Skip to main content

Mark Baker on Twitter has used the word orthogonal to describe going against the societal grain or in investing terms, being contrarian. I like to tweak that slightly to knowing when to go against the grain and/or be contrarian. Although I didn't use the words when I was younger, I was working toward those ideals. The easiest example from my life was figuring out in the mid-90's that I wanted to live in the mountains, working from home managing money. Part of that drive was the lament over lost time commuting to and from work. My actual job wasn't bad, I had a fair bit of autonomy and I liked the two guys I spent the most time with. If I was actually orthogonal on this 25 years ago it was because of the nascent stage of the internet but believed my objective was possible. It took a few years to get to where I wanted to be including a layoff, a job that was bad, very bad and then a short stretch where I didn't have a meaningful income as I was ramping up.

This morning @KetoAurelius Tweeted "My personal hell is working in a cubicle all day under fluorescent lights with a shitty boss who monitors my every move." My reply was "To me, worse than that is a long commute through miserable traffic to sit in a cubicle..... but I am glad I paid those dues into my mid 30's to build a base and help me appreciate what I have now."

The point here is one of understanding the long game and the willingness to pay dues if and when necessary. One drawback of the FIRE movement that I think I see is 30 year olds unable to envision themselves at 50, or in terms I've used before, they don't understand what 50 is. When I was 25, I used to think 40 was old. I was influenced by what people who were 40 or 50 looked like back then.

Image placeholder title

I am a huge baseball fan. I had zillions of baseball cards when I was a kid and this is what a lot of older players looked like when I was growing up and so these images shaped my perception of what 40 years old meant. This is Hall or Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry when he was 44. He looked older at 44 than my brother who is now 66, probably older than my 68 year old brother for that matter. I don't know what Perry's habits were then but when you take care of yourself the right way, which for me means lifting weights and reduced sugar consumption, you can have the effect of making yourself younger. Here, younger means being able to do what you enjoying doing without physical limitation. This circles back to the notion in my Tweet above about paying dues at a younger age.

If you are now in your 30's and think 50 is old, know it does not have to be. Get on a path of better health and fitness so that you can do whatever you want when you're older. For me, that is being able to qualify to fight wildfires at what is kind of an old age (not that old, we have guys in their 60's who qualify). If you are 50 now and have physical limitations that you attribute to getting older, know that the body can be very forgiving. All you need to do is start. Transforming into a fitter version of yourself is not what most people do, you'd be orthogonal to society. I talk about knowing where to be orthogonal, well this is a big one. The statistics about metabolic syndrome and the various maladies associated with it are grim, worse than grim but for many people it can be resolved with behavioral changes.

Being 50 but fit like a fit 35 year old (very possible) is a great place to be. You've seen things, you can still do things and hopefully you have a little set aside to pay for the things you want to do. Again, very orthogonal to society.

Another form of orthogonality for me is in portfolio construction. Nassim Taleb sat for a long interview with Erik Schatzker of Bloomberg. In summing up comments from Taleb, Erik said "people feel they don’t need tail risk protection until after the catastrophic event." Where orthogonality as described above can be part of a long term lifestyle strategy, some form of tail risk protection can be part of a long term investing strategy. It can be thought of as orthogonal because it means having small exposure to a holding or a couple of holdings you don't expect to go up with the stock market.

Gold is a good example here. Gold has the historical tendency to not look like the stock market often enough that I own it personally and for clients. I've said many times before that if gold is the best performing asset you have, then chances are things aren't going well in the world. Things usually do go well for stocks and while it is easy to dismiss the need for protective holdings in a year like 2019 you are very glad you have it in a year like 2020. My sense is that this is not a common viewpoint thus I believe it to be orthogonal to the investing community. Diversifiers like gold might be a small source of frustration during boom times, but they are a source of comfort in times of distress and it is during times of distress when poor decisions are most likely to be made. So if things like GLD, BTAL, TAIL, BLNDX and so on (all of those are client/personal holdings) can help reduce emotions then it would seem to be very well suited to the long term investing goal of simply having enough when you need it. Being 70 and healthy with enough money for what you want to do is a great place to be.