"If You Give a Man a Fire..."
“Give a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for the night; Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”
– Unknown (thankfully)
Every time my family drives somewhere separately; to the pool, to a sporting event, to a friend’s house, wherever, the kids always, and without fail, turn the trip into a race. Me and whichever boys are in my car vs Mom and whichever boys are in her car. From the back I’ll hear, “Mom’s right behind us” or “Mom’s stuck at the light” or “Dad, Mom’s in front of us… take a shortcut!”. I like to downplay it to the kids and pretend I’m not thinking the exact same thing. Underneath the don’t-care façade though, I’m fully bought into this race. My wife doesn’t know we’re racing, she’s probably concentrating on driving or something. I can’t speed or that would let my kids know that I’m trying to win this non-race race too. I just need to be crafty; take a shortcut, casually blow through a yellow light, make an illegal turn on red (a sure winner… my wife’s a rule follower!). Most of the time my car wins and we pull into the driveway a few seconds earlier. Victory! After all, my wife doesn’t think like elementary school age boys (or their grown father). Sometimes we lose, like that time I took a shortcut only to find out there was a tree across the road. We lost bad that time. Add up all the seconds we saved in those victories, and it wouldn’t come close to equaling the time we lost in that one “shortcut”.
There’s a famous line from Something About Mary, where the hitchhiker pitches his idea for the next big company. Something that will blow away the popular 8-minute abs — 7-minute abs!
Earlier this year, speculators flocked into GameStop, driving the price of a fledgling video game store to over $400/share. For a brief period, it was on the news every night. People looking to make a quick buck to payoff student loans or mortgages or credit cards or people who just wanted to skip to the front of the line jumped into the fray only to see the value of the stock, and their investment, plummet. And now, after many of the late-to-the-party investors took their losses, the stock is back above $300 (at least as of this writing).
For most of us, investing should be boring. Results happen slowly and over time, the power of compounding taking effect. As Morgan Housel writes: “If I ask you to calculate 8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8 in your head, you can do it in a few seconds (it’s 72). If I ask you to calculate 8x8x8x8x8x8x8x8x8, your head will explode (it’s 134,217,728).”
The wife who doesn’t care to race comes out on top. The person who does ab exercises for 8 minutes probably has a stronger core than the 7 minute guy. The investor who doesn’t get caught up in the next fad wins in the end. And the person who sits next to the fire enjoys the warmth for longer than the person who’s on fire.
I’m not sure what the lesson is here.
Don’t light your future on fire? Be like your Mom? I don’t know, but I hope you gained something from my ramblings.