients: blueberries, bananas, tangerines (which are sweeter than oranges), and a healthy fistful of almonds (important for keeping me topped up energy-wise for five or six hours) and honey.
The blender is the key tool in this process. I found that traditional blenders are too klunky and messy, and instead I am using the NutriBullet – it’s compact and easy to clean. I make my smoothie first thing in the morning at home, pour it into a jar, and take it to work, where I stick it in the fridge. Then I enjoy a liquid salad of fruits and lots of veggies for lunch!
I don’t cook much, but now I understand why people enjoying cooking: it gives them a sense of accomplishment. I get that feeling every sunrise: I have created something I am proud of. (Yes, I am acutely aware that I am talking about mixing fruits and vegetables in a blender.)
Starting your morning right is very important. I stopped listening to news in the morning on my way to work as it usually irritated me (especially during election season). Instead, I now listen to podcasts. Three podcasts I recommend are Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz, The Tim Ferris Show, and Full Disclosure with Roben Farzad. Roben had the poor taste to interview me last year, but other than that he is one of the most talented hosts I’ve encountered in a long time – he’s very witty.
I drive my fifteen-year-old son, Jonah, to school, so we listen to these podcasts together at 1.5x speed.
Do what you love
I just finished reading Tim Ferris’ latest book, Tools of Titans. I highly recommend it. Tim has interviewed over 200 successful people over the last few years, and this book is his CliffsNotes of those interviews. A quote from this book has had an amazing impact on me. One of the guests was asked, “What is the ultimate quantification of success?” He answered, “For me, it’s not how much time you spend doing what you love. It’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.”
When I read this I set a new goal for 2017: Spend as much time as possible doing what you love and as little time doing what you hate (or what you don’t care about). You can apply this to different parts of your life. For instance, at work I love doing research, building models, reading, and writing. But there are other tasks that slowly creep in, especially if you are running the business. I started examining my day and identifying tasks that I want to minimize. Then I started outsourcing them to others – I even hired a virtual assistant.
My biggest fear in life is that I won’t be a good parent. Therefore, I try to spend as much time as I can with my kids. That isn’t always easy for me because I get sucked into (addicted to) work, and it’s hard to pull out. In the winter, though, our skiing trips bring us really close. It’s a two-hour drive each way to Vail (please don’t feel sorry for me), and there’s time on the lift. I kind of hate to admit this, but my kids are better skiers than me. Hannah, who just turned 11, can ski any terrain. I am still struggling in powder.
Hannah has been skiing exactly 8 years, almost to the day. She skied for the fist time on the day of Obama’s first inauguration. Not to break the tradition, my youngest daughter, Mia Sarah, who turned 3 on January 11, skied for the first time this week – the week of Trump’s inauguration. Little kids on skies are incredibly adorable. Their helmet is a third of their size – they look like little aliens. Here’s Mia Sarah holding her first ski pass:
As I was teaching Mia Sarah to ski, I was remembering little Hannah skiing eight years ago – she had absolutely no fear, none. Her brother, Jonah, who was seven at the time, was completely consumed by fear; it took him three days to get down the bunny slope. Hannah just went straight down on the first try. She only had one speed: forward!
Skiing ended up being one of the most important things we did for Jonah. It helped him to conquer his fears, taught him to believe in himself, and helped him to become a very good athlete.
One day last week my wife, kids, and I visited both sets of grandparents, and I realized how lucky my kids are. I probably saw my grandparents only about a dozen times. I never saw my mother’s and father’s parents at the same time. They lived in different cities (Saratov and Moscow), and we saw them only in the summer, a few weeks a year. My kids see my father several times a week. My father teaches Hannah to paint and helps Jonah with Algebra.
I stop by a few times a week for breakfast. My stepmother makes me eggs, my father makes coffee. I smile just writing this. My father is very proud of his coffee. He diligently takes two and a half scoops of beans. Grinds them. Puts them in a French press. Then, in a nearly religious ceremony, he stirs clockwise (only clockwise), counting to 100 out loud. Not 99 or 101, 100! Every time we watch him do this, my stepmother and I laugh. My father jokes that if he stirs counterclockwise the coffee will be bitter.
After my father is done with coffee, he takes out his medicine pouch. He is 83 and in good health – he swims 25 pool length three times a week. But his medicine pouch is like a mini Walgreens. My father says in English, “Okay, today is… [he pauses] MonDAY” (with significant emphasis on the word day). He smiles, empties his medicine onto a plate, and starts dutifully swallowing it. On its own the amount of medicine he consumes should count as a meal. (As I write I feel a bit better about our portfolio, which has a lot of drug stocks). My father takes this very mundane task and turns it into a lively, funny experience that brings smiles to everyone around him.
Nassim Taleb wrote that traditions are the melody of life. I get it: they create continuity, stability. We start to look forward to them. As I get older I appreciate traditions more and more. I have even started developing little, somewhat silly, traditions of my own. Every Friday after work I stop by a Russian store on the way home. I left Russia twenty-five years ago. I now speak, read, and write much better in English than in Russian. I am very removed from Russian culture and Russian community. Most of my friends are American. I don’t consider myself Russian, but American. But still, every Friday I go to the Russian store and buy Russian bread. It must be nostalgia. Not nostalgia for Mother Russia but for my youth, for the time when my mother was in my life.
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.