June 12th, 2022 | My Personal Approach To Investing (As Of Now)
It’s Not About The Money. It Really Isn’t.
I recently had a few conversations with friends who couldn’t understand some of my investment decisions. They thought of me as a degen who either has way too much free time, or completely lost her marbles. Well, they might be right… But nevertheless, I decided to invest some time in thinking about my current personal investment strategy more in detail, and putting down my thoughts on paper. It is a rather unorthodox approach, so who knows — perhaps this read is also useful to you, whoever you are.
So, first to say, to me, investing is not about multiplying the money, but rather, about exchanging your time for material and non-material (and primarily non-material!) assets that multiply your safety and freedom. Why do we even need money in the first place? Well, looking at the simplified model of the job market that I drafted for my first book, you always have to choose.
Namely, you either need to choose for freedom and go the risky, entrepreneurial way, or you choose for safety at the cost of fitting into the system, and go for jobs in public sector or large, steady companies. The only way of breaking out from this prison is to focus on the ways of increasing safety and freedom at a time — and attaining financial freedom is only one of them.
The Asset You Really Invest.
When thinking about investing, most people see cash on their minds. But in my view, you invest something else in fact, namely, your time.
Time is the only thing you can never reclaim. With money, you can always learn from mistakes and come up with a twist that turns your 1 million loss into a 2 million gain. But with time, it is impossible — lost time is lost forever.
But on the good side of things, it is the only thing you get for free and with an automatic recharge every single day. Every day you open your eyes in the morning, you get roughly 16-18 hours to trade. This is the primary currency. You invest your time, not money.
My Personal Story
Investing my time in the right way IS of special importance to me. When I was 20-25, I used to have strong migraines. In the end, I was scanned with MRI to examine whether I could possibly have some problems of neurological nature.
In this study, nothing possibly migraine-related was found in my brain. And after all, I believe that my headaches were a result of massive stress rather than anything else. They stopped soon after I moved to the Netherlands.
But, on that occasion, I was diagnosed with Developmental Venous Anomaly, also known as DVA. It is nothing else than a non-operable cluster of veins somewhere in my brain stem that could just pop one day and kill me. Although it is an unlikely scenario, it technically can happen at any moment. When you live with that thought in mind, you really don’t want to waste your time. Any minute. Any moment.
How To Define Wealth
Again, while thinking of wealth, most people naturally think about money. While in fact, the concept of money is much more arbitrary than it seems at first. Who knows, maybe in some time, the Great Reset will come and our properties will be taken away from us. Or, inflation will eat all of our net worth. We just don’t know that. Money is a tool created by people and it can be destroyed by people. This is not what our real wealth is.
This is why I treat money as a small part of my wealth. People whom I know, and my professional skills, are much more important than cash. I have a folder on my laptop where I list and update my assets. “People” is sheet number 1, “Skills” are number 2, random projects and concepts that might pan out in the future are number 3, and “Physical and digital assets” is number 4. In that order.
And now, a little bit more in-depth:
Asset #1: People.
Investing in building bonds with people takes about 30-40% of my waking time. Among all the assets I can think of, I have no doubt in my mind that this one should go first. There are so many good reasons for daily networking that I wrote a separate article about it — which you can find HERE.
People mean support, information, and best deals. Unlike any other form of investment, it gives immediate returns — only when you pick people who can teach you something of course. And it is not true that people only care about money when making deals. I can give a real-world example of that.
When I was about to buy my house, I didn’t go the same path as most Dutch people do. In the Netherlands, the to-go-to place for buying and selling houses is funda.nl. Most Dutchies are so used to bidding there that they never even think of other solutions. In the bidding process, both buyers and sellers delegate their own Pokemons: as a buyer, you hire a real estate agent who talks to the real estate agents representing the sellers for as long as it takes to negotiate the deal. As the buyer, you only meet the seller at the notary’s office.
But I decided to go another route. I knew that people are emotional about houses where they had lived for 20+ years. They would rather pass their property to a friendly face whom they personally know.
That’s why I printed 900 leaflets with my face and information on them, informing that I was a peaceful PhD student of neuroscience looking for a house in the neighbourhood. And, I distributed these leaflets among the mailboxes in the quarter interesting to me. About 10 people called me back saying that they have a house for sale. And, I bought one of these 10 houses.
I still remember the day when I landed in Amsterdam from a trip to Argentina seven years ago. Without hesitation, I jumped on the train to Nijmegen for the meeting with the house owner. I was stinky and out of sleep, but I was too excited to see the property to reschedule the meeting. When I walked in, the first thing I said was “Sorry for stinking!”
And then it turned out that the owner, Rudi, age 60 (unfortunately tragically deceased by now), was also a fan of travelling. We laughed together, immediately made friends… and he sold me the house 30,000 EUR below the market price. And that’s how it works. He could have gotten a better price online. And yet, he preferred to sell cheaper to some weirdo, stinking student of neuroscience who just made him laugh.
How To Invest in People.
Having that said, investing in people is equally complex as investing in financial markets — if not more. The boundary between friendly and professional relations is blurry, especially in business circles. There are also various types of professional relations, and it is important to develop a large portfolio of people in various types of roles to cover all your current and potential future needs.
