Ladders and Mountains

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The roofline on my house is very steeply-pitched, and I have an unusually tall house. Therefore, it’s extremely hazardous to do any work up there.

Just about the only time someone successfully did so was, years ago, when I hired some professional Christmas light installers to festoon my entire roofline with white lights. It makes for a very cool effect, but because it cost me so much, I decided to leave them up there forever. (At the risk of coming off as gauche, I want to be clear that you wouldn’t even notice the lights unless they were on).

That was years ago, though, and the bulbs were incandescent, and as such, they started to burn out, one by one. It would cost me about $400 (at least) to hire someone to come out and replace even one of those bulbs, since it was so high up, so – – thrifty soul that I am – – I invested $300 in a very tall ladder, figuring that it would last forever and I could use it for other things in the future.

I leaned the ladder up against the side of my house, making sure the footing was totally secure, and I began carefully making my way up, step by step, 1.5 volt lightbulbs ready to go in my pockets. Higher and higher, I carefully kept checking the stability of the ladder. Five feet. Ten. Twenty.

Then I stopped.

Something in my brain wouldn’t let me go any higher. I just stood there on the rung, gripping the sides, trying to convince myself to proceed. I reminded myself silently that the ladder was new, very solid, and on a flat, stable footing. The ladder wasn’t going anywhere. And I needed to get these bulbs replaced.

Still, something in my head would absolutely not permit it. After a couple of minutes, I started to get self-conscious, wondering if my neighbors were looking out their windows at me. So I descended the ladder, collapsed it back onto itself, and stored the heavy beast away. Mission not accomplished.

So that’s ascendency story number one.

The second one is a situation which some of you have perhaps experienced before. I know I have, as well as other friends with whom I have spoken.

Imagine yourself in the wilderness, where mountains are located. Whether you are alone or with others doesn’t matter. You look up the side of a mountain and decide, what the hell, I’m going to climb that thing. Life is short, right?

So you start going up, step by step. Your hiking boots are sure-footed, and it’s exhilarating to make every step. “I can do this!” you think, as your heart beats faster and your legs push you higher and higher up on the slope. Mountains were meant for climbing, after all.

Then you stop. Maybe you’re really tired. Maybe it’s getting late. You’re not scared. But you’ve gone far enough to satisfy your craving for height. And you turn around to go back. And then………..ho lee shit.

It seems odd, but looking down a mountain is way, way scarier than looking up one. “How the hell did I get up here?!?!” you might ask yourself. I know it isn’t just me. I’ve heard this same experience from plenty of others (all men, naturally).

And that, my friends, is where I think the good people of Earth are when it comes to asset prices. It’s the difference between a ladder and a mountain.

A ladder is digital. Everything is spaced the same. It’s measurable. You can, with cold intellect, see the data right in front of your eyes. At some point, your brain is going to tell you to stop. You have made a rational decision, even if you weren’t necessarily going to come to harm.

A mountain is analog. It wiggles up and down. There are stones here and there. It’s fun. So you leave your judgment behind and just Go For It. And once you’ve gone for it, there will come a time, sooner or later, when you look back and start to wonder what in the hell you were thinking.

By then it’s too late for good judgment. You just have to get your way back down, one way or another.

Even if you hurt yourself in the process.