Broad Framing (see “Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman) is the practice of thinking of decisions in the context of other decisions. Rather than the specific (uncontrollable) outcome of any one fork in the road, what you are really trying to refine is the underlying process of decision-making. How do you make your choices? In terms of Narrative Therapy, you are reflecting on how your scripts work. What are your cornerstone events? What are your drivers? What are the ways that you think that often sit underneath your conscious thinking? In this , given your history, and the way that you think and feel about things, how are you likely to respond? That is what you really want to do the work on. Constantly being conscious of your underlying scripts. The stuff we are normally not even aware of. And it is really complicated. We are not necessarily going to be able to understand everything. We can get better at observing ourselves and our repeated behaviours.
Friday, June 18, 2021
I played a lot of poker when I was at university and the early stages of work. Poker has a thing called “Rabbit Hunting”. When someone makes the decision to fold, but they ask the dealer to show what the next card “would have been”. It is irrelevant. If it is truly random, you didn’t know the rabbit when you folded. All the cards still in the deck, that you haven’t seen already, could be that card. Your decision has to be made in the light of uncertainty. The world we are in is not a single safe path. There are multiple ways things can play out. You need to be able to take account of all those paths, including in how you judge yourself. Don’t judge yourself purely on how things played out. How they could have played out is just as important a part of the learning process. A decision can still be a bad decision, even if the result was good. Which is not the way that we tend to think. Success carries far less information, and far more danger, than failure.
Thursday, June 17, 2021
Looking back far enough, there are lots of examples of extreme events (high impact, low probability). Numbers we use for risk analysis make better questions than answers, because they never include the full picture. A great book to read to give you a little bit of humility is the story of Long-Term Capital Management, titled “When Genius Fails”. It is an important book to read for those who think they have cracked the code. Thinking in “distributions” (a range of possibility) rather than simple numbers is vital. Howard Marks implores that we, “always remember the six-foot man who drowned in a river that was five-foot deep on average”. It is not just the average that matters. The statistical term is moments. You think in moments. How the range of possibility is made up. That includes thinking about tail risk, and what isn’t in the numbers (yet). In scenario testing, you need to plan for what could happen, not just a single path. In the same way as looking at what did happen is not enough. What could have happened? You need to plan for your plan not covering everything. With hindsight, we think we understand the world. We think the lessons we learn through mistakes mean, “if I had done it this way, this is how it would have played out.” you had the chance again, everything would be completely different.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Nassim Taleb has written about Risk in a very accessible way. His books include “Fooled by Randomness”, “The Black Swan”, and “Anti-Fragility”. He writes about risk and decision-making. In particular, he looks at tail risk. The extreme events that have never happened will have a dramatic impact. Events that fundamentally change everything. If you only look at what has happened, you assume that things are . That the world is like the spinning of a coin, or the roll of the dice, with varied but fixed outcomes. But it is more complicated than that. Real risk is not normal. It has fat tails, so there are more outliers (unusual observations), than would normally be expected. That is on both the upside and the downside. When normal changes, it can change dramatically. When you think through risk, you need to ask, “What makes this go to zero?”. You need to know what will destroy you, and you need to protect for those risks. Then you need to position yourself to be available for the positive surprises. Why could this go ? You do not know that it is going to go . But you need to open yourself up to that possibility. Risk can't be studied purely by looking at history, even though history matters.
You can’t simplify risk into a simple number to fully capture the “cost” of returns. There are various measures for risk, that ask interesting questions. All of them have problems. Volatility is the , as a measure of noise. How different the average outcome is, from the average outcome. If volatility is zero, there is no movement from the average. If sometimes it is higher, and sometimes it is lower, you are measuring the absolute difference from the average (whether below or above is ignored). If results are “normal”, you can get an idea of what the chance of an outcome being range is. Another measure of risk is the probability of ruin. What is the chance that you are not going to be able to play the game anymore? The most important thing in most games is staying alive. Value is created over the long term and compounds. Survival is essential. You always need to know that you are going to be at least 5% okay, so that you can rebuild. Always have the capacity to regenerate, even in a huge disaster. Hold something back. Something that allows you to have a deep sense of security. Volatility, based on the past, can be zero right up till a point of ruin. There is no such thing as risk-free.
Financial Yoga – Stilling the waves of money anxiety
Money is not a real thing. It is a form of communication, like words or numbers. It is a way that we coordinate with each other. It is a smarter form of barter. It allows us to get beyond the point where you have to, by chance, find someone who has the thing you want, when you have the thing they want, and you are willing to swap those things. Money enables trade. But trade has limits. When you have a need, you also need the one-to-one connections you have built to have exactly what you need. Money breaks the requirement for the perfect situation to arise. It creates an environment to focus on whatever we are good at.
