🤯Unknown Unknowns #72 - And We're Off!
Last weekend was the eight mile Bear Mountain Paddle Race. I came in first! In my age group. But four 50+ year olds beat me, and it wasn't even close. Am I embarrassed? Am I inspired? I don't know how to feel about it. I did beat everyone younger than me, so maybe I can commiserate with them.
Another victory: My wife came in second in her age group and distance!
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The first week of Write of Passage just concluded. As always, there is so much quality writing. Here are four that I want to share with you. There’s a common thread of finding meaning in life.
What happens when your dream doesn’t fill all the holes?
I was working just as hard to be free as I was to be boxed in. I believed that I was living well. But in reality, I think I was only living big. I was finding fulfillment for the parts of me that craved uncertainty and excitement, but that meant starving the parts of me that needed stillness, consistent connection, home.
A great example of the Small Bets philosophy.
I like to quickly come up with a simple service and test how well it works and then rapidly iterate based on empirical results and feedback. Of course, it’s not all sunshine and adorable kittens. It feels crummy when my cherished intuitions don’t pan out. But it’s often in those failures, with my ego bruised, that I’m compelled to ruminate on what went wrong 7/24. It’s this uncertainty and constant learning that ultimately makes this still feel fresh after more than a decade.
How do you leave everything that you’ve ever known?
When I tried to ask questions, the answer often would be “just believe”. I couldn’t live when I didn’t understand the reason behind life-altering restrictions.
A reflection on what makes a life good.
I often ponder what makes a good life and where mine lives against that ideal. A life stretched to its limits is not lived in peace and serenity. It involves feeling the extremes of emotions, with a good dose of self-examination and a backlog of tales to impress your friends. Yet, stretching to those extremes invites loss.
Blast from the Past:
This is a story about how I bumbled the start of my career in finance. The short lesson is how dumb I am. The hidden lesson is how dumb everyone else is.
I graduated in 2002, at the end of the tech boom recession. It wasn't easy to find a job. I didn't find one until after I graduated, despite starting to look at the beginning of my senior year. Interview naiveness didn't help.
The job I got was in Risk Management at CSFB, now known as Credit Suisse, now in the news and possibly about to blow up. It was actually an internship for the summer. I was paid by the hour and only guaranteed a spot until the end of the summer.
The job was to take data from the previous day and run them through a process that generated reports. The process was subject to frequent errors and the job felt more like a glorified version of unjamming the printer.
At the end of the summer, I got extended for three months to cover a colleague's maternity leave. They started interviewing to fill the position permanently and I was “permitted” to interview for the job that I had been receiving praise for months.
My boss wanted to upgrade on someone doing a perfectly fine job because he was obsessed with status and credentials. Most of the candidates were MBAs or PhDs. I, as a fresh graduate, was overqualified for this job, never mind the PhDs.
Anyway, I was finally told that they picked someone else and I would have to find another job. But, a couple days later, I was told that that candidate had turned down the position so the position was mine.
My boss asked: what was my salary request?
Surprised, my mind was blank. I frantically started to calculate a number that I could justify to him. Any number would do, so I annualized my hourly rate and added 10%.
After an eternity, I gave him my number. And waited for his reaction. He smiled, in a bemused way, and walked out.
The next day, he tells me that the number was below the minimum the company could give and my new salary would be 25% higher than what I asked for. I realized that I was now the lowest-paid employee of the bank.
What a great start to a career!
Know your own value
Don’t blind yourself to warning signs right in your face. In most finance cultures, the emphasis is on appearances over ability. I ignored this signal and became jaded and cynical when I finally realized it. I attempted to “win the game the right way” by standing by my values but realized that I will just be taken advantage of. An alternative strategy would be to lean in, i.e. focus on your appearance. This would be a metagame. But it’s better to play the game you want to play and win the prizes you want to win.
Quote of the week:
"Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor." - Alexis Carrel
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Leaving you in peace,
Over the next two years, it became apparent how bad this hiring strategy was. It seems the more education, the less inclination to just get the work done and the more inclination to babble about a problem. Many of my colleagues were PhDs and I wound up training a couple of them. They were slower than everyone else. One, whenever he encountered a problem, would say "Houston, we have a problem" and then take forever to solve it.
The risk reports didn’t even matter, they were ignored by traders. They existed solely to satisfy internal controls. Credit Suisse has not learned this lesson along with most major banks - see the string of scandals centered around overextending risk, Greensill and Archegos being the latest.