Government is setting a lot of preferences in my city, state and country. I don’t mind, per se. I’m no better than government with regard to the future and I’m insulated from the impact of the downside.
I’m not writing about COVID restrictions – we’ve done a good job compared to the rest of the world => based on… what we knew at the time, and the constraints of how we set up our society.
What catches my eye is the massive amount of capital being allocated by all levels of government.
Always well-intentioned, often inefficient and an incentive for re-election, rather than long-term value.
The consequence of easy money is wasted funds and lower initiative.
I read an excellent book on Colorado Snow. It’s called Hunting Powder. Fun to read.
The author writes about being involved in close calls, body recoveries and making conservative choices in avalanche terrain.
This gives me an opening to remind you… when your downside is death, especially when you have kids, the conservative choice is to not take the risk.
Even if you don’t have kids… Gary, Henry, Andy and all the others we’ve lost to accidental death.
Every death resonates far beyond its immediate circle.
I feel the death of remote folks, every single day.
On Wednesday evening, after my wife made five days of calls, I was sitting at my desk with Andy’s phone. On a whim, I opened his Strava App to see what he’d been doing over the last little while.
Strava is a web-based application that lets athletes share their training. You can upload from any GPS-enabled device. I use my watch, and my Peloton bike, to automatically share my stuff with anyone who’s interested.
As soon as I opened the app, I saw that Andy had been recording a workout when he fell. Quickly realizing what I had in my hand, I saved the workout and notified the Sheriff’s Office.
I pulled the workout up on Strava and opened satellite view. I saw Andy’s day start at the parking lot, head up the Flatirons Freeway and end up at the morgue. Ugh.
I think the Deputy must have closed Strava when he took possession of Andy’s phone, which didn’t have a passcode on it. Strava only records when you’re moving so this saved the battery life.
Seeing Andy’s day, visually, really hit me. I’m feeling it as I share with you.
Why am I sharing with you?
I am going to tell you why.
Since turning 30, I’ve been gradually whittling away at my acute risk exposure.
Technical rock climbing
Small propellor-driven aircraft in mountainous terrain
I lost very little by eliminating these items from my life.
Because I was able to look deeply at the reasons I wanted to hang onto things that could ruin my life.
What’s the source of your risk-seeking behaviors?
For me it was a combination of factors: a lack of impulse control, a short-term high and a desire to do things other people couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do.
Elite sport forced me to address my impulse control issues.
I replaced short-term highs with the serenity that comes from having good judgement.
I refocused my desire to do difficult things… I focus on being a better person over time and have a set of habits that nudge me in this direction => my wife/son are my backcountry partners and I wake up very early each day.
If you are not ready to make a change then I understand. I’ve been working at this for 20 years.
I’ve kept areas of risk in my life.
Traveling alone in the backcountry
Winter driving on highways
Riding bikes on open roads
Skiing the toughest downhill terrain I can manage
Here’s what I’d like you to do.
Minimize the impact of your choices on the people around you.
Pay attention when friends and associates die doing what you do. I haven’t had a friend die from bike racing but I can put a named-deceased on each of the other lines in my list.
Run a GPS-track in the backcountry and have it automatically ping to a satellite. Every ten minutes my location bounces off a satellite to a web page. Your family is going to want your body when you’re done with it.
Outside the backcountry? How about a Road-ID bracelet and a Garmin Watch.
Share your definition of late. Andy made this crystal clear and it saved us a lot of worry over the years. It also let us know immediately when he was in trouble.
Sure, it’s tough to watch his Strava file on Google Earth, but it’s a lot better than wondering what happened for the rest of our lives.
Those are the big three.
At the micro-level, I mitigate risk with fitness, snow tires, a big vehicle, knowledge, avoiding risk-seeking peers, not calling audibles, turning around and carrying everything I need for running into someone else’s emergency (because it’s never going to happen to me, right?). 😉
Risk works both ways. Lots of little risks become material, yes.
But also, chopping your tail risk and combining with mitigating factors… can reduce your likely penalty over a lifetime of repeating the same choices.
And, just in case you get chopped, remember the Big Three => Pay Attention, Run GPS to a Satellite and Define Late for those who love you.
One last thing.
Here’s how I make key decisions in my life.
September of 2000: I was sitting in a very nice townhome in Hong Kong. At 31 years old, I had arrived at the top of socio-economic pyramid, exceeding my wildest childhood dreams.
I was doing work that I was good at, and I was well paid for that work. Outside of work, I was a top athlete in the local amateur community and had a great group of friends. Yet…
I felt empty when I looked ten years out. All I could see was an older, wealthier version of myself.
That’s not the life I wanted.
The filter I used…
You’re 50 years old and sitting in a doctor’s office. He tells you the tests came back and you have pancreatic cancer.
How do you feel?