Books invite us into stories about situations that we have not experienced. Money allows us to specialise, and to communicate in a way that connects us more widely. Being human, we have memory, history, and depth that extends beyond ourselves. Our own experiences are not the sole source of creativity. We are connected to other people, and we become parts of them. A bee is not an individual. The animal is the hive. A mammal made up of insects. We connect with each other through forms of communication. Money is just one of those forms.
Money is not a thing in the concrete sense. It represents something. It represents energy. Quantified and released. Money becomes philosophical. Abstract. It is a tool. To connect energy. Not in some sort of warm, fuzzy sense. We have potential. The ability to do things. But we live in little silos. We pass payments through barriers between each other. We need to be able to communicate what we can do. We need to connect, and money is one of the ways that we do that.
How do you speak to someone else's story? Money is a story we tell each other. FIAT money is money because the government decides it is, and because we believe them. Look at the history of money, going back to how it started. With the exchange of seashells, salt, metals, or any reliable store of value. Anything you were prepared to receive for what you were selling. If you had trust and confidence that that thing would let you exchange it for something else. You did not want a form of money that cost too much to store, or spoiled easily. You did not want it to be difficult to transport or be very worried about it being stolen. Gradually, you get more confidence in the stability of a form of exchange, and you have confidence that it will be accepted by other people. But it is a placeholder. That is all it is. It is a way of shifting things around.
Price is a clearing mechanism. A way of balancing the supply of stuff and the demand for staff. The process shifts capital around indirectly. It uses money to transfer activity to different people, projects, and ways of doing things.
Not all good ideas are good business ideas. There are very particular things that money works for. Specifically, stuff you can count. Because that is a way of communicating in the same way as letters become words, which become sentences, which become ideas. We share alphabets, grammar, spelling rules, and sentence structure. In different languages, you say things in different ways to communicate meaning. That meaning connects us to create a shared culture. Words evolve out of, and into, shared meaning.
In the same way, you must understand someone's relationship to money to sell them something. Because there are many stories inside that package. You can go right back into childhood. The way that you learn your mother tongue. You do not understand a word the first time you hear it. It is just sound. Then you hear it multiple times. In repeated context. The words that get shared lots and lots start creating your reality. You have emotional connection.
For roughly the first four years of your life, you do not remember anything. Even though your experiences were meaningful. You just did not have a place to store those memories. You did not have hooks to pop those memories onto.
They came in, they left, they came, they left. Repeatedly. Until you gradually started recognising them. They started explaining things through other things. The noise got connected in patterns. That is what ended up giving you your view of the world. Gradually explaining how the world works. “When I did this, there was a reliable response. So, I am going to do that again.” You start having an impression of what is going on. A controlled hallucination. We have all these sources of information coming in, coming in, coming in, and they get placed based on our memories. Based on how we have seen things before. Then we construct our image of reality. That is not reality. It is a useful illusion in our heads formed as we interpret all the signals that keep coming up.
How did you do pocket money?
I got pocket money based on age, with increases each birthday. When I was eight, I got R8, and when I was nine, I got R9. That was how it worked till inflation kicked in, and then fortunately my parents changed the rule. That gave me an impression of progress. Of ageing, seniority, hierarchy, and annual increases. Older siblings got more (I am not bitter).
My parents would match our savings. If we saved up for something, they would contribute to whatever it was that I was aiming to buy. It is hard to teach compound interest to kids because the time horizons are so short. Compound interest takes time. To teach that concept, you need to come up with games that can amplify the idea that money makes money. Money can have a productive job. Money can grow. If you allow time.
Lots of people did not get pocket money. Just like Father Christmas does not give all children presents of equal value. Pocket Money can be a foreign concept. The idea that there would be extra. Many parents are struggling just to survive. That is going to affect how you see the world. If you grew up struggling, potentially you are going to be more obsessed about money, because it is something that you did not have. If you had lots of money, maybe you are going to think, “I don't care about money”. But that is because when you were young, money was plentiful. You had that opportunity to not care about money. Then maybe circumstances change, and you suddenly get forced to understand the real world.
Even understanding how your parents got their pocket money, and their relationship with their parents, is relevant to your relationship with money. Were there periods when you could not afford things, and your parents had to do multiple jobs just to survive? Were there money fights?
These emotional connections form the basis for habits and decision making. Like words that connect to stories from when you grew up. I have lots of money stories. Little businesses and side hustles.
