Friday, November 22, 2013

- Turning A Corner

I think I’ve reached a corner in my life.  A time for a moment of reflection anyway. 

I always get melancholy around my birthday, and this time circumstances have conspired to make me even more so.  The Marathon I ran last week is better analogy for my first 50 years than I expected it to be.  Though I trained as hard as I could devoting months of work to it and hundreds of miles, thanks to bad luck or poor timing my performance was considerably less than I’d hoped (to say nothing of other’s expectations).  I finished, which is what most people would call a success, but it took me 25% longer than I had hoped, which I call... maybe not a failure exactly, but not a success.  

 I think the very same thing can be said of my first 50 years.

My 25 year long career on Wall Street was only middlingly successful by Wall Street standards, and I feel like I might have reached an end there too.  It’s true that lots of people strive to be in the position I was as a profitable PM in a major hedge fund, and then head of a department at another.  But the real fact of the matter is that I was late to the party. 

The fatted calf had been milked, killed, skinned, roasted and almost fully eaten by the time I finally arrived.  Where a PM could hope to make 10’s of millions per year before 2007, afterward, the money was barely enough to make it worth the gut wrenching stress.  After 2008 for many people, the real money wasn’t there at all.  I had seven straight years of uninterrupted profit.  But I think you’d be surprised how lightly that sort of thing is valued these days.

So I’m considering a big career change.  An investment banker friend has taken over a logistics company and I’ve been working for him as a consultant to see if I like it and if I’d be a fit.  I’m adding value in meaningful ways, solving problems and creating value.  I’m filling a genuine need of his, not just taking up a space that he held open for me because of our friendship.  And the industry itself is almost perfectly placed for a quant with a deep understanding of machine intelligence and optimization.  The money is pretty good and the work is fun.  I’m considering a permanent change very seriously.

Meanwhile my personal life hasn’t gone the way I’d hoped either.  My teenage daughter is sick.  The stress of it has pushed my wife right to the brink if not slightly over, and now our marriage is suffering greatly as well.  I’m almost completely powerless to effect any change in my situation, and I find myself wondering about the mistakes I made to bring myself here.  I can’t figure out what I might have done differently, but everyone involved seems to think it’s all my fault somehow anyway. 

I’m so tired of being everyone’s bad guy.  I’m exhausted by it.  But if it’s the only way to save my daughter then it isn’t even a question for me.  I’ll keep doing it, even if it means the very end of me.  The career change possibility is a big deal, but this is literally everything else to me.

Even with all that said though; even with little to hang my black hat on other than my own ignorance, I would say that I’ve learned a few important things in 50 years.  For instance, all the happiest moments in my life were those times when I was only worried about people other than myself.  And that’s a damned good thing too because it seems that all the good intentions in the world won’t actually make people care any more about you, so it had better feel good or no one would ever bother.  At this point I’m convinced that ‘doing the right thing’ won’t make people see you with affection and that people are as likely to hate you as love you, no matter how you treat them.  Very often contempt is greeted with adoration, and kindness with vitriol.  I think it’s mostly just a question of timing. 

Another thing I noticed is that the things I thought took the greatest effort were generally not valued very well by others, and the things I thought were almost effortlessly easy were often looked at as if it were magic or some kind of miracle.  I don’t really understand that.  I’ve attributed my confusion to the fact that I’ve never had a particularly clear view of how others see me.  And I’m afraid that’s one aspect of my life that seems likely to continue.  

I always thought that the right way to approach the world was to worry about ‘reality’.  I thought that our feelings on various subjects were as changeable as the tides, but beneath the water was always the ‘facts’ of our existence.  Those facts always seemed more permanent to me and I thought that if you relied on them you were more likely to be ‘right’ than 'wrong’.  

 I know now that the world has no taste for such absolutes.  So few people are able to tell the difference between facts and their feelings that I’m starting to wonder if I got that all wrong in the first place. Does a 'fact' actually exist if there is no one able to see it?  Isn't the whole subjective problem of delusion one of knowing 'facts' which aren't knowable to others?

I guess my point is that I find I don’t care at all about politics anymore.  I have nothing but contempt for politicians of all stripes.  I still believe principle is important, but I think it’s personal.  And I’m no longer willing to pay the price in public hatred for my political views.  I used to say “this is how I feel, so let them hate me for it if they must.”  Nowadays I’d just as soon keep my feelings to myself.  After 50 years I’ve finally got enough people out there who hate me, including virtually everyone in my life who was closest to me.  I no longer see the point in adding more.

Maybe that’s a sign of maturity, I don’t know.  I do know that I no longer feel the need to have others think I’m right about abstract issues.  I know that I’m not going to change the world, and I’m no longer willing to cope with the cost of trying.  People will live their lives and value their beliefs, governments will rise and fall, and the world will keep spinning whether they want it to or not.  Meanwhile I’m just a small man with a small life who isn’t going to be able to do anything about any of it. 

