“Do What You Love”

My wife and I had a scare with our four month old son yesterday. Following a routine checkup, we had to see an especially dreaded kind of “specialist” about something.  Everything turned out fine and normal, but it was our first experience as parents feeling abject terror—a feeling of deep, gut-wrenching love and emotion. It’s a feeling countless parents had described to me before my son was born, but one which no words can adequately describe.

During my son’s short life, and our momentary scare, my thinking has been oriented even more towards process (means) over goals (ends). Morgan Housel wrote a nice piece on this topic recently, and several points bear repeating.

Great processes lead to great outcomes, which is why I love investment strategy research—I get to build processes. But favoring process over outcomes is applicable throughout life, as my son has made me feel intimately.

Josh Brown posted a fun summary of David Tepper’s interview at the SALT conference, where two points stood out to me.

First, I chuckled at Tepper’s response when asked if he believed in karma (“are you f*cking kidding me?”), but I disagree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. Karma isn’t mystical mumbo-jumbo, the word itself is Sanskrit for “act or deed done.” It basically just means cause and effect…what you put in (process) determines what you get out. I find karma in this sense to be a universal truth, and Tepper, with his incredible hard work and philanthropic generosity, would probably agree.

Second, and more importantly, Tepper told the audience to “do what you love.” This may sound like obvious and easy advice to dole out, but it’s very hard to execute. When you unpack his simple suggestion, there is far more than meets the eye. On Wall Street in particular, outcomes (usually money, sometimes power) get in the way.  Life is the moment, that’s it. When we focus on outcomes instead of on LIFE, our means begin to suit our ends—which is backwards—and we end up getting lost.  It’s very hard to stay focused on process (on life-as-moment) because goals and favorable outcomes are so enticing. Blame natural selection. Part of our evolutionary heritage is that our brains are flooded with dopamine (positive re-enforcement) when we are anticipating gains/rewards far more than when we actually receive a reward.

Doing what you love forces you to focus on the present instead of on the future—on process over outcomes. In Kevin Roose’s book Young Money, my favorite passages were those where young, well paid Wall Streeters struggled with this very problem: money, or happiness? Some followed love, others money.  Don’t get me wrong, money and success are great outcomes, but they are only sweet when they are byproducts of a process that you love. Tepper said it best.

After hearing the news from the doctor that my son was okay, I had one of those great moments in life when you realize “this is it,” what I do in the present is all there really is, and it’s all that should matter. On this Friday, I am thankful to be doing something I love and to have a healthy, happy son and family. The rest will take care of itself.

Life is beautiful, life is precious. Have a great weekend.