Time Is Scarce
So here is a thing that I do that might make me an asshole.
I go out to dinner at a restaurant. Everything is great. The food is great, the service is great, everybody is happy, we’re lingering after the table has been cleared, then…where’s the check? I look around the restaurant. No waitress. Nowhere to be found. Five minutes go by, ten minutes go by, fifteen minutes…finally I see the waitress chatting and carrying on across the room. So I take out my credit card and get up and march across the restaurant and hand it to her, and sit back down.
This is an interesting point of etiquette. Because how long are you reasonably expected to wait? Forever? A few years ago, I had dinner by myself on Lincoln Road in South Beach and waited 50 minutes for the check. I was ready to do the dine and dash. These days, I don’t wait that long. I just expedite the process myself.
A lot of this comes from my beliefs about time. Time is the most precious commodity in the world. I have taken some big financial losses in my career, and none of them have bothered me that much. Some of my friends have been astounded at my impassivity in the face of crippling losses. Easy come, easy go. You can always make more money.
But you can’t make more time.
Time only goes in one direction, obviously. We can never reclaim it. Every second that goes by is one second closer to death. That is exactly how I think about it. If I am forced to wait for the check for 15 additional minutes, it feels as if life is being stolen from me. What else would I be doing with that time? Hopefully something more fun than sitting at the table like a chump. Personally, I have a lot of things I could be doing with that time. I could be writing my book. I could be writing this newsletter. I could be working on school stuff. I could be recording a podcast. I could be washing my car. I could be DJing. I could be petting my cats. Or, I could just be relaxing, which is also a good use of my time.
I am not so good at waiting. Back at Lehman Brothers, around the end of 2003, my boss, the head of equity derivatives, told me that he would make put me in charge of the ETF desk. A few weeks go by. A month. Two months. Six months later, it finally happened (to this day, I do not know what the delay was all about), but for those six months, I was one miserable S.O.B. I sat at my desk with a big knot in my stomach every day. And it was one of those situations where I couldn’t be a pest—I couldn’t be tugging on his ear, constantly asking about it. I asked about once a month. The rest of the time, I had to shut up.
As you know, I went to the Coast Guard Academy, and as you also know, I went there for free. Service academies don’t cost anything, except time—you have to serve five years afterwards. I thought it was a pretty good trade. $200,000 for five years. It was a fucking awful trade. Imagine if I started on Wall Street in 1996 instead of 2001. I’d be retired ten times over. Never sell your time for money. Instead, you should buy time with money.
There is a school of thought that once you come down with some incurable illness, like cancer, you should just commit assisted suicide and die so you don’t deplete all your resources so you can leave something for your family. Again, never trade time for money. If I become terminally ill, I will spend every last dollar so that I can stay alive for another day. That’s what the money is for. You know what all these super-rich fuckers, like Jeff Bezos, spend their billions on? Longevity. They want to figure out how to live forever. They understand perfectly that time is the most scarce commodity in the world. They will spend $10 billion for another year. I would, too.
This is why I also don’t spend a ton of time dicking around, watching TV. If I were a social scientist, one experiment I would like to conduct would be to ask people how much time they spend on TV or screwing around social media and regress it with their income. Since we’re talking about Bezos, I have a hunch that he doesn’t spend a lot of time watching TV. And since we’re talking about Bezos, let’s talk about Amazon—one underappreciated fact about Amazon is how fast they became successful. Bezos accomplished things in days that would have taken other CEOs months. It went from a rinky-dink book website to the most economically important company in the world in the span of 25 years. Bezos was in a hurry. That takes a lot of drive and motivation that most mere mortals do not possess.
As many of you know, I am working on my third book. Let me tell you a little about the publishing process for a minute. I have a literary agent. The job of a literary agent is to sell books to publishers. My agent is very good—one of the best. He was responsible for the publication of Street Freak back in 2011. And he is a very good friend of mine—I love the guy to death. But the process is slow. I mean, slow by my standards. Maybe he is not slow by literary agent standards. But I’m impatient, because I value time.
So we have been working on the proposal for a while, and we’re on month seven. And this is really the only thing that causes stress in my life at the moment. I think it should be done. Of course, the proposal is in much better shape than when we started, and a shit-hot proposal could get a big advance from a Big Five publisher, but as I said previously, I never trade time for money. But what the fuck do I know? He’s the expert. So I have to trust the process, and resist the urge to walk across the restaurant and give my credit card to the waitress.
The one thing that all successful people have in common is that they recognize the scarcity of time. They don’t spend one second doing something they don’t want to be doing. I don’t want to spend one second doing something I don’t want to be doing. I hear about these jobs where people have to spend 6 hours a day in meetings. Good Lord. If you are in one of those jobs, you really have to think about the value of your time, and what you could be doing with those 6 hours. Good organizations don’t have 6 hours of meetings a day. Maybe time to find another organization.
It took me about an hour to write this newsletter. I would rather be doing nothing else with that hour than writing a We’re Gonna Get Those Bastards newsletter. I do it because I enjoy it. If one day, I stop enjoying it, then I will stop. I don’t do things out of duty.
You may now realize it, but you are dying. You are dying every day. You’ve got a limited amount of time left on earth—what do you do with it?
The most important decision we make every day is what to do with the next 24 hours.
Go fuck yourself,
Music Recommendation: There is no music recommendation this week.
Last Friday I gave the commencement address at Coastal Carolina University for their business school. Here is the video. My intro starts around 35:30. It’s about 12 minutes, and worth your time.
P.S. We’re Gonna Get Those Bastards will always be free. Feel free to forward to whoever you want.