Jealousy, Perspective, and Peace

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I am a middle-aged man, but in the years I have lived, I have at least amassed enough wisdom to know intuitively that I am still naive. We're always learning and, hopefully, getting wiser, so in an absolute sense, I'll die a naive man.

But I'm not as dim as I was as a teenaged-Tim, so allow me to start this essay with a couple of background facts.

First, when I was a teenager, I prided myself in being a "pure" capitalist. My view was that a dog-eat-dog, laissez-faire world was the correct and natural order of things. If I had dictatorial powers (which, thankfully, are seldom granted to fifteen-year old boys), all taxes would have been eliminated, all social support programs would have vanished, and if the elderly wound up in fistfights on the street fighting over a can of dog food to survive, so be it.

Of course, living in an upper-middle class family with absolutely no pressures and responsibilities of any import makes it easy to embrace radical views. I believed, quite incorrectly as it turns out, that the world was a meritocracy, and that we each got what we deserved based on intelligence, skills, and – most of all – effort. Why punish the industrious to help the lazy? Let 'em die for the sin of laziness. Allow those who love to work to flourish and lord it over their inferiors. Thus spake Tim-teen.

Well, I was wrong. I was wrong to think the world was meritocratic. I was wrong to think that there's anything more than a very small correlation between effort and success. And I was wrong to think that anyone having troubled times deserved it. My vitriolic hatred of communism and adoration of free enterprise poisoned my brain into reactionary thinking.

My second backgrounder is this: I have known many, many interesting and talented people, particularly in high-technology, and I daresay if you placed a bet on each of them, one by one, as to who would ultimately succeed and who would simply survive, your bets would almost all be wrong. Mine certainly were.

I'm thinking right now of a couple of people I knew as a young man. One of them, like me, discovered personal computing in 1979. He was whip-smart, incredibly adept with computers, and could out-Urkel Urkel on the nerd scale. And there was another fellow who was convicted of making and distributing speed and was thrown in prison for four years.

So who was the high-tech success? C'mon now, you already know the answer. The first guy went to work for a very big, very boring, computer manufacturer doing a middle management job, and he'll be there, I'm sure, until he retires at 65. The second guy created one of the hottest Internet companies of the late 1990s and cashed out for tens of millions of dollars of personal profit.

And it isn't just high-tech. You could name almost any business and be shocked at expectations versus results. You know I love comedy, so think about Saturday Night Live back in the early 1990s. Dana Carvey and Mike Myers were the hottest stars of the show. They were both very similar in terms of youth, energy, talent and fame.

And where are they now? Well, Dana Carvey has faded into relative obscurity whereas Mike Myers is pretty much a stand-alone media empire, with numerous movie franchises under his belt.

Fame and fortune are fickle mistresses, and, at long last, I am starting to get some perspective about what they mean and the value that they have.

I used to get really hung up on whether or not people "deserved" the money they had. There were so many people in the world that had mountains of money that I thought shouldn't be theirs. Lottery winners, really bad musicians (think Black-Eyed Peas), sports stars, you name it……..and, of course, all the millions or billions of dollars in stock owned by leaders in high-tech.

I can say without hesitation that I'm over that  now. When I read about the graffiti artist who was going to make $200 million on Facebook, I didn't feel one iota of jealousy. I thought it was an amusing anecdote, and I thought it was a little dumb of Facebook to pay someone in stock when they could have easily cut him a check, but as for his fortune………what do I care? Maybe he'll give some to charity. Maybe he'll take on an awesomely expensive drug habit. Maybe he'll make himself a throne of solid gold. Why should I care?

I like money as much as the next guy, and I never want to have to worry about paying my bills or providing for my family, but the desire to have tons of money for the sake of having tons of money is gone now. I've got plenty enough to be comfortable. What's far, far more important to me now – – something I crave as much as I used to desire a personal fortune – is loving what I do.

Personal satisfaction for me begins and ends with whether or not I'm happy to do my job each day. That might not seem unusual. It might seem as obvious as a desire to breathe. But I'm not convinced that my addiction to work satisfaction is typical.

Every day millions of people cart themselves off to jobs they don't love. They sit through meetings in which they have no interest. They talk to bosses that they can't stand. They work with co-workers they don't respect. They fill out annual review forms that they'd like to toss into a bonfire. It's all a big, fat drag, but they do it because they need the paycheck.

I've had real jobs before, and I can't say I've enjoyed them. See, there's two things about me that I just can't seem to shake. One, I'm a bear. Sorry, but this is the case. I was born that way, and I'm going to die that way. And, two, I have to do what I love. I abandoned a very high-paying "real" job to focus on the blog and my trading (for a lot less money), and although there was an opportunity cost, there hasn't been a single morning where I've had to cringe at the prospect of going to some goddamned office where I don't want to be.

Of course, having grown out of my why-isn't-all-that-money-mine hangup, I'm somewhat liberated to actually pursue the labor that I love instead of striving on the corporate ladder. Over the past seven years, this little blog has grown from a personal diary into an actual business, and over the next couple of months you are going to see it become a much more serious business.

And, although the last three years have been absolutely miserable for the bears, I am heartened and encouraged by the fact that traffic on Slope of Hope has been steady the entire time. It's almost eerie how consistent the daily visits are.

Why has a bearish blog been allowed in this competitive world to thrive? Simple. You. The community.

Bull, bear, or somewhere in between, Slopers are traders, one and all, and we have built this place organically by sticking together. Should the market ever resume its downward trek, terrific – – then the name of this place won't be quite so humiliating! – – but irrespective of that, Slope is about the collective community, and that isn't dependent on what the market does.

Thank you for giving me a way to support my family while doing what I love. Thank you for coming back day after day.

Finally, if there's one piece of wisdom you can take away from this, try what you can to do what you love. Whether it's singing, art, writing, or being the king of commercial paper at an investment bank, there's really nothing that can substitute for being deeply satisfied with how you earn a living.

Believe me, if I didn't love charts as much as I do, there's no way I could do this in this environment. These days, in this permabullish market, I feel like a sex addict who each morning enters a room populated with no one but Roseanne Barr, Bea Arthur, and Richard Simmons. All the same, I have an abiding passion for studying the markets, writing about them, and communicating with my trading peers about what's going on.

Slope begins its eighth year next month. Cool things are coming. I am here for you.