In the video game we are playing – otherwise known as life in the twenty-teens – finished books are the equivalent to the best weapons you can acquire on your quest – the fire-throwing flower from Super Mario Brothers or the burst-fire assault rifle in Fortnite. Everyone wishes they had more of them in the arsenal. Both for the knowledge they impart to the reader (assuming we can actually retain it) as well as for the optics (look how much reading that guy does!).
In the current era of investing and running investment management businesses, we are assaulted by acronyms that have almost specifically been designed to remind us of our own shortcomings. There’s F.A.A.N.G. – comprised of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and a constant reminder of how much money everyone else is making. There’s T.I.N.A. – There Is No Alternative, a sort of shorthand for the idea that you’re welcome to sell your stocks, but what the hell else will you do with the cash? And there is B.T.F.D. – Buy The F***ing Dip, which is basically the only strategy that’s worked consistently throughout the post-crisis period and the mantra that’s kept money managers on the right side of the prevailing trend.
Then there are of course the somewhat related catchphrases of adventurous and the desperate, Y.O.L.O. and F.O.M.O.
You Only Live Once was adopted by the crowd on the Reddit trading forum from the 2011 Drake hit The Motto and it’s been used as an adjoinder to any declaration of speculative intent, both for comedic effect and for the self-galvanization necessary whenever one undertakes a wild plunge into the markets. I’m putting 100% of my liquid assets into Ethereum, YOLO! It’s become a sort of “hold my beer….” for the Robinhood set.
Fear Of Missing Out has been an apt description for why a great many people have been doing a great many things with their money, including the taking of excess risk, the concentration into a small group of high momentum stocks and the chronic chasing of performance that reporters love to write stories about.
All of us have been susceptible to these ideas, even if we don’t come out and utter their names, in either an abbreviated fashion or out loud for others to hear. Those who’ve been able to resist have certainly scored a moral victory of sorts, even though they are most likely out of business by this point. Even Warren Buffett himself has set aside his characteristic reticence to join the crowd and has gone full Y.O.L.O. into Apple shares, which is itself a member of F.A.A.N.G., a beneficiary of the B.T.F.D. psychology and one of the primary drivers of F.O.M.O.
Into this dense alphabet stew of postures and position statements, I add my own acronym which describes my feeling anytime someone mentions a book they’ve just finished, a few days after having finished the previous one…
I call it F.O.M.B.E.Y. – Fear Of Missing Books….Egg Yolks.
Okay, it’s stupid*. I added the last two letters on, without having corresponding words for them, because I needed to make the meme catchier. F.O.M.B (rhyming with comb) would never have caught on.
I’m reading roughly 12 to 15 books a year and my friends and colleagues are demolishing two or three per week or more. I have serious FOMBEY. I have a stack next to my bed and another stack in my office and I add new titles to it faster than I can finish the ones I’m in the middle of. And hearing that other people can just eat through them like termites makes me want to bang my head against the wall.
But then I had this realization and it’s the main point of this post. It’s the thing I want to pass on to you if you’re in a similar situation. My realization was that the people I’m friends with who are plowing through books competitively and with what seems to be a supernatural ability are all the fathers of babies. Infants and toddlers. Children who sleep most of the day and who, even while awake, are merely careening between meals and crying.
My children, on the other hand, are in elementary school. There is not a waking f***ing second during the weekends or the weeknights where they don’t require some sort of parental attention. When I’m not driving one child to something, I am picking up the other from something else. When I’m not watching a game with one, I am playing a game with the other. When I’m not coaching one of their baseball teams, I am cheering on the other one’s dance recital. In your forties, life gets in the way of being able to settle down for an hour and flip through a book. Life is happening all around us and the hours fly off the clock like someone pointed an industrial fan at a stack of papers.
Sure, there’s some available time to rip through a stack of books, but that’s the time you need to catch a nap or actually get some work done. And then the sun comes up and the whole thing repeats.
You go from the first day of school to the graduation parties in the blink of an eye. “They grow up fast, enjoy it while it lasts” is one of the few things that every older person says that actually turns out to be shockingly accurate. They were right, I say under my breath, as my daughter tries on ball gowns in front of a framed photograph of her cuddling Cookie Monster from a time and place I could’ve sworn was just yesterday, just in the other room…But it was nine years ago and how the f*** did that happen?
An older friend reminded me recently that, very soon, I will be in my fifties, my kids will be in their teens and twenties, and there won’t be anything left to do but look at old pictures of them, wait for them to call home and, yes, of course, read some books. That time in my life, which I can now picture vividly, is collapsing in on me whether I’ll be ready for it or not.
And when I get there, all of these books will still be around, and plenty more of them by then. And then I can read one a week, two a week, ten a month, whatever I want. The kids will be off with their friends and my wife will be off playing in USTA tennis matches.
Having had these thoughts, I’m combatting FOMBEY the best way I know how: Rationalization.
My days are full with exactly the sort of things they ought to be full with. The books will always be there but the childhoods I want to be a part of will not. And to try to keep up with the reading habits of the parents of two-year-olds is, in fact, an insane notion that radically misses the point of life itself.
James Taylor said “the secret of life is enjoying the passing of time.” Sweet Baby James himself just turned seventy years old this March. He can read books til his heart’s content these days, I bet.
*Yes, I stole my naming convention from Chris Elliott.