Carry on

I turn 44 years old today and I woke up thinking that I know what I was put on earth to do. How many people can say that? I’m not sure, but I am certain that I’ve taken this knowledge for granted.

I’m not good at most things. I cook okay. I play guitar terribly. I’m the worst player in our weekly tennis group. My eleven year old son beats me at NBA 2K. I should be criminally prosecuted for dancing at weddings. I work out four times a month and then buy these tubs of protein powder that end up getting thrown out. I can’t sing. I dress like a fifteen year old. My rap career stalled out in the late 90’s.

But there’s one thing I can really do. I know the markets. I communicate what’s going on extremely effectively. I’ve been bullish and correct for over a decade now. I’ve created an investment philosophy, built on the foundation of some very important books and personal observations and experiences. I’m surrounded by like-minded professionals and we’ve taken this philosophy from the realm of blog posts and research to an investment firm managing almost $2 billion for families, endowments and corporate retirement plans. We started seven years ago with $60 million in assets and less than a hundred clients. This thing we’ve built is incredibly special. Thirty five employees taking care of 1500 client households. It would be a clich√© to refer to ourselves as a family, but what else can you call a group of people who would do anything for each other, through thick and thin?

I’m one of several voices and faces representing what I hope will become the most respected wealth management firm in America. That’s one of three long-term goals I’ve set for myself and for the organization. The other two goals: Kick ass for our clients and personally, emotionally and spiritually enrich all of our employees. We recite these three goals in meetings all the time.

My role in all of this is custom-tailored to my ability. My singular, sole ability. Each day I wake up and try my best to process what’s going on, filter out what doesn’t matter and emphasize what does. I’m really fucking good at this. I can write, I can talk, I can share and I can influence. I advocate for the American investor and try to spread the wisdom and insight people need to make good decisions for themselves. Some of the people I reach are our clients and many are not, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s what I was born to do. I don’t know any other way to say it.

Michael Batnick stopped by my office the other day to tell me that “We’re on the ride of our lives and I feel like you’re not enjoying it, and that makes me really sad for you.” I was raging about this or that mistake or imperfection, whatever minor thing I was angry about that day. I have a tendency to overreact when things don’t go the way I want them to. Michael’s right. It is the ride of a lifetime. Sometimes you need someone to remind you of what should be perfectly obvious.

Last year the firm added 344 households. Organically. We don’t do M&A, have no private equity backing, no outside capital, no headhunters. We’re not buying clients from a program at Fidelity or Schwab or TD. I don’t have advisors sitting in brokerage firm branches waiting for the handoff. The clients who come to us are fans of what we do and what we’re about.

Of these new 344 households, 186 are wealth management clients and the rest are 401(k), Liftoff, 403(b), etc. Ensuring that the new client households fall in love with us and end up retiring in style and comfort is the only thing I care about. All of the content and market commentary and writing and researching and speaking we do is designed to make sure that happens. We’re going to help these families accomplish everything they’ve told us is important to them. We will be there for them in bear markets, bull markets, through weddings and funerals and sales of businesses and estate planning and even divorce. The relationships we’re building with clients are going to be among the most meaningful relationships they have in their lives.

The data says that roughly one in four of our new clients last year were referrals from existing client relationships. This makes me feel so good when I think about it. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be able to do professionally. Hundreds of referral clients have come to us because a friend or family member of theirs is happy with what we’re doing for them. Thousands more referrals are still to come if we continue to execute.

About half of our wealth management clients (51%) have already qualified for our Milestone Rewards program – which means they’ve been with us for three years or longer and have remained faithful to their financial plans and portfolios. This is how I know the combination of our advice and asset management is working – the industry is too competitive for this not to be the case, there are too many other options. Another 184 client households will qualify during the course of 2021 and become Milestone Rewards clients too. This means so much to me and to all of our advisors and staff.

There are moments where I forget that all of this is happening. I forget about this ride that we’re on. I become consumed with something that went wrong or was happening too slowly for my liking. I’m not always easy to deal with, even if my heart is in the right place.

My wife was saying that the intensity with which I pursue my work is as though someone took something away from me and I’m fighting to get it back. I spent my 20’s broke, miserable and stuck in a dead-end job. I knew I wasn’t meant to be living and working the way I was. When I think back now, I realize there was a massive chip on my shoulder as I turned things around in my 30’s. I really did feel like something was taken from me. It would be embarrassing for me to describe the fury I felt when I saw other people succeeding at something I knew I was better at than they were. I knew I wanted it more – more than anyone – but they had it and I didn’t. Envy would be the wrong word to describe it….it was always more like indignation. “Why them and not me?” When I think about what I’ve put myself through to get here, the dues I’ve paid, the lengths to which I’ve gone…it’s a lot of mental and physical wear and tear. I recognize that now but I still wouldn’t do it differently.

I eventually got control of this furious indignation, channeling it toward something productive. I became a builder. I stopped fighting and started organizing. And here we are.

Now I have to let this fury go altogether. I have to learn to enjoy the ride. I have to become more tolerable to the people around me. I have to learn to be satisfied while remaining motivated. It’s a balancing act. I’m trying.

Some open questions for the coming year…

Will I get back into Manhattan and be able to reopen the headquarters? I’ve been working out of a strip mall near my house, next to an eyebrow place and a beauty salon. My friends call me Better Call Saul. The novelty is wearing off. I miss my co-workers and going to meetings and lunches and collaborating with people in person.

Will I get the vaccine before it’s too late? I’m immuno-compromised because of the medication I take for crohn’s disease (Stelara). I really don’t want to get this thing because I don’t know if I can fight it off. I’ve been careful, but I’m tired of being on pins and needles.

Can The Compound channel on YouTube and the related podcast reach their full potential? The momentum is incredible – almost 70,000 YouTube subs and an average of 65,000 downloads per pod episode. But part of me knows I need to take it to the next level to really turn it into what I know it can be. I’m having a lot of fun putting this content together each week and we’re hearing great feedback from clients, but I think we’re on the threshold of something major. I can’t really put my finger on it, but something’s happening…

Can I keep everyone focused on the big picture and their true financial objectives in a get rich quick environment that’s turned the markets into a 24 hour virtual casino?

Most importantly, can I appreciate all the little moments that make up a year and find some satisfaction in what’s already been done, despite how much I feel there is still left to do?

500,000 Americans have lost their lives to the pandemic over the last year and millions have lost their employment and their businesses. I’ve seen friends and co-workers lose loved ones and change careers and relocate to different states and, against all odds, continue to persevere. It’s one of the most enduring traits of humanity in general, this ability to conjure up a better future in our imaginations and then hang onto it in our darkest days.

But now the sun’s coming out. There’s a reopening afoot. The Knicks played to 2,000 fans the other night at the Garden. We’re going on vacations again. 2021 is going to be more than a reopening. It’s a restoration. My time at the strip mall is winding down. We’ve come a long way through this thing.

And if you’ve made it this far, if we’ve made it this far…

Crosby, Stills and Nash said:

Rejoice, rejoice,
We have no choice
But to carry on.

Another year, a greater appreciation, a deeper understanding. I know what I’ve been put on earth to do. Carry on.