The truth is that I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say here a long time ago.  I no longer have anything new to add or any new way to add it.  The declining readership obviously knows that and there probably isn’t much sense in continue to try.  I’ll leave the talking heads to do the talking, and focus on what I know better how to do.  I’ll go help build a business whose service is simple enough for anyone to understand and see the value in.  One that doesn’t make me the despised enemy of millions simply for trying to do it well, or horror of horrors, actually succeeding at doing so.

I started writing this blog because I felt I had something I needed to say.  Whether anyone was interested in reading it or not was secondary to me.  That need is gone now, washed away by other exigencies.  So while I may not be completely done, I don’t think you can expect to hear much more from me.  Not for a good long while at least.

A while back my dad reminded me of a time when I was about 12 and I came home all banged up and bruised.  I had gotten in a fight to defend my friend who was being picked on for being Jewish.  He told me that he was very proud of that story and had repeated it often over the years.  But as is usually the case with my dad and me, he got the whole point of that episode wrong.  

The truth was that I didn’t care that my friend was Jewish at all; all I ever cared about was that he was my friend.  There was a principle involved, one that I hold above nearly all else.  But it wasn’t the one that he thought it was.  My real fight was really much smaller than the one he wanted me to be in, and much less worthy of being repeated to his drinking buddies.

I think it’s time for me to get back to that kind of fighting for a while.


Bzod said...

Just a quick thanks for your writings over the years. Helped me crystallize my own thinking in a tangible, positive manner on many subjects and I am very grateful for that. The "grind" of the business remains omnipresent (spent yesterday with HFs and Asset Mgrs clients in Boston, and it literally shows on their faces), but I still hold out hope that we are near a cyclical trough in sentiment towards us (perhaps naively, given NYC mayor results, and ongoing rabble from BO).

If today's post is your swan-song for some longish amount of time, know that it met the high standard to which your readers have become accustomed. Thanks again for all.

P.S. If you ever want to shoot at my cc in Monmouth Cty, let me know, as I'd gladly host.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to see you go. I've enjoyed your blog, but you've got to do what's best for you. God bless.

chess said...

Tom...i reached your point about 7 years ago at age 52.. I gave 2 weeks notice and quit. i got tired of kissing surgeons asses and then hearing "that was great but what have you done for me in the last 5 minutes/" I worked a very bright older guy that used to say if a surgeon was given the chance to start at 0730 with a board certified anesthesiologist or at 0700 with a monkey he will take the monkey everytime.You live in a thankless world. I have been trustee of my old groups pension plan for 20 years. It was and has stayed a pooled plan because individiuals destroy themselves(me included).Since 1999 the plan has outperformed the s/p. Thats primarily because of hedge fund we hooked up with in 1999. The name now is Alkeon Partners. After 15 years we still use them.sO AT THE LAST BIG PENSION MEETING FOR THE GROUP OF 188 PARTICIPANTS i FINSISHED WITH A 15 YEAR TRACK RECORD OF BEATING its marker and the first thing I heard was "have we ever shopped the plan around . Really? meaningFidelity/vanguard/Schwab.I stood up chuckling and walked out.
Change jobs and get happy or happier.Concentrate on the wife and child and if necessary the child ..You will die with money so tie up loose ends from within.
Frankly I am surprised with as thorough and intelligent as you are that you have lasted this long with your blog. My brain froze up when I kept hearing Florida is to close to call. I havent really engaged the world since but i am single and childless.Concentrate on your legacy(child) and slow down.

chess said...

And just because the country is TOAST doesnt mean you and the child cant hope to see comet ISON if it makes it around the sun. Neither of you may ever get the chance to see one again.. Good luck bubba...TTFN

brendan said...

Do what you gotta do to be happy. Scaling back politics helped me.

If this is the end, I'll still be rummaging through your archives for a long time.

I'll cross my fingers for a future return. As a fellow buysider, would love to hear more about your approach to markets.

Thanks, and good luck.

Eggman said...

Sorry to see you go! Your blog has been one of the few that I have read on a regular basis and I have truly enjoyed learning about the financial world that I never previously learned or heard much about. Will be praying for your daughter, family and life choices. Please keep us posted on how things are going. Though many of us have never met you in person, we do care. I do hope you will again, in the not too distant future, find this a useful tool to release some tension and teach/connect with those of us who have enjoyed your writing. God Bless you and your family as you move forward. Eggman

TimH said...

I'll keep the RSS feed (one of only a few for me) open and hope you find your voice again. Prayers for you and your family.

flynful said...

I bought my first shotgun, a Mossberg 500, based on your recommendations. Since you clearly enjoy writing about firearms, why not change the focus of the site to deal in things you enjoy, and write only when the mood is hits you.

I have been very interested in what you have to say and strolled by every day to see your updates. For what its worth, I enjoyed this blog and took the time to read it.

For what it's worth, you have an impact on people you don't even know. Don't throw in the towel. I hope your daughter's health gets better. Nothing worse than having to stand on the sidelines and watch others, especially those you love, suffer.

brendan said...

