YWR: To Thy Own Self Be True
My Dad passed away last month. He’d been sick for a several years, and surprised us all with his persistence, but I sensed it was finally the end so I flew out to Missoula, Montana to see him one final time. He was what they call the Silent generation; born in New York in 1934. The Silents were too young to go to WWII but experienced it during their youth and it made a big impression on them. My Dad loved WWII movies/books etc, thought the 1950’s were the best decade, loved Reagan and was in the Marine Corp for several years. Semper Fi.
At the age of 50 his business deals took him to the Western part of the US and Canada, but he always considered himself a New Yorker. Always charging, always wanting to get things done. In high school I lived in a small town called Great Falls, MT and I don’t think anyone in town knew what to think when he started the Great Falls International World Trade Center. It turned out the GFWTC was ahead of its time and Dad ended up donating it to the University of Montana where it is now a popular part of their business school.
My Dad passed away happy, and I think peaceful and content. He was the first person close to me who has passed away and it stirred up a lot of thoughts about the meaning of life and purpose. My Dad’s life bothered me because it hadn’t worked out in the end financially. He had tried many business ideas, but there was always some reason it didn’t work out. I always hoped there would be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for him, but in the end there wasn’t.
Wealthy people when they get close to death switch their energy to how they can improve the world, and how they can immortalise themselves somehow. They start foundations or donate buildings to universities with their name on them. They realise all their years spent building a successful hedge fund and might have made a lot of money, but really in the grander scheme of things the world could care less whether it existed or not. So they search for a way to do some good in the final years. But what if you are dying and there isn’t going to be a library or cancer foundation with your name on it. What are you passing on then? What was the point? As I was flying from Europe to Montana to see him this is what I kept wondering.
In the end I think the libraries and foundations are great and nice if you can make them happen, but for most of us what we pass on and how we improve the world is how we live our lives in all the small day to day interactions. In our own little way we are improving the vibrational frequency of the world. Then if we have kids we also hopefully pass on positive values, which will continue to help the world long after we are gone and then maybe those positive frequencies will be passed on in turn to our kids’ and kids. And maybe you will find as I have with all the people that contacted our family recently, that you have positively impacted more people than you ever realised.
It is those positive frequencies which are your legacy and here are the positive habits and values which have rubbed off on me from my Dad. Maybe I am already passing them on to my kids too.
To thy own self be true. I used to phone my Dad for advice a lot and when I was working at a hedge fund it would often be investment related. I would call him and the conversation would be something like “Hi Dad, sorry to call I’m just really stressed. I have done a lot of work on XYZ stock, I think it is great, but it is down 3 months in a row and I’m afraid if this stock doesn’t go up in the next 2 weeks and I have to put out a fourth newsletter talking about how badly it is performing all my investors will be annoyed with me, think I have no risk control and redeem, but I really like the stock and really we should be buying more, not selling on the lows. But I just don’t know what to do.” He didn’t need to know anything about XYZ stock, but he could tell what I should most likely be doing and his advice would be “To thy own self be true.” In this example, maybe I would try to find some practical middle ground like trimming it a little, or just staying put, but the way I took his advice was to make the very best investment judgement in the best interest of the client and to not be a muppet. If the investors redeem, they redeem, but in the face of uncertainty make the very best choice you can make and one you will be able to live with later.
Have no regrets. This was a big one for my Dad and maybe he followed it a bit too much. He loved travel and adventures. If there was ever a choice between doing the status quo and a new adventure or business he would always try the new thing. After law school instead of joining a big law firm he hitchhiked across Africa. He would tell a story about a movie film crew he ran into in Tanzania which hired him to agitate the crocodiles with a stick for a scene they were filming. I also remember many dinners at our house with friends where he would tell stories of his adventures investing in a Zinc mine in Thailand. Later when I graduated from high school he thought it would be good for me to take a gap year before college and spend a year in Japan to learn Japanese. Because you know, it was the early 1990’s and in the business world Japan was going to take over everything. He arranged a Japanese homestay family for me in Hokkaido, bought me a plane ticket and sent me on my way from Montana to Narita Airport with a list of instructions about how to get from Narita to Ueno Station in downtown Tokyo where I would switch to a local train which would take me north to Hokkaido. I arrived in Tokyo not speaking any Japanese and made it as far as Ueno Station where I spent all the yen I had changed at the airport on a train ticket written in kanji which I couldn’t read. I arrived at Ueno around 4pm and spent the rest of the evening trying to find out the train and platform associated with the ticket I had purchased. In the end I never figured it out and at midnight was ushered out of the station by the police and spent my first night in Japan on the street with a group of friendly homeless people. The next morning when I called my Dad collect from a payphone furious about the whole Japan idea and furious that his instructions didn’t work and I was sleeping on the street, he instead loved the whole story and then told me to go to the JTB desk, which in the end did fix it. He saw it as an adventure and loved it. So I’m a bit the same way. I’m drawn to the adventures. I try to moderate myself, but that spirit lives on.