Balance that against something I told my friend KP after he ticked past the age his father died…
In the mid-90s, I spent a unique Christmas morning under a full moon on top of Mt Cook in New Zealand. My guide was a young man called David. On the descent, he rappelled off the end of our rope. A common accident, which had no consequences because the end of our rope was only a couple feet off the ground. The mountains got him several years later when he was killed by a Himalayan avalanche.
Roll forward a bit and I was flying into Denali. As I was landing, the rangers were dragging a body bag across the snowy runway. They flew a young man out on the plane that flew me in.
Later that trip, I was shuttling loads between camps. I was solo and approaching a higher risk area near 14K. There was a commercial group nearby and I asked to clip into their rope to get past a sketchy area. The guide said sorry, but no. He was blown off a high ridge a couple days later when his group was caught out in a storm. He’d unclipped to help a client.
My biggest ghost is the father of my dead friend, Stuart. I met him shortly after placing his young son’s casket in a hearse. The depth of his despair as been with me ever since. He gave me a hug, which felt like his soul was collapsing into my heart.
Left-right, north-south, east-west, up-down, local-state-national-continental => near total agreement on the benign nature of government debt.
Because disagreement limits the size of potential errors, total agreement worries me.
A surprise in my 2019 was my state’s voters not approving a change to our taxpayer’s bill of rights. It is the only constraint, on the ambitions of government, I noticed last year.
We should not expect government (or friends & family) to “do the right thing” in advance of a crisis. Human nature isn’t designed to work that way. An increase in our collective tolerance of regulation and taxation (ie pain) doesn’t happen until after a crisis.
Our collective problems won’t be addressed until after they blow up.
My individual risks, however, can be addressed right now.
A collective belief in the benign nature of debt is self-reinforcing. While the debt cycle expands, asset values are inflated, consumption is pulled forward and economic growth is nudged upwards. Because of its ability to feed on itself, debt expansion can continue for a very long time, particularly with interest rates near zero. Ultra-low rates enable lenders to fool themselves about the credit quality of the marginal borrower.
What to do?
Life is not filled with only bad news! Am I able to take advantage of unexpected positive surprises?
It’s counterintuitive but I’m positioning myself to borrow a lot of money. My 2020 project is creating an option to borrowing 30-years fixed at an interest rate that none of us can currently imagine.
How might unexpected negative surprises wipe me out?
Consider who is getting out of hand with their current borrowings. What’s the credit quality of… your employer? your family? your largest customers? your local/state/national government?
Do you work for a high-leveraged company, in a state with massive unfunded pension liabilities, while rolling your credit card balance each month?
Hidden liabilities lie (mostly) hidden. Ponzi schemes, unfunded retirement benefits, promises for future spending, fixed price contracts… think about your life. Where do you have exposure to a single person, CEO, manager, employee, fund, investment? In an easy-money environment, it is possible to hide significant liabilities.
Things we can’t imagine are likely to be underpriced.
Kinda tough to imagine the unimaginable! What seems impossible to imagine? Inflation, interest rates at historical norms, rapid nominal growth, credit crisis in a large sovereign, large hot-war…
For me, the goal is not to predict the outcome. My main goal is to protect my lifestyle from shocks and surprises.
To make it real, I ask, “what could blow up ski season?” Health, injuries, illness => my current risks are more human, than financial. Think beyond the money.
There is a lot we can do to manage our exposure to the errors of others. Bad companies, bad relationships, bad government… many of us have the ability to pack up and leave. I’ve lived and worked in eight different countries, on three continents. Gradually working towards a situation where the main person who can hurt me is myself!
As a young man, I spent many years exposed to the errors of a single individual (my bosses and my business partners). More common is exposure to the errors of a single corporation.
With preparation, you can benefit in times of stress, but first you must survive.
It reminded me of the themes that challenge my daily living.
We share a need for connection and approval.
When I see someone with an extreme need for approval, I feel compassion for the child within them. I feel this because growing up with addiction, abuse or abandonment will crank up our need for approval/fame. My kids are lucky to have parents that are present and loving.
Try this antidote.
Lots of small acts of kindness.
I’ve been at it for more than 5,000 days.
Young people thrive when working together on a challenging mission.
In middle-age, many of your fondest memories will be a result of this reality. Remember that memory is a chemical signature of a story we tell ourself.
Coming back from the mission, or simply growing up, can leave a HUGE void in your life.
Applying the kindness tip gives you a dose of meaning but you’re going to long for a stronger fix.
Surprisingly, the mission might not need to be that much larger.
Build a veggie garden for your son
Teach your daughter to use an inflatable dinghy
Take your wife camping
Drag your son on a sled to a mountain lodge
I’m constantly giving myself missions. Recognizing that I’m larger than myself, my missions have an ever lower risk of death.
Teach your kids to recognize, and be wary of, risk-seekers – especially the criminal variety. Risk-seekers are exciting when your under 25. They are a disaster as a partner in family living.
Gradually expand your sphere of influence…
Your future self
At times, I found it useful to take a break from my risk-seeking pals. I’ve tried learning new hobbies. I’ve resisted the urge to constantly benchmark myself against others.