I got up early every morning to make porridge for my family. I would call, “Porridge is ready!”. Then every Friday I would get Two Rand which I called my porridge money. I used that to buy a Strawberry Super Moo, and a pack of chips. Chips in South Africa are Crisps in the UK. Another example of words being different. When people use the same words, they do not always mean the same thing.
Conversation starts with shared definitions. With understanding what a word means to you. Then build up sentences and paragraphs. Then build up concepts. When you can connect concepts, you start seeing things. That is the point of money. To help us see. The point of all these things is to form connection. To form a community. Form is a way we can see an individual thing.
The temporary problem that you are solving is not the point. If you need to switch grain for flour, why? Flour does not define your life. It is just the immediate exchange that is happening. That is why we need to talk about money. It is one of the topics we typically avoid because it feels dirty. Avoiding uncomfortable conversations like sex, religion, and politics. We end up carrying the baggage packed through a stuffed relationship with money. The sense of not having enough. Envy. A sense of too much. Guilt. A sense of it controlling us. Frustration. Of it controlling others. Jealousy and neglect. Of not understanding it. Confusion. Money as a hovering external presence. There are basics you just learn. That you copy till you understand. If you fear numbers, you must not fear learning. You must not fear unpacking your fear.
You can think of it like playing piano. You do not just sit down and know how to play the piano. No one does. You learn. There are stages of learning and the early stages are difficult. They are uncomfortable. Everybody is uncomfortable. You just get some people able to cover that up and pretend they understand. Or they are just looking for surface knowledge. That can be a strength. Being less hard on yourself. You get used to incremental learning. You learn a little bit each time and you relax into it. Successive approximations rather than immediate perfection. Aiming for imitation, where you do not need to get it perfectly right. Imitation and repetition.
Do not define yourself as “someone who just does not get numbers”. Do not define yourself as someone who does not understand money, and so money is not important. The problem with that is that if you do not learn to control money, money will control you. You do have to make some effort to learn the basics of money.
Money is a tool for agreement building. We share words, sentences, and concepts, to be able to co-ordinate. You cannot just reject money altogether. The fact is that the world works in a certain way now. Wu Wei means “action through inaction”. Start with acceptance. Before you can say you want the world to be like, see what the world is like. Every journey starts from the start. Where you are. If you do not understand where you are, how are you supposed to make decisions? It is not giving up. It may feel like giving up. It may look like giving up. When someone stops fighting. But you start by learning the vocabulary.
You can change the meaning of the words. Eventually, you can change things. If you start with a point of acceptance. Build a sense of deep pragmatism. Look at the situation and be able to make decisions about the best next step. That is not giving up. It is detachment. You are not defined by each decision. They are merely steps on the path.
I used to think of detachment as ending up as a monk in a cave somewhere. I did not want to detach, because I love the world. And yes, it is an illusion. It is a controlled hallucination. In yoga, they call it Maya. The way we interpret the world is an illusion that separates us from reality. But it is a beautiful separation. There is so much beauty in the world. It is okay to love the beauty. That is the way you understand the world. It is okay that your worldview is not the same as my worldview. That we work hard to find overlaps, and through all the chemicals involved in building agreement together.
We cannot just understand everyone through prejudice. Through assuming from what we that we understand how others see. Put the time in to see what they see. That is okay. It is okay that it takes time. It is okay that you cannot just have an open conversation by saying what is in your mind, and call that honesty. Honesty is not simply vomiting on someone. Honesty is commitment. Honesty is meeting today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next month, and the next year. It is deciding that you are connected to someone and that you are going to do the work that requires. We have all these escape hatches. We start building, but every time something gets hot, we run to the door. That does not mean that you do not have boundaries, and you do not have selfcare. You can create spaces that have acceptance, and learn about what is going on, and detach from things. You can engage with them without just rejecting them completely.
Detachment is not the absence of waves of anxiety. You want these waves of anxiety. These waves of thoughts. These waves of stress. That is what creates the beauty in the world. That is what we want. You do not want them to go away. The idea with meditating is not that you stop thought. Thoughts come from a mind. It is a mind. That is its job. Thoughts come through. Meditation is practising dealing with our word and sentence generator. If a word appears, sticks, and does not know when to leave.
Waves are not a problem. Stress is not a problem. If a life stops moving altogether, that is dangerous. They died, or someone is manipulating and selecting the truth.
You are never going to fully understand money. It is complicated. It is abstract. There are not secrets that someone is hiding from you. Most of the knowledge around money is available. Books have been written. Do the reading.
