Two Important Lessons I Learned by Age 30
I lived my life following the standard script until I was in my late-20’s — I always did well at school, got good grades, got into a good university, got scholarships, got more good grades, got some work experience, got a steady and average-paying job.
But then I decided that I didn’t want to follow the script anymore, so I quit my job and moved to China to try something risky — something that would require me to hustle and make my own destiny rather than robotically clocking the 9-to-5 routine.
That “try” quickly turned into 6 fruitful years of living in Shanghai, a once mesmerizing and dynamic metropolis (before recent political climate changes) and perhaps one of the best cities in the world to live in around 2016-2018 for a young person (yes I am legitimately making this claim).
I started my own business, succeeded then failed, and I learned two completely new professions/industries that had nothing to do with my previous academic and professional training.
I made the important transition from my 20’s to my 30’s while living in this fast-paced and ambitious environment in Shanghai, and I will forever be grateful for having taken the plunge and having been there for that critical period of my life.
I experienced so much during these years and I learned so much, that they cannot all be summed up into words in a short post. However, while taking a shower just now I suddenly felt the urge to distill everything I learned down to two maxims:
Everything in life is a ponzi, so learn the rules of the game and play it for profit.
Time waits for no one, so don’t take it for granted.
Lesson #1 - Everything in Life is a Ponzi
When I was a simpleton “normie” in my early 20’s, I never even doubted the standard script. “It’s just how the world works,” I thought.
Now, after years of grinding in the trenches doing business from the elegance of the internet down to the gritty halls of rural Chinese factories, and observing the financial markets take my net worth up and down by 20% in any given month, I can confidently tell you that everything in life is some sort of ponzi scheme in principle, if not in practice.
Take an example, the housing market in Canada - yes it is a ponzi. If you got in 5 years ago you are in massive profit, but if you just bought your first home in 2022, my condolences.
Do people need shelter for their families?
Is a 900 sqft semi-abandoned house from 1950 in Vancouver worth $2 million?
In this market we have people who buy a house to live in and people who speculate to propagate the ponzi, but you can’t really blame them. It’s a form of business just like any other - if the market conditions (i.e. zero interest rates and massive money printing) allows for it, then some entrepreneurial individual somewhere will capitalize on that.
Another example - post-secondary education a.k.a. prestigious universities and colleges.
Why have universities been historically significant? Because historically they were places where only the best and most curious thinkers of a nation would go to congregate and study, exchange ideas, and push human knowledge forward.
Historically, universities were places of meritocracy, where what you bring to the table in terms of knowledge and innovation mattered.
Look at universities now - diplomas are a dime a dozen, what edge does it give you?
Recall the peers among you in university - were most of them smarter than you? Did most of them work harder than you? Did most of them achieve higher grades than you? Did most of them participate in some sort of innovation or entrepreneurship while in school that gave their careers a head start?
The answer is likely a resounding NO. Yes there were some very talented individuals who were smarter, worked harder, and were more enterprising than us, but the majority of our peers? They barely got by yet somehow they obtained the exactly same piece of paper as you and I. We both threw $10k/year in tuition down the drain and at the end of the day there was almost no edge obtained. Suckers.
But wait, not everyone was a sucker.
There was a winner and that was the post-secondary institution itself. They raked in tons of tuition fees (especially from those international students), endowment funds/donations, and made it off like a bandit.
There is a reason why Ivy League school’s endowment funds (their very own investment portfolios) have AUM (assets under management) in the billions.
Imagine throwing thousands of dollars into these guys’ coffers just to get taught some impractical topic like “how to get offended”. One of the greatest ponzis of our lives.
“Bitcoin is a ponzi scheme” they said.
In a way it is true, but it is only true because it is the same for all financial assets.
“Yeah but stocks have underlying businesses that produce things and provide services!”
Oh yes, but why are they worth so much more in valuation than what they actually bring in for the business?
Why is Uber a billion dollar company when it has never generated a profit in its history?
Guess what - because all financial markets are based on speculation.
When someone buys a stock nowadays, they are not buying the stock because the business is profitable and gives them $0.XX of dividends per share. They are buying the stock’s future promise and narrative, and the dream that it will become worth much more than it currently is (even if a company has never turned a profit and never will).
When it comes to the markets if you want to be a participant, just remember - nothing is real. It’s always about speculation, narrative, and liquidity conditions (how much money is in the system). Anything else is bullshit, especially “ESG investing” (side note: shoutout to those soyboys with “just stop oil” shirts who splash paint on famous paintings - they should be jailed for vandalism and damaging cultural heritage).
Just make sure to be an early buyer than a late buyer, because according to the definition of a ponzi, early buyers profit while late buyers “hold the bag”.
Ponzis are so ubiquitous in our daily lives that even the fundamental lifeblood of human society is a ponzi - money.
Yes, our money, national currencies (fiat) are ponzis.
Do you know how money is created?
Fiat money today is not created based on some scarcity mechanism like back in the Middle Ages when explorers and traders exchanged goods via gold and silver because they are rare metals of limited quantity found in the Earth’s crust.
