Munger often says that, for a white guy with a math brain, there wasn’t a better time or place to be born than in 1920’s Nebraska.
I strongly disagree.
No doubt, Munger had impeccable timing. The concept of putting money into a 401k and expecting to buy a beachfront mansion in Florida at the age of 63 is long gone. The rate of return over the next 80 years isn’t going to match America’s post-war industrial boom. See’s Candy can’t be bought for $20 million anymore.
But Munger isn’t giving himself enough credit. He wouldn’t be buying companies if he were starting over today. The number of ways to make money has increased exponentially.
The mom-and-pop-hardware-store world of yesteryear is vastly overrated.
The reality of the 20th Century is that if you didn’t have a cushy corporate executive job, you didn’t have it that good. Ho-hum, 9-to-5, go to work, sock a little away, hope you’re able to enjoy retirement “some day.”
Engineers had to wear white button-downs and spend their entire careers with IBM, musicians had to convince labels to distribute their music, authors had to find publishers, marketers were men who lived near 5th Avenue, Wall Street was the only place an Ivy League grad could make a fortune.
Now, anybody can publish software and charge for it. Anybody can record their own talk show. YouTube stars have bigger audiences than A-list actors on TV. Engineers at Facebook make more than analysts at Goldman Sachs.
Opportunity has always been distributed, it just didn’t used to be discoverable.
The challenge in 1920’s America was being matched with the opportunities that did exist. Munger was lucky to have worked for Warren Buffett’s grandfather at the Buffett & Son grocery store. Without that stroke of geographical luck at birth, he may have never partnered with Warren.
Nowadays, opportunities are both distributed and discoverable.
You can talk to Richard Dawkins on Twitter. You can find partners and customers and coworkers and jobs by publishing articles. You can distribute software and books and music without a suit’s blessing.
As the odds of discovering opportunities increase, skills become more important than time or geography in determining success.
I’d choose being born today over 1924 every single time.
The West still feels wild. America’s interior has only recently been fully explored.
The canyons of the Colorado River were unmapped until John Wesley Powell’s expedition in 1869. He floated from Wyoming to Nevada, passing through what is now Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
Ten people started the journey with him. Four of them abandoned their boats, climbed the canyon walls, and quit. The other six made it to the end.
We’ve been waking up early and hiking before opening our laptops most mornings. Last week, we woke up at 5am and drove 1.5 hours south into The Needles of Canyonlands.
The sun was starting to peak above the rocks just as we reached the Elephant Hill trailhead. I felt like I was on the set of A Land Before Time. We hiked and trail-ran an 11-mile loop - through deep canyons, around rock towers - and got back to the car around noon.
Here’s a picture we took along the way. When we got back to Moab, I pulled up the location on Google Maps. It looks even cooler from above.
Yesterday, the movers showed up at 9:15am. Our apartment was empty by 1pm.
We loaded up the Subaru and started driving up I-80. Goodbye, San Francisco.
The air quality index was “Dangerous” when we went to bed near Squaw Valley’s mountain base last night.
The air cleared up a bit this morning. “Dangerous for those with existing conditions,” the app said.
We walked over to the Exhibition ski lift and walked partway up the mountain before turning around to get back to our laptops for the workday.
I’m glad most of our stuff is in storage. We’ve got skis, clothes, two giant widescreen monitors, and a car. It feels like we’re hauling around a lot of stuff, but at least we’re mobile. We’re heading to Moab next, then Colorado, then we’ll decide where to settle for 2021.
I liked San Francisco. I’d move back once offices, coffee shops, and Barry’s reopen. I’d also go to a new city.
I love cities. I’m young and I want to meet people and make more friends.
But for now, we’re back to the nomadic lifestyle.
It’s taken me years to unlearn things I learned in school.
I used to write introduction paragraphs first. I used to reference the thesaurus. I used to drink eight cokes a day. Those were easy enough to fix.
But the most damaging thing school taught me was the “Herculean All-Nighter” folly. Unlearning it has been a slog.
In school, semesters are only four months. Tests come every few weeks. Homework takes a couple hours. “Huge Tests” mean studying all day instead of starting after dinner.
I got used to being able to finish projects with one up-until-dawn push.
By the time I was in college, I knew it took me exactly one hour to write one page of an essay. At 8am the day before my Economic History of the U.S. paper was due, I stopped procrastinating because I was down to the exact amount of time it would take me to finish: 25 hours.
