BL&T No. 175: Takeaways from "Same As Ever" by Morgan Housel

Personal Growth

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.

Borrowed, Learned, & Thought

As part of our quarterly reading practice, the Barrel partners and I read "Same As Ever" by Morgan Housel in Q4 last year. We met last week in NYC to reflect on the quarter and discuss takeaways from this book and "The Referral Code" by Larry Pinci and Phil Glosserman.

Today, I'll focus on takeaways from "Same As Ever" that resonated with me. The book's premise is that as much as the world changes, there is just as much that remains unchanged. Rather than getting caught up in an ever-changing world, focus on the many things that stay the same to seize opportunities and live a happy life.

Housel takes the reader on a journey, detailing several concepts and how they have shown up throughout history—from the Battle of Long Island to the Great Depression, and beyond.

It was an entertaining read full of stories, which made it difficult to hone in on takeaways, but as usual, I did my best to narrow it down.


1) Predictability of people

"Predicting what the world will look like fifty years from now is impossible. But predicting that people will still respond to greed, fear, opportunity, exploitation, risk, uncertainty, tribal affiliations, and social persuasion in the same way is a bet I’d take."

I liked thinking about this in the context of my personal growth and development. I've learned that as much as I might think I can predict what life will look like in 5, 10, or 15 years, I can't. Instead, I can focus on understanding my tendencies and how I respond to certain situations. Looking ahead, I can gauge where these actions will take me and adjust accordingly, ensuring alignment with the life I hope to create.

2) Low expectations for happiness

"When asked, “You seem extremely happy and content. What’s your secret to living a happy life?” ninety-eight-year-old Charlie Munger replied: The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. If you have unrealistic expectations you’re going to be miserable your whole life. You want to have reasonable expectations and take life’s results, good and bad, as they happen with a certain amount of stoicism."

I've written about expectations in the past. Whether conscious or not, I'm fascinated by how much we all hold expectations of situations, ourselves, and each other.

When I'm disappointed or frustrated, it's never comforting to hear from someone that what I'm upset about is not that bad. But I've learned this is not because it's not necessarily true. It's that there's a gap between reality and my expectations.

Managing expectations is easier said than done, but I've found calm in better understanding this gap and continue trying to be more aware of my expectations, whether hosting a party with friends or hiring someone to help on a project at Barrel.

3) Preparedness over prediction

"One, think of risk the way the State of California thinks of earthquakes. It knows a major earthquake will happen. But it has no idea when, where, or of what magnitude... Nassim Taleb says, 'Invest in preparedness, not in prediction.' That gets to the heart of it. ... Two, realize that if you’re only preparing for the risks you can envision, you’ll be unprepared for the risks you can’t see every single time."

This idea reminded me of the power of building habits—personally, organizationally, or as a team. Habits can be about creating a future outcome, but they can also focus on creating systems that put you in a better position when dealing with unexpected adversities. It's like maintaining a regular fitness routine: we know a lot about what happens to the body as we age, but we don't know what life will throw us. Staying active is one way to be more prepared for the unknown, whether it be an illness or taking a fall.

4) Selecting role models

"Naval Ravikant once wrote: One day, I realized with all these people I was jealous of, I couldn’t just choose little aspects of their life. I couldn’t say I want his body, I want her money, I want his personality. You have to be that person. Do you want to actually be that person with all of their reactions, their desires, their family, their happiness level, their outlook on life, their self-image? If you’re not willing to do a wholesale, 24/7, 100 percent swap with who that person is, then there is no point in being jealous. ... Either you want someone else’s life or you don’t. Either is equally powerful. Just know which is which when finding role models."

As a kid, I remember looking up to musicians and other creative folks who inspired me, often growing jealous of how I imagined their lifestyles. As an adult, it's easy to fall into this trap, too. Maybe it's a co-worker who got promoted before you or an acquaintance who is killing it in an area you want to succeed.

I've learned that we're not only missing the entire picture but often all the steps and hard work that came before.