Today’s fiat monies are issued by the central banks of countries.
Yes, the central banks — some appointed (not by merit) boomer officials who feel they somehow have the divine right to dictate the monetary status of a nation.
We just had the biggest financial bull market in decades, which topped at the end of 2021. Now in 2022 we are suffering double-digit inflation on daily household goods like food, gas, electricity, and rent.
Do you know what these have in common?
They were all made possible because the fiat money ponzi was running on max intensity from 2020-2021.
The US Federal Reserve alone printed an enormous amount of money during this period that the total circulating money supply of US Dollars almost doubled in two years.
When the amount of resources in the world stays the same but the currency we use to barter suddenly doubled, what happens?
And true to all ponzis, the ones who are at the top of the pyramid benefits the most, with a gradient all the way down to the very bottom of the pyramid where people lose the most.
At the top of the money ponzi are people in the central banks, government, big banks and financiers, the techno elite and media moguls, etc. They are so close to the source of the money that all that newly printed prosperity flows to them first, in the form of cheap funding for their companies and easy liquidity for stock buybacks.
Who suffers the most at the bottom? Normal people who follow “the script” - you are not getting a cent more of that freshly printed money unless you get a raise from your job, because your income is fixed.
When the money doubles and the resources stay the same, the cost of goods will eventually double. F*cked by the money ponzi.
Lesson #1 Summary:
At the end of the day, take away this — everything is a ponzi and there is no point in complaining about it. People create different narratives to bitch about without even understanding the nature of the game — it’s not about capitalism or oil, stupid, it’s about the rules of the ponzi.
Your job, as an independent participant on this planet of 9 billion, is to learn and understand the rules of the specific ponzis you are involved in, and to win at the game.
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Lesson #2 - Time Waits for No One
This one is pretty obvious. I mean, ever since we were young we were fed with the typical propaganda by our parents with high hopes for our future achievements - “don’t waste time, time is precious, make good use of your time, etc.”
But, have you really paused and thought about just how valuable time is? Not simply in the sense of seconds and minutes but in the sense of moments, and opportunities?
A lot of people often say, “I don’t wanna do XYZ because it feels like a waste of time” but then end up doing ABC which is probably not much better than XYZ in terms of being productive or conducive towards their dreams and ambitions.
What shouldn’t be wasted, however, is time in the sense of moments and opportunities.
Nothing in this life is permanent — opportunities are fleeting, moments are fleeting, and people’s positions in the world are also fleeting, because the world is dynamic and constantly moving. Millions of factors affect the progression and outcome of any certain event, and this constant fluctuation will never allow you to have the same moment or the same opportunity TWICE.
So, when a nice moment happens for you, perhaps with a friend, or with a lover, or with a teacher, a coach, an idol, a sibling — grasp it with both hands and savour that moment. Enjoy the moment fully, without worrying about insignificant bullshit like “how much does that drink cost” because that exact same moment will never happen again. The exact mixture of endorphins and dopamine and whatever other feel good chemicals inside you at that moment will never be repeatable — you simply cannot bottle the magic.
The same is true for moments of opportunity — maybe opportunities for your career, for financial gain, or for changing your life forever.
If you are fortunate enough to have been paying attention to something ahead of time and then the ideal opportunity arrives in your lap, there is no need to hesitate.
When it comes to things like investing, it’s usually not a good idea to chase the market and FOMO. But, if you have a well-established and well-researched thesis with high conviction, and you have been waiting patiently for the right moment to strike, then make sure you strike when that moment arrives.
You’ve already done the research and preparation, and all you were doing was waiting for the right timing. Getting the timing right is one of the most difficult things in life, and it is one of those things that can be so fleeting and trigger so much regret should you miss it.
If I hadn’t decided to quit my job and move to China when I did, I wouldn’t have gotten into the business I had gotten into, I wouldn’t have learned the lessons I learned from that business, and I wouldn’t have met the people I met that subsequently led me into my new field of profession and future investments. All of these things changed my life, yet they are results of domino effects which all started from that first window of opportunity when I had to make a decision.
At the same time, there were many many more opportunities that I missed or screwed up terribly, which I would never get again. Regret is one of the unavoidable ghosts of life, and one of the most painful. It’s something we all live with and manage. The best thing we can do from these missed opportunities is to take lessons, observe ourselves internally, and make improvements to our mental models so we don’t repeat the same indecision again when another (but different) opportunity arises.
Lesson #2 Summary:
Don’t take anything for granted, because anything and everything can be fleeting. Always be self-reflective and understand this universal truth. You may feel like you have everything or you have nothing, yet a few days, months, or years later, things can change completely. Your reality changes with time and with the happenings in the world, and what you had for a certain period in the past may never be had again in the future.
For all of us who had experienced living in China during the exciting glory years and may have taken it for granted — that opportunity has passed forever and the China today is unrecognizable and inaccessible.
Time is the harshest of all elements and not even the greatest and strongest of men can escape its wrath — just look at Cristiano Ronaldo, who at age 37 is still struggling to come to terms with his new reality that his footballing career as one of the world’s best is already behind him.
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