Do not get the impression when you are sitting at a table with someone that they know everything, and you do not. That you are the odd one out. Nobody knows everything. As you get older, you realise everyone is just doing the best they can. But some of us build this doubt into our identity. Money is not about you.
Three things matter. The first is having capacity or capital. The second is having problems to focus on. And the third is having a container.
Capital is fungible. It can change shape and form and be used for a variety of things. Capital can go anywhere. You can sell shares in a business. On one day, it is working at Google, you sell it and the next day it is working at Colgate. Unlike people, it does not matter to money where it is invested.
Even though we are all connected, and all a part of the universe, we need shape and form to understand. The illusion of separation helps us engage. We think through stories. We think through contrast, light, dark, and division. We form words. Form manifests as a tool for action. Manifesting is not separation. Manifesting is the container in which we can hold our activity. Hold our problem solving. Make decisions. We call that mental accounting. An overlay on something that is not separated to make sense of the world. We put our experiences in groups and create plans.
The container has various barriers to entry. Businesses are legal people. Much like money is money because the government says it is money. Companies are real because the government says so, and we agree. Property Rights are an agreement we find useful. We create boundaries so that people can be incentivised to invest.
If there were no boundaries, we would all just be pure energy. We would not see anything. That sounds beautiful. That would certainly reduce anxiety and stress if you realise everything is connected. But by creating boundaries, and creating friction, you can create shape and forms and negotiate stories. You can create characters, narrative arcs, and meaning. Containers help us create.
Study the containers that impact your life and decision making.
The Porter Five Forces are a framework for stakeholder analysis. Identify the various people and institutions that are involved. Pay attention to your competitors, regulators, customers, suppliers. Study the supply chain, and how you are involved in the process. Understand the big picture organisation and your role, but do not be defined by it. A framework, like money, is a tool. It is a way to build limited but useful understanding. To model, not imprison, reality.
Ideally, you have a strong container, within which you have a sense of ownership. An awareness of the agreements and trust that form the foundation. The boundaries that support its structure. The container holds space for you, so that you can solve problems, and turn that problem-solving into capital. Then the capital evolves over time as it compounds and grows. Providing insurance for the unexpected. Softening the impact of short-term noise. Sustaining capacity for long-term planning, commitment, and involvement over a longer period than if you are constantly starting.
Starting is the hardest part. Once moving, the focus becomes the connection between moments. If you build momentum, you can connect what you were doing yesterday to what you are doing tomorrow. In a way that avoids losing track of your values. If you are so obsessed with the past or the future, that you are not doing anything of consequence today, you just get stuck. You still need to maintain the connection between the two. That is what happens in a well-constructed container.
Then it comes down to problems. What are you solving?
Money making is about problem solving.
Not all good ideas are good business ideas. Good business ideas are profitable. You need a clear ask and a clear offer. It is difficult to articulate because our worlds are different. We have different illusions. We need to find a shared vocabulary. We need to find a way to contribute to someone’s world in a way they understand. Quite simply, you need to get paid. To get paid, you need an offer the asker recognises. That is the goal.
Problem solving requires the ability to step back and analyse. Identify decision makers with money. You can have a great idea, but nothing happens unless you can find the funding to make the change. If you can find a decision maker empowered to say yes or no. So that the money hits your bank account. That requires finding where the control is. Where the power is. Where the impetus is. Where do things happen?
First, step back. Get an overview of the market. Understand the players. Understand the environment. Gain a bigger sense of yourself than just the current role or task. Always have your eyes open. Pay attention to problems. Be curious. Be interested. Fascinated by the world and connected to what is happening. That is your mind. That is where you are going to dig for problems to solve. By caring about and understanding others. People like people who like them.
It takes the generous gift of attention to genuinely see people. To understand someone’s problems, you need to reflect the problem back. In a way that they feel you see them. Perhaps better than they see themselves. Because you are not them. Because you are paying attention. That comes through the human skills of caring and empathy. Through seeing yourself in them. Because the minute you spend time with someone, these boundaries, these containers, start dissolving. You get a sense of why that problem matters. How you can develop the skills and knowledge to be able to solve it.
Even though we are all connected, we end up having different paths. Our lives are path dependent and come down to a series of choices of left or right, left or right, left or right. We do not all get, or make, the same choices. But we all make decisions. I am a big believer in empowering decision making from the bottom up. We want to make sure that everyone has the capacity and the ability to make their decisions.
In “The Future and its Enemies”, Virginia talks about tacit knowledge. The stuff you understand in your body, in your heart, in your soul. Learnt through what you have done in life. But you cannot explain it. Explaining is hard. There is a lot we do automatically.