I second flynful's sentiment:

"Since you clearly enjoy writing about firearms, why not change the focus of the site to deal in things you enjoy, and write only when the mood is hits you."

Absolutely. Write when it pleases, about whatever please. If you think your readers are primarily interested in your perspective on politics, you're wrong. We're interested in your perspective period, just like you'd read your boy Derbyshire no matter the topic.

Again, hope things turn up. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I started reading RFNJ almost 10 years ago. maybe more. time flies when you read good writing. I consider myself lucky and privileged to have been invited to contribute to the blog and ultimately meeting Tom, frith and derb in person. I consider Tom a man among men. I consider Tom a friend and as a friend, whatevr you need I will try to help.
I wanted to call today to say I passed my seres 3. Truly a man of numbers, but also that I leave for venezuela next tuesday. I thought "great ! RFNJ will have boots on the ground in the socialist paradise right after maduro was given rule by decree."
With your permission Tom, I will deliver correspondence from Caracas.
I hope and I know that things will improve on the homefront. whether you stop posting for a year or forever, let it be nown you've inspired many to fight the good fight and at least encouraged many to engage the faulty liberal agenda in a battle of wits. we have just reached the middle rounds of this match.
Salute! and as I have posted about my father via pavarotti, so do I now offer you : Vincero! Vincero! Vincero!

Matt H said...

I'm sorry to hear you're going through tough times. I hope everything works out for the best.

I appreciate all the writing you've done over the years. A lot of the stuff you've written--some about politics, some not--has exposed me to a perspective I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. But it's not just a matter of perspective, your writing also combines intelligence with a kind of fearlessness that means you'll follow a train of thought to its logical conclusion when others, even when they're smart enough to see the answer, are afraid to "go there".

If your overall readership numbers are down, I suspect it could be because your readers are reluctant to give up the secret of where we're getting these brilliant points we make when we talk politics with our friends. It's a bit like you said the other day about people who make their living beating the market: they don't go into academia and write papers telling everyone else how to do it. My point is, whether it's reflected in numbers or not, your writing has had an impact.

Incidentally, it was largely because of this blog that I decided to become a gun owner and 2A fanatic.

For whatever it's worth, I'll continue to check back. I add my voice to the chorus of those who say write whenever it pleases you, about whatever topic. I can't say I always agreed 100% with what you had to say, but I have always found you well worth reading.

Moxie D. Hoxie said...

I hate to see you go. I have read this blog for a few years now, and you're my go to guy for firearms info.

Sometimes, I feel like my life sucks. I was shat upon in high school, and always thought I'd move away and show up the bastards. After learning some very important life lessons (like you cannot tell your grad adviser to go f*** themselves) through the years of getting two frickin' bachelors and two masters (from VERY prestigious programs though in useless fields) and winding up with ridiculous student loan debt, I am feaking secretary. I am only managing to get above my head above water because my mom just died, and I got half if what was left of her IRA. (Thanks, mom!) Thanks to this s**tty economy, I have an even crappier secretarial job now with the state and just learned the only thing that matters on being able to move up in that world is how many years you've "calendared" for someone. Barf. Nd the realization just hit me that I screwed myself by taking this job--which I HAD to because I had been unemployed for ten months. Now I'm at the bottom AGAIN trying to work my way up. AGAIN. $17 an hour--I haven't seen anything that low since I temped fifteen years ago while I was in grad school.

Does reading about my crappy life help any?

I'll be so sad to see you go--I have really enjoyed reading RFNJ.

Moxie D. Hoxie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Moxie D. Hoxie said...

Of course, I am one to talk--i hardly post to my blog....

CA Expat said...

This is hands down my favorite blog. I am really going to miss it, but I understand.

the last post could have been written by me. I am exactly where you are, Tom, the circumstances are different. I have learned many of the same lessons and felt some of the same pain. All one can do is persevere and move on.

I really hope to meet one day. Like you, I am a former portfolio manager and grew up right next to you across the Hudson. Would love to go shooting as well.

Godspeed to yu and your family and hope to see you online again soon.

James Bond said...

Sorry to see you go. You are one of 5 blogs I check everyday. My daughter had a nervous breakdown her senior year in college and she blamed me for reasons still unknown. My wife took her side and we will soon be divorced after 27 years of marriage. All we can do is soldier on. Cheers.

Oleg Volk said...

I value your blog greatly -- you are one of the most informative, timely and witty writers out there.

kreitzer said...

I've only gotten to know you the last several months or so and I'm glad I did. It was the personal intimacy and good writing that brought me back all the time. Perhaps not blogging is the most personable thing you can do. I'll pray for your family. And hope for a come back.

kreitzer said...

I've only gotten to know you the last several months or so and I'm glad I did. It was the personal intimacy and good writing that brought me back all the time. Perhaps not blogging is the most personable thing you can do. I'll pray for your family. And hope for a come back.