The strategy also matters a lot. I made many strategic mistakes in networking before I realized that you always need to adjust your strategy to the situation. For instance, as a graduate student, I was investing a lot of time into networking in width rather than networking in depth.
What I mean by that is: I used to build lots of casual contacts, for instance via conferences all around the world, instead of focusing on finding a few mentors who would actively help me get further in my career in science. While despite the fact that we have 2022, in academia we still have the ancient master—student model for building careers. If no senior researchers promote and recommend you to other senior researchers, you won’t get too far.
Moreover, I was wondering why some people get much better results from networking than others, even though they spend the same amount of time networking as everybody else. In fact, society is not an unstructured liquid. It is a highly modular, small-world network in which hubs are much more impactful than everyone else. Knowing a few hubs often brings more benefit than knowing hundreds of introverted people who have few friends.
We have limited capacity for making and maintaining meaningful connections, known as the Dunbar number (because of, nomen omen, limited time). That’s why one needs to be selective and strategic. “How to get to know hubs?” — you might ask. There are so many ways… You can become a hub yourself, which automatically makes other hubs trust you. You can attend events full of hubs. You can get to know hubs via social media. Last but not least, you can help others become hubs.
One more comment I would like to make is that we have a terrible tendency to misunderstand similarity or proximity to other people. We tend to hang around with people of a similar age, with a similar background, in similar social circles. While in fact, we should aim for finding people who share our mentality and goals — whoever that is. This is what the Internet, fortunately, facilitated.
Lastly, if something goes wrong, just carry on. And even though personal connections are — as the name suggests — personal, it is better not to take anything personally when comes to people. People change and often separate ways as they grow in varying directions. I spent an unbelievable amount of time in my twenties, trying to make connections with people with whom I mentally had nothing to do with.
And as a matter of fact, at every career stage, you will experience some rotation in your contacts and encounter new people. It is a sign of progress. Some people will disappear (mostly because your success is salt in their eyes), and some new people will come. It is normal. This is also why I don’t treat friends too emotionally. I made sure that no one in my life is indispensable (well, except for my parents) and when people want to go, I just let them go.
One important thing to mention here is the difference between networking and net weaving. A person who networks walks into a room and asks themselves: who can help me? A person who net weaves, walks in and asks themselves: whom can I help? It is crucial to keep the net weaving mode on at all times, except when you have an important problem to solve — only then switch to networking.
Also, it’s good to pay attention and drop information at people regularly. Have you ever thought to yourself, “What happened to this best friend of mine from the summer camp in 2012? We were inseparable for three weeks, while now, we don’t keep any contact with each other.” People overvalue the importance of intensive but short interactions and at the same time, undervalue casual, small gestures over a long period of time. If you call someone once per year at Christmas time, after 15 years they will treat you as a close friend and help you when you need it.
And sometimes, to help someone, it is enough to tell them that they have a talent for something, as they don’t notice it by themselves. A few months back, I was talking to Cathy, a Facebook friend of mine, and I asked her why she doesn’t capitalize on her hobby, namely her beautiful, healthy cakes. Today, she has a foodporn blog, Cathy’s Cake Salon, and she is on a good way to opening a business.
Last but not least, investing in people works the same as investing in financial assets: it works best when you catch them at the bottom. I made lots of friends in the corona crisis only because I realized that most people became passive and depressed in the lockdown.
My phone was silent for so long that I got depressed too. But at some point, I thought to myself: “Hey, this is not a problem — this is an opportunity!” …and I started massively calling people. For some of them, I was the first friendly voice they heard in weeks.
Last Christmas, I spent at least one whole day calling friends and recording private messages with personalized Christmas wishes. What happened then? In March I moved to Amsterdam where plenty of people welcomed me with open arms on day one.
You Don’t Know What To Say? Say The Truth.
One more aspect of networking worth mentioning is, as Socrates liked to say: when you don’t know what to say, better say the truth. People are extremely imprecise with verbalizing their intentions and tend to put too much faith into how well others can read from the way they speak and act. Especially now when we live in a multi-multi society,
That’s why I learned that when I want something from someone, I need to say it as precisely as possible. People can get shocked by how blunt I can be, but I don’t care too much. I just don’t want to waste my time on constant misunderstandings and “what ifs.”
* * *
In a summary, I could talk about networking for hours and hours. The bottom line is: that people are the key to everything. At the end of the day, every product and every service has its receiver somewhere down the line. People make all the decisions over the course of events, either singlehanded or collectively. If you keep good relations with people, you will thrive in one way or another — even if you have absolutely no talent!
Asset #2: Skills.
Investing in building professional skills takes about 20-30% of my waking time. Of course, since I have been active as a professional for many years now, it is suboptimal for me to build my skills in a passive way via taking courses. I prefer looking for ways to leverage my current skills and get paid for doing projects in which I can learn something new. In other words, this category is what most people would describe as “work.”