Yoga talks about consciousness being three parts. The Om symbol has three semi-circles that represent subconscious, conscious, and the dream state. These are the ways we connect with reality. They are different for each of us, because we have all had these different experiences.
When we are making decisions, if we must communicate with words, and cannot just say yes or no, it ends up requiring a lot more information.
With artificial intelligence, deep machine learning can be summarised into impenetrable strings of ones and zeros. The machine goes through loops. Beginning again, and trying various things. The outputs might just be yes or no. But each output might have an input that could be another string of 30 ones and zeros. Or 1,000. There are a vast variety of combinations of those digits. But the computer just bumps the output. Bumps it, bumps it, bumps it and eventually, when you finally get that string of 30 digits that provides the best answer. That is not something you can access. It is not something you can consciously understand. That string is experience. It is something that the computer “knows”, but the computer does not know why it knows. It has just gone through various iterations of bumping trial and error, trial and error, until it comes up with a solution.
That is a very human way of learning. We are not always conscious of why we know things. Often, we learn the most when we are very relaxed, and no longer trying. When we allow our body to learn, without our anxiety creating boundaries. The results can seem magical. Intuition is cumulative knowledge that is embodied. The result of having drawn breath repeatedly and ventured into the world. It is the reward for engaging with the chaos. We gain knowledge we do not necessarily understand. It might be wrong. It is often wrong. We need to create the capacity to be wrong to explore confidently.
The willingness to say, “based on what I have done, this is what I am going to do” and just do it in the face of all the uncertainty in the world. Be able to make decisions. One of the things that drives me nuts is decisive indecision. Getting stuck in “I don't know what to do, and I don't know if I am going to get it wrong.” Closing any possible action.
Sometimes you just need to make a call. Deal with the consequences. Make sure that it is not going to blow you out of the water. But it nudges you forward. Tim Minchin talks of micro-ambition. Small achievable steps that you can unwind. There are often unintended consequences. We want to do stuff, but we do not understand the world. This world is crazy complicated, ambiguous, uncertain, and random. We will never understand. No one human being will ever understand. We exist beyond ourselves and our limits.
But we want to engage. By making small, small, small, small steps, you can have the opportunity to unwind, unwind, unwind. Step back and undo whatever damage you have done. Because you said, “I will try this. Okay, that does not work. I will start this way. Oh, that doesn’t work.” Then you build even if you are going in a very different direction to what you originally planned.
Sometimes it is impossible to unwind. But you want to create the ability to incorporate new information. To adapt, adjust and accommodate. You want to have options. You want to create the ability to shift in different directions. You must accept a path. The path that you have been on. That is the path that you are connected to, and brought you to where you are. You must be able to let go of where you could have been, but you still want to have agency over what you do now.
The danger of too many options is that it can prevent you from making choices. If you feel obliged to analyse everything. Detachment is partly the ability to wish other people well on their journey, and be able to focus your attention on what is important to you. At the same time, you can maintain a connection to those other choices through other people.
Never be a forced buyer. Never be a forced seller.
Price is supply and demand. If you must buy something, no matter what the price, that is dangerous. That is no longer a consensual exchange. Consider walking away if a sliver of that possibility exists. If you can find a way to create breathing space. Detachment at that level can feel impossible. You might, correctly, feel that it is your most important decision. It is a difficult thing to sit with, but nothing is so important, that it is more important than everything else. Certainly, nothing with a price.
The reason to build buffers, the ability to endure, and practice detachment, is so that you do not get yourself into that corner. Poverty puts people in a corner. Poverty is a form of scarcity that reduces the available options, smothering empowered decision making.
What is your biggest fear?
Being able to confront waves of anxiety is important. When you , you know there are a variety of possible outcomes. What is hard to identify is the risk of ruin. That means that there is not going to be a next day. Sometimes that risk is hidden. Lying in the invisible tail of alternative possibilities that have never happened. Unlikely events with significant impacts. The building pressure of bad choices with delayed consequences. We cannot live in paralysed fear, because of these unknowns. We can build buffers to survive the unknown. Reflect. Unpack. Interrogate.
For most of our decisions, we are not unique snowflakes. Other people have made similar choices in resonating forks scattered liberally around the world. You can do the due diligence. You can research how other people have handled reflections of your situation. Their perspective will not be identical, but there can be similar flavour. The same ingredients in infinite combinations. You can put in the work to make better decisions. Reflect, decide, and put into practice.