No judgement for failures. My Dad never had anything bad to say to me if something I tried didn’t work out. It was always on to the next opportunity. His basic framework was that as long as I was acting in kindness to others, getting good grades and trying hard, everything else was fine. I really tested him with some of my antics in high school, but I learned that as long as the grades were good and I wasn’t hurting anyone he didn’t care if me and my friends got caught drinking and I had to go to court, or I drove his car into Belt Creek on the way to the ski hill. Personally, I am going to have to work on the car thing though. I have two girls who are about to learn how to drive and they assure me I would not be that cool if they did the same thing to me.
The Two Day Rule: For many years my Dad was involved in a long legal dispute with some partners about a piece of property and in the end it did not go his way. I remember many times where after after months of preparation and testimony the final decision from some district judge somewhere would come down and it would not be in my Dad’s favor. He was always a positive guy, but this would just knock the air out of him and he would be depressed. I would ask him how he was doing and he would say he just needed a day or two to process things, but then he would be OK. And that was what happened. Two days later he would have his notepad out working on a new plan. For myself I try to remember the two day rule when I get a bad piece of business news. I don't try to fight the bad feeling right away. I give myself that bit to time to let it run its course knowing it will be temporary, and in a day or two I will get my wits back and will get back on offence. By day 2 I will also try to think that in some twisty, turny way the setback was actually a set-up and it will all turn out better than I expected.
Always call your friends when you are thinking about them. There were so many times at the dinner table where as the meal was winding down and we were reminiscing about something it would bring up the memory of some friend in the story. At which point my Dad would say “How is old so and so? We should give him a call!”, which he would then do. He would stand up from the dinner table and grab the phone on the table nearby and call “old so and so” right then and there. Then there would be a 30 minute catch up call at the dinner table. He loved it and his friends did too. He would always make the effort to stay in touch. He also always send out lots of Christmas cards. Some people will say things like, “well the phone works two-ways, why don’t they call me?” My Dad never felt that way. He would always make the effort and never kept track of who had called who how many times. I try to do the same. With WhatsAp it’s even easier. And make it personal. Not some blast post thing.
Be a giver. This week I was chatting with a Ukrainian friend in Germany who has a friend in the UK who is a mom with a 9 year old daughter who is having trouble finding a place to live. She was asking me if I could help. The woman is in Nottingham. I said I don’t know anyone in Nottingham who can help, but if she doesn’t know anyone in the community and needs help she should join the local Church of England. I said I think she will be surprised at how much people will help. I said this because it is what my Dad used to do. We lived in a small town in the middle of Montana, but for some reason in the 1990’s Great Falls had quite a few Russian immigrants and our church tried to help them find a new life in America. I don't know how they ended up in Great Falls, but the good thing was my Dad was very energetic about helping them. There were many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners where we would have the Shushikinovs or some other immigrant family over even though us kids found it totally annoying. “You invited who over for dinner? What? Really, on Christmas Eve? OMG! Enough with that!” There was one particular family my Dad helped out a lot, especially their son who was really good at math. His parents didn’t speak English very well so my mom helped him with his college essay and typed his application for him. He got into college and I heard he is a quant programmer at a bank somewhere now. So when I suggested the Ukrainian go to the local church I thought maybe there would be someone like my Dad there who would help her out.
Be grateful, even if things are crappy. When I would call to complain about some difficult situation I was in, he would sympathetically listen for a long time, but often his advice in the end was to find a way to give thanks for something. His advice was that if you can find something in your life to give thanks for, even when everything seems awful, it will make you feel better. It is really hard to do when you are feeling especially upset about something, and requires massive mental gymnastics. But it’s true. I sometimes try to give this advice to my girls and they usually tell me I don’t understand the situation and ridicule me (in a good natured way). Maybe some day it will stick though.
The importance of family. My Dad used to love to talk a lot and tell stories at the dinner table, but at the end of his life he had trouble talking and hearing and mostly would just sit there while dinner went on around him. The final week I was in Montana we had dinner next to his hospice bed and at one point my brother-in law was telling a funny story and we were all laughing and I looked over and saw my Dad smiling. I knew he was really glad that we were all together and having fun. He always thought his family was the best thing in his life. It was why he would always organise family camping trips and river floats. So, I think relationships can be tough. It is really hard to stay together a lot of the time. We can all be so annoying to each other and there is always lots to get angry about, but maybe when you get to end it’s really good to not be alone and to have a family around you laughing and having fun.
Alright, I have to go. Everyone is waiting for me. We are going to out to get some pizza.
Have a good weekend!