I have a confession to make: I am a lifelong nerd who never got into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
. I never got into it, and I can’t explain why. It leaves one big, gaping hole of a question: What kind of black nerd am
To make matters worse, I'd chuckle along whenever someone shouted out “42!” in response to even the faint echo of the question, “What is the meaning of life?”. I was nerd enough to know that, given my track record, my social cred lay with those who got the joke … so, rather than risk being persona non grata at the nerds' table, I’d make it look like I got the joke. If you’re a closet Hitchhiker’s faker like me, it’s cool; you’re not alone in the galaxy.
Last night, however, I ended years of being a faker and watched the 2005 film. Granted, I am still shy of full-on nerd credit, since I should have read the book first.
A quick but critically important detour: No, I have not gone to see Black Panther yet. Have no doubt, I will see it multiple times, add it to my film collection, and memorize all of the lines. Right now, I’m savoring the high that comes from having your childhood dream — a mainstream blockbuster superhero film with an almost entirely black cast where no one is playing a slave, a sidekick or horror movie victim #1 — rake in cash at the box office like it was an Olympic sport. Besides, before there was Black Panther, there was Mos Def as Ford Prefect.
Aaaaand, I'm back. Before I took the plunge and watched Hitchhiker’s
, I had finally started reading Ray Dalio’s “Principles
”. Dalio’s use of analytics to make gobs of money is pretty neat, and I keep hearing Silicon Valley folks mumble about his book. I learned a while back that, when Silicon Valley folks are mumbling about a book, you best read it if you want to keep living here in relative peace as non-quant.
So let’s dive in, shall we? Early on in the book, Ray writes:
“Think about it: It’s senseless to have making money as your goal as money has no intrinsic value — it’s value comes from what it can buy, and it can’t buy everything. It’s smarter to start with what you really want, which are your real goals, and then work back to what you need to attain them. Money will be one of the things you need, but it’s not the only one and certainly not the most important one once you get past having the amount you need to get what you really want."
This would be marvelous advice if the thing you really enjoyed doing was figuring out how global markets worked, and you learned to love it starting at a very young age like Ray did. I learned to love writing, Star Wars and the performing arts. So, I’m one of those folks who needs to make "making money" a life goal, since Ray’s right, money is one of the things I need. I’ve also learned that, when I don’t make “making money" a goal, I develop the frustrating habit of not making any money.
Let’s move on. Ray also writes:
“I believe one of the most valuable things you can do to improve your decision making is to think through your principles for making decisions, write them out in both words and computer algorithms, back-test them if possible, and use them on a real-time basis to run in parallel with your brain’s decision making.”
In order to do that, of course, one needs to know what their principles are and how to write an algorithm more complicated than a chicken soup recipe. Let’s focus on the former because you definitely don’t want me guiding you through the latter.
Having never written down a set of my own principles, I decided to go look up a bunch of principles to see what a list of principles looked like that weren’t Ray's.
That’s probably because writing down one’s principles comes with a certain level of accountability. If you have a set of principles by which you live your life, then you become more accountable than average for the path your life takes. The decisions you make become rooted in something to which you and others can refer. Your choices become intentional, which many argue is healthy, though I’ve largely found my intentional decisions result in me waking up in a cold sweat wondering how I’m going to pay my bills. (Ray had similar moments, according to the book. I suspect they've gone away now that the company he founded, Bridgewater Associates LP, manages roughly $160 billion for "approximately 350 of the largest and most sophisticated global institutional clients".)
To be clear, I’ve written a manifesto and completed an ikigai
, but principles feel a lot more formal and irrevocable. That's not to say your principles can't change; they certainly can. Like an algorithm, they can be tweaked as needed. That lead me to wonder: why have them in the first place? What use are shifting principles?
It’s not about whether they shift, but how they shift. Principles help you make smart shortcuts with each decision you make, but the principles you use need to change in order to incorporate new insights and facts you didn’t know before. Ideally, as your principles morph, they get stronger, capturing increasingly rich insights that you can use to improve your decision-making over time. All of that sounds so good...
…but it also sounds terrifying. It feels like I’d need to go on a mission to dig around in the haunted house of my memories (cringe attack alert!) to look for things that, when I find them, will make me say things like this to myself:
Really, that was how you settled on that gigantic life choice? Because <person I thought knew better /> said it’d be a good idea for you to do? Really!? Come oooonnnnn…..
Yeah, the process of writing down my principles strikes me as downright masochistic.
But what if I wrote a guide — you know, like the Hitchhiker’s Guide
? It’d be a book that... (Time out: I know what you’re thinking: What’s up with this chick and books!?!?!? Write your &^*%ing book already!
Well, I really like books and it turns out writing one you really want to write is really, really hard. That’s what’s up with me and books
.) … Okay, for real though — what if I wrote a book that, in the process of writing it, helped me figure out what I had learned about life from the decisions I’ve made? Since I didn’t build a crystal-ball algorithm for the global markets, I’m probably not going to get an agent for said book, which means it won’t make any money, but writing a book is what I really, really want to do.
Hm, now that I think about it, maybe the meaning of life is
42, because if 42 people bought a book I wrote, that would give my life a heckuva lot of meaning. It wouldn’t make me any real money, but if life’s taught me anything, it’s that nothing I really love doing will, and that’s going to have to be okay