In these moments, I opt for inspiration over jealousy. Inspiration helps propel me forward and ask what I'm not doing but could be doing to reach my desired outcome.

5) Pessimism & optimism should coexist

"A big thing to know about how people think is that progress requires optimism and pessimism to coexist. They seem like conflicting mindsets, so it’s more common for people to prefer one or the other. But knowing how to balance the two has always been, and always will be, one of life’s most important skills. ... The best financial plan is to save like a pessimist and invest like an optimist. That idea—the belief that things will get better mixed with the reality that the path between now and then will be a continuous chain of setback, disappointment, surprise, and shock—shows up all over history, in all areas of life."

A nuanced but powerful idea. I'm better about striking this balance in various aspects of my life today than I was years ago. In many ways, it's about embracing the idea that positive outcomes are the fruits of hard work while recognizing that it won't be an easy road. I'm reminded of life milestones like the long, frustrating process of searching for our first home and everyday situations like getting a terrible stomach bug. In either case, I know it will work out, and yet it's hard to see how in the moment, but all I can do is push forward.

6) Many short runs to run long

"The long run is just a collection of short runs you have to put up with."

This concept is closely related to the previous one. But it made me think about my journey with fitness. I have a long-term vision of growing old, feeling good, and still being able to live an active life. In the near term, it's about getting through all the short runs, which could mean a brutal workout, or deciding to participate in a competition. I also thought about our journey running and growing Barrel. We know what we want to create in the long run, but every day, month, and year brings new challenges to work through and overcome.

7) Everything is sales

"Good advice that took me awhile to learn is that everything is sales. Everything is sales. This is usually framed as career advice—no matter what your role in a company is, your ultimate job is to help sales. ... Everything is sales also means that everyone is trying to craft an image of who they are. The image helps them sell themselves to others. Some are more aggressive than others, but everyone plays the image game, even if only subconsciously. Since they’re crafting the image, it’s not a complete view. There’s a filter. Skills are advertised, flaws are hidden."

In the agency world, "sales" often gets a bad rap. Sure, there are folks out there more focused on selling services than genuine problem-solving. However, it's important to acknowledge that in some form, we're all always selling! Whether a designer is presenting their work to a client or an account manager is trying to get the team behind a project approach.

The idea also nicely pairs with the concept above on role models. It serves as a reminder to look beyond superficial impressions of people and avoid falling into the traps of jealousy or envy.

8) Permanent & expiring information

"There are two types of information: permanent and expiring. Permanent information is: “How do people behave when they encounter a risk they hadn’t fathomed?” Expiring information is: “How much profit did Microsoft earn in the second quarter of 2005?” Expiring knowledge catches more attention than it should, for two reasons. One, there’s a lot of it, eager to keep our short attention spans occupied. Two, we chase it down, anxious to squeeze insight out of it before it loses relevance. Permanent information is harder to notice because it’s buried in books rather than blasted in headlines. But its benefit is huge."

Making time for reading over the years has opened up so much for me. What I enjoy most is connecting the dots between one concept and another and then discovering new meanings. This type of learning doesn't happen (for me) when scrolling through social media or the news. But that's not to dismiss it.

In the book, Housel goes on to talk about how deeper engagement with permanent information can transform our interaction with and understanding of temporary information. The more our mental models evolve and grow, the better we become at filtering what we consume and what we get out of it. For those who want to reduce their consumption of temporary information, I like the idea that investing time in permanent information can build the muscle to do so and it becomes second nature.

9) The best story wins

"The best story wins. Not the best idea, or the right idea, or the most rational idea. Just whoever tells a story that catches people’s attention and gets them to nod their heads is the one who tends to be rewarded."

In our discussion, Barrel CEO Peter made a great point about how important it is to be wary of the stories we hear when interviewing candidates or even, chatting with prospective clients. We also talked about how it's important to consider when we share our work and what impact we made for clients. I see a lot of opportunity for us to improve here in the future.

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