There was a certain satisfaction in these heroic pushes, in chugging Coca-Cola and cramming for tests and walking across campus with a coffee in hand and sliding a paper onto the professor’s desk.
When I first started building apps, I applied the same Herculean mentality to the challenge. I binged PHP tutorials and stayed in Central Library until they shut the lights off, trying to properly release objects in pre-ARC Objective-C.
I always thought apps were one all-nighter away from being finished.
One time I told a guy I’d have an app I was working on finished by the next morning. “Easily,” I thought. When we met up for coffee the next day, I had massive bags under my eyes. It messed up my sleep for a week.
Process goals have finally replaced the Herculean strategy I used to carry around. I wish I’d learned about them a decade ago.
The most rewarding things in life - wealth, health, sourdough pizza - cannot be built by brute condensed force. They all require consistency.
Doing things (n) < Doing things well (2n) < Doing things well, consistently (2n^2)
Catchy music is catchy because it’s predictable. We tap our feet to the beat as our brains guess upcoming notes.
Then, we click Next. If the song doesn’t surprise us, monotony sets in.
The best musicians, writers, speakers, and conversationalists surprise us. They don’t describe villages as “nestled in the foothills” or talk about the weather as a “nice day today!”
In Norm Macdonald’s book Based on a True Story, he writes about being booked to perform at a mental hospital in the north forty of Canada. It takes him hours to drive there.
“Why they built a hospital so damn far away from everybody, I couldn’t figure. It was way out in the middle of northern Ontario, where you have to pray your car doesn’t break down, and if it does, you have to pray you freeze to death before the timberwolves find you.”[^1]
I could’ve sworn he was about to say “you have to pray you have a winter coat.” I smiled when I was wrong.
Confessional omg-I-blacked-out-and-stole-a-Tesla comedy also makes me smile. But elevated shock levels eventually break the scale. Tucker Max can only have sex with so many people.
Whereas the GOATs are consistently, subtly surprising.
I left Andy’s house at 4:30am to catch the first leg of my ATL-LAX-CAN-PNH journey. I ordered a shared Lyft, hoping somebody else would also be heading to the airport that early.
When the car showed up, a woman and her kindergarten-aged son were in the backseat. The kid kept dozing off as we drove across midtown, his head resting on his Spiderman backpack.
We pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. They hopped out. I noticed she was wearing a Cintas Dunkin’ Donuts t-shirt. She was heading into work and presumably couldn’t leave her son at home.
Knowing Lyft prices in Atlanta, she couldn’t have paid more than $5 for the shared ride. Of course it made sense to take a Lyft to work instead of a crazy patchwork of never-on-time buses. Incredible.
Yesterday, as I was reading about Uber and Lyft’s battle over AB5, I saw a surprising stat: 38% of Lyft rides start or end in low-income neighborhoods.1
My mom mentors a college-aged woman in Birmingham who lives in a low-income household of eight. Because her family shares one car, she usually spends three hours riding and waiting on buses to get to her job at CSV. Each way. So she quit.
The debate about whether drivers like ridesharing is an interesting one. Are they employees? Are they not? We need a third worker definition, something in-between an employee and a contractor. The labor markets created by Uber and Lyft do end up with fixed-hours dynamics.
But the benefit to riders is undisputed.
It’s so undisputed that “life before Uber” conversations at dinner parties are boring. Everybody has a story about standing in the rain for hours waiting for a taxi, or being kicked out of a car on the side of the road, or being refused service because “Oh my credit card machine is broken.”
Riders can see pictures of their drivers, prices are transparent, the app tracks you, and there’s no longer a 10 minute waiting penalty for being non-white.2
Plus it’s cheap. UberX was cheap. But Uber Pool and Lyft Line are holy-shit cheap. They’re better for the environment, low-hassle, and did I mention cheap?
Even five years ago, taking a private car door-to-door to a job at Dunkin’ Donuts would have been unheard of. But it makes sense. Compared to taxis, Ubers are less than half the price, require 1/3 of the waiting time, and are willing to go about anywhere in the city.
Buying, owning, and maintaining a car is expensive. Bringing down the cost of point-to-point transportation is having really interesting impacts beyond the rich-kids-going-to-bars impression most people (myself included) have of ridesharing.3
I hope it doesn’t go away.