For instance, people who reach out to me for coaching are usually gifted and specialize in some cutting-edge methodology that I don’t know about. Whenever I prepare for a coaching session, I read a bit about their work and try to learn something new, not only about them but also about their professional discipline.
Or, I help as an external Research Consultant on a project dedicated to modelling pandemic dynamics with the use of agent-based modelling. In this project, I can use my technical writing and salesmanship skills, and at the same time, learn about the state of the art in modelling epidemics and epidemiology (especially, COVID) on this occasion, and advise a little bit by a newly formed spin-off company.
I also keep on raising the bar for every single project. I promised myself that my second book will be way better than my first book — even though my first book wasn’t bad either. I don’t care how many people tell me that they enjoy my content. The next piece should always be better than the previous one. And, I never took any course on “how to write well,” I just wrote thousands and thousands of pages of text, and I was improving on the fly. In other words, I learn by doing.
And, I am not an attention seeker, but I always enjoy observing that more and more people find my content and fund it useful. This makes me feel that my skills are increasing just as planned. Before I get retired, I will regularly score New York Time bestsellers — you will see.
Asset #3: Random Bullshit.
…known under a variety of names, from procrastination, through distraction, to guilty pleasure. I spend roughly 20-30% of my waking time on random bullshit (and proud of it!). To be more precise, I treat general knowledge about society and culture gained through procrastination as a HUGE asset (the third most important asset after bonds with people and cutting-edge professional skills).
This is actually a funny topic as “procrastination” is commonly considered to be a major obstacle to productivity. I couldn’t disagree more. I think that it not only helps in achieving productivity (especially if you have a creative profession) but also, it is a fundamental human need — similarly to sleeping or socializing. When we are children, we play in the playground, and when we are adults, we procrastinate and consume random bullshit. That’s how it is.
I find spending time with yourself and on activities that don’t have any roadmap crucial, and fundamentally different from networking. While networking means connecting with other individuals, procrastination means connecting with yourself and your own needs, and with society and culture as a whole. To my mind, both are equally important.
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to leisure and random bullshit. In my case, it can be anything from watching semi-random Youtube content, countless hours spent in a nude sauna discussing philosophy with strangers in 90 degrees Centigrade (that’s quite fun, actually), talking to random people in the streets, watching way too many movies and true crime documentaries, masturbating sessions starring at the sun by a river bank, jumping around the room by Tiësto’s music, meditating, and trying other, more experimental methods for self-development, developing random and unlikely ideas for the future of my company, random daydreaming… The only important thing is: no people around, no plan, and no deliverables. Full chill.
For instance, last week I spent a few hours trying to figure out whom the Top Scientologist and his fellas were actually fighting in the “Top Gun: Maverick”. You would think that it is irrelevant and unnecessary knowledge but there is so much you can learn about the inner workings of the whole movie industry from this one case!
And in general, some of the best projects I have ever done resulted from thoughts I had during procrastination. I built the flagship project in my company, the Ontology of Value Test after I had noticed in the sauna that I could guess where people work after briefly talking to them, despite them giving me no cues about their background or status, such as their dressing style. I adopted many elements of business strategy from a survival game after watching all the Australian editions of the “Survivor” show. I regularly get new ideas for my books popping into my mind at random moments while watching pop culture content. And I started applying the knowledge about body language, deception, and gaslighting that I recently acquired while watching the Depp-Heard defamation trial to real life and observing people whom I talk to much closer.
And I will never regret one minute spent procrastinating. I know that everything I ever read and watch will inspire me in some way at some point — either in my waking time or when asleep. My brain will bake something out of it in one way or another; I don’t need to worry about that. And in general, focused work and building skills make you smart, but it’s procrastination that makes you wise.
To sum up, I will make sure that consuming and producing random bullshit stays on my agenda for a lifetime. It helps in fostering creativity, keeping balance and mental health, staying in contact with your subconscious mind, learning more about the culture we live in, a better understanding of sentiment, and learning about the fabric of society — everything that is on people’s minds and lies somewhere in between science, technology, art, and politics. And I can’t believe that you can ever become a wise person without a bit of a random walk and improvisation.
Asset #4: Actual Money.
The last 10% of my waking time is typically spent on building what is considered the actual wealth. I have to say that I was late with starting my financial education. In academia, money is still perceived as something dirty, evil, and unworthy of spending mental powers on.
I literally felt guilty spending my evenings reading about the economy while my grad school peers were spending their evenings on Tinder and concerts. Now I know that I should have been more self-protective and spent more time learning about financial markets. Well, better now than never.
Anyways, I will not spend time here talking about what precisely to invest or not to invest on. It is partially due to the fact that I am not a financial advisor, and I do not feel competent advising others in that department. And partially, it is because there is no good or bad way of investing. I believe that personal investments, it is a bit like diets — everyone should choose whatever fits them personally.
One aspect that is worth mentioning is that it is beneficial to balance your life better using investing by searching for emotions missing in daily life as if they were missing “mental vitamins.” My daily life is rather peaceful, so I have a tendency to go for speculative, high-risk investments — or otherwise, it would be just boring. If you feel like your daily life is fast-paced and stressful, this approach probably would do