As pattern soakers, we need to be wary of what has gone deep. We are wired to feel like because we have seen something often, it must be true. We do not know what we do not know. A Black Swan is something that happens when one example changes your whole view. You thought this always happens. You discover it does not always happen. This knowledge can change absolutely everything. Add a pinch of salt to what you hold to be true, and ask the question “What if I am wrong?”. You still need to build a life, and you do not need to build your life around being wrong. You still need to put stakes in the ground and make bold decisions about what you think is true, and what you think is not true.
In decision making, and planning, the challenge is dealing with ambition, success, and visions of the future. It can become overwhelming. We all end up having imposter syndrome, judging ourselves based on criteria set by others. It comes down to managing expectations.
If you give generously, you typically receive back. Give generously without expectation. When the world disappoints us, that is when we start judging ourselves harshly. Waves that bother us most are dealing with our own demons. Shadows to work on. When someone gets angry at you, it is often not you. It is their own projections. It is their struggle crying out. If someone is being harsh on you, you can imagine that they are probably incredibly harsh on themselves in their head.
We are so deep soaked in this idea of ambition, that we all end up beating ourselves up. Feeling like we are a bit of a failure. We project that on others. When you are struggling with other people thinking maybe you are not good enough, they are probably struggling with the same thing. Because we think in categories, we divide people into good enough and not good enough.
Meritocracy in its historical context, was compared to hereditary privilege. When people used to be born into wealth. Who someone’s parents were, determined their predefined role in Caste systems or Feudal systems were ways of categorising people.
Now we have companies as containers and that is how we make sense. We want social mobility. We want people to be able to choose their own stars. That creates a lot of ambition. We are trying to unpack the unintended consequences of some of the stories we use to coordinate and cooperate. Many of these stories run deep. Unwinding the mess requires micro-ambition, because they are so deeply connected to things we care about.
Free Will is possible. It is hard. You must do the work. If you want to make good decisions, understand how you make decisions. Narrative Therapy is brought to life in the TV Series “Westworld”. We all have cornerstone events, drivers, and coding that determines how we respond to complexity, ambiguity, and randomness. The more aware you are of who the character you are playing is, the more conscious you can be of what perceptions, habits, and scripts need editing. It will not just happen. We embody our impression of ourselves deep beneath the surface. We seldom change through weekend epiphanies. Monday morning always arrives. Change must be sustainable.
Understanding yourself requires going deep into the stories we forget on the surface. You must dig, and ask questions, tracing back like a detective. Why do you respond in the way you do? Why is that important to you? What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to prove it to? Do you really want to prove it?
Tacit knowledge means you are best placed to make your decisions. This is true. But interrogate the process. Look back into your history and understand your context. Even though you are best placed to make your decisions, you need to be in conversation with yourself. Learning, unlearning, and with constant feedback. Pause for reflection. Pause for understanding and gaining knowledge into yourself and why you made the choices that you did. Do they reflect what truly matters to you?
Try and understand the way that you think. Why things matter to you. We all have different value sets, and you want to know what those values are. What the trade-offs are. Quite often a decision is neither good nor bad, it is just a case of different weightings. Everything has consequences.
In Ursula Le Guin’s , the main character is Ged. In that universe, power is gained by being able to see, and name, something’s essence. By acknowledging what something truly is, the wizard has the power to change it. The arch of the story is Ged’s battle against the most powerful evil wizard that has ever lived. A shadow. When he discovers the shadows name, he realises it is his own. Our deep shadows are part of understanding who we are. Understanding your decision making, is finding out what your story is.
People will say “Don’t carry your history with you”, “let it go”, “live in the now”. I am not one of those people. I live in my history. I am always curious about why I think the way I do, and what built that up. I know there is path dependence. I know that because of various events, my life could have gone another way. As I get older and new things happen to me, it changes my memory. I like reflecting on memories repeatedly, and saying, “Okay, well now I see things differently.” You are having a conversation with your past self to understand how your values have evolved.
“The best I can wish you is a little misfortune”
We learn the most when things go wrong. When there is pain as you look back in your past, learn to sit with sadness and reflect on it. Then let it go. Melancholy is a great source of creativity. “Life is going to want to shit on you. Let it. Use it.”
There are things you cannot change. That is the path you are on. I do not like the idea of living with regret, but I do like meditating on my past. Thinking about my stories, and putting that in the context of other people.
Stories and money as a form of communication. Reflections on stories change as we change. Part of my story is Apartheid in South Africa. I refuse to let go of History. Because it is such an important source of understanding. We carry all this knowledge with us. Some written, some aural, some in the way we dance, the way we make our art, and the way we build community.
Part of being human is this beautiful, deep, painful, glorious, connection to everything. The future, the past, and other people’s now. That source of understanding gives us a powerful view of the why of why we make our decisions. I believe that life does not have meaning. We give it meaning. We create meaning. Books like Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and David Duncan’s “The River Why”. See what your values are. See what is important to you. Then create a bolder life.
Positive ambition should start with reflection on what drives you. What are your cornerstone stories? What is your narrative? How do you become the editor of your life? Being able to take a slight step back from what is going on, and say, “That character? Not so much. I am going to change that. The plot was leading to this point, but actually it could lead here if you think about it differently.” There are all sorts of techniques to have a sense of autonomy resonate through your story. That starts with understanding what your drivers are.
There is obviously politics. It is not just about you. No one is separate from the rest of the world. You want your values system to reflect how you operate with other people. Everything we do is about relationships. It is about connection to other people. It does not matter what your job is, most of the dynamic will boil down to how you interact with other people. Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, and Cultural Intelligence become vital. You get smart people who are clueless about how to engage with other humans. They are not going to make money. Money is made by solving problems for people. Who you know, networks, and trust are important because money is a story.
We do not have full knowledge of other people’s stories. It helps to build an environment that supports repeated interaction. Connected stories. The hardest part of making money is building a relationship with decision makers with money. Finding clients. A decision maker will do the hard work of deciding they trust you enough to give you money. That is emotional work. They do not need to do that initial heavy lifting again if trust is maintained. Build deep relationships. Superficial relationships will leave you constantly searching for new clients. If you are serving them once, but then maybe they never want to see you again, because you have not acted with integrity, and they regret their initial decision.
Even after money has changed hands, consent has a memory. Informed consent has hope for the future. When things do not work out, that affects the story of the relationship. If you do not act in a way where someone is still happy with the decision once the money has swapped bank accounts, you are going to struggle. One mental tool is to think how you would act in a world with full transparency, zero transaction costs, and perfect replicability. Where if you could do something, someone else would be able to do it immediately afterwards. Why would the person still deal with you? That is all about relationships and trust.
The world is complicated, ambiguous, and uncertain. People will want to deal with you because you become an extension of them as a decision-maker. They give money to you because you are them, in the way that you become a part of their problem solving. You become a part of their container.
We are forced to do some work to understand politics, in much the same way that we must understand money. Politics can be frustrating when it is about darkness. About hiding information and installing hierarchy. I do not like people being bullied, and I do not like people being told what to do without their enthusiastic consent.
Money making boils down to solving problems. If you genuinely want to create compounding momentum, you must repeatedly make yourself redundant. To confidently do that, you need a sense of ownership. To feel part of a solving container. Otherwise, once you have a solution, why ask you again? There are 7.8 Billion people on the planet. As Warren Buffett says, “You don’t have to swing at every pitch.” You do not want to be someone’s pitch.
The other more cynical path is to make yourself irreplaceable. Create problems only you can (pretend to) solve.
I do not like that path. I like the path of genuine and honest problem solving. That requires trust, ownership, and inclusion in the containers we build. A strong enough commitment in a relationship to share the truth. One of the reasons we do not talk about what we earn, our real weaknesses, and what we do not know, is it can solidify internal waves of anxiety about inadequacy.
Which means there is a level of darkness about what opportunities are available. Which clogs up realistic paths of skill and knowledge development, and leaves solvable problems scabbing our eyes closed.
You are not the problem. The problem is the problem. Treating people like pitches, turns them into problems.
One of the most important lessons in the world of money is that “Price is not Value”.
We half wish that it was, because of a love for scorecards and a way of measuring progress. If you can measure something, you can control it. People partly love big salaries because it is a conspicuous sign that you are making it in the world. Unfortunately, all a big salary means is that there is an undersupply of the thing that you are providing. Or there are significant barriers to entry. Or there is a lack of transparency. There is a container that creates the ability to earn more, but it is not value. There are lots of valuable things that are abundant. A high price is just an indication of scarcity.
Not everything that counts can be counted and contained. Not all good ideas are good business ideas. Not all good business ideas are good ideas.
The challenge we face with politics is that we want it. The most political people I know use phrases like “leave your ego at the door”, and ask “how do we get rid of the politics?” without a hint of irony. The darkness from lack of transparency protects our interests and vulnerabilities. We like positioning ourselves against other people, if we come out on top. We like the sense of superiority. We like getting better. We like progress. We like being incentivised. We like action. We like feeling like we are doing something right, and moving forward.
We create these hierarchies as a way of making sense of the world. As a way of feeling like we are moving. Feeling a sense of life. It is an easy option to measure the world. Money is like salt, fat, and sugar for the taste buds. It is not subtle flavouring.
When you are looking for the commitment required for long-term endurance, the path is through complex relationship building. Understanding money is relatively easy by comparison. There are significantly more interesting ways of releasing flavour, that we do not seek out because it requires work. Work that is profoundly rewarding, but asks a lot of us. Asks us to be better. In a way that is not relative to other people. That neither excludes others, nor creates bubbles of comforting success. A deeper sense of better. Through grappling, struggling, and engaging. It is beautifully difficult. You must want that beauty.
I suspect most of us default to the path of least resistance. Responding to confidence in a complicated world. We are all so confused, that if someone looks confident, it is enticing to say, “I’ll just do what they told me to do.” Freedom of movement requires strength and flexibility built consciously and actively, rather than the passive following of instruction.
Find comfort within discomfort. That does not mean pushing through pain. With yoga and stretching, to progress, you do not need to hurt yourself. You can learn within limits. You can learn by understanding the boundaries, and doing the work inside of that. Playing, and moving around, in your areas of slight discomfort. Be curious about transitions that are not smooth.
A lot of meditative work can be done through movement and dancing. Being aware of, “, this bit there is tight. I am going to move my shoulder more. I am a bit stiff in my lower back, I am going to do some moving there.” It is about understanding where you carry your tension. You can go for a run. A swim. Lift your arms over your head. Pick something up. Reach for something. Our minds learn in the way our body does. Through an embodied use-it-or-loose-it process of leaning into areas of discomfort (without hurting yourself) and building endurance and resilience. Through consistent engagement.
One of those areas is trying to understand our communal obsession with comparison with other people.
Relativity is one of the biggest obstacles to mental health. When we wish we were in the position of someone else, and judge ourselves through others. When you hear about good fortune of people you know, and it does not make you feel good. When you go visit friends or family in bigger houses, or when you go on holiday, and are constantly aware of the things you do not have. Window shopping into other lives. We only have a small peak. We never see the full picture. We cannot understand their full story. We only see the conspicuous. We do not see the trade-offs. We do not see the challenges. We glimpse a single angle snapshot of another life path.
Letting go of that idea is vital to be able to fully focus our energy on whatever our bits of the puzzle are. Whatever our choices are. Whatever our position is. That is not accepting your role in life. It is letting go of the idea that people are better or worse.
Pause before you look at people who are richer than you to learn about money. If you want to create a buffer for the noise. If you want space to breathe, then the best place to look is how you spend money. How could you live on half of what you spend? The best place to learn is from people who are living on half of what you are. The key to stilling the waves of money anxiety is the relationship between income and expenses. The ins and outs, and the balance between the two.
Someone who is earning a lot of money, but spending even more, will be progressively getting more into debt. Making it increasingly hard to reduce their expenses. Becoming accustomed to a lifestyle they can not afford. Even if their income is growing, they are not on the path to financial freedom. They are going to be stressed, and full of money anxiety. Whereas someone who is earning half of what you do, can offer you lessons on how to gradually build up a buffer.
Create cycles of learning. Repeated periods of trial and error where you act and then reflect. If in each of those cycles, there is a little bit of space building, that space will compound. It is not about predicting the future. It is about the ability to adapt, adjust, and accommodate futures. Capital, skills, knowledge, relationships, and capacity. Your buffer becomes an engine, your engine becomes a muse. Your muse sets you free.
This form of success/freedom has nothing to do with anybody else. It is your story. It is your capacity to connect to other people. Rather than being weighed, measured, and judged, relative to them.
Stilling the waves of money anxiety starts with understanding your relationship with money. With the stories you tell yourself, and the daily practice you create around that. How you wake up. What you choose to do. How you choose to think. What new information you expose yourself to. What areas of embodiment you are The movement, you are creating. The flexibility, you are creating. The strength, you are creating. The control you have over how you move. Your autonomy. Your transitions.
Understand the situation that you are in, and the situation you want to be in. Understand the path, and the required skills and knowledge. That starts with paying attention to where you are, reflecting on it, and seeing what your choices are. In a way that you are fully present and able to grapple with that with a sparkle in your eye. To see a point in subtle change. To celebrate marginal progress that adds up. That powers small achievable steps every day.
The world can get us down, but I am a glass-half-full person. In all this chaos, the world is full of rich seeding grounds for curiosity. That is the point of all of it. Find a way to get some excitement about what you do, and go create meaning. That comes through relationships, connection, and other people. Building. Building over time, and setting yourself up to be able to move autonomously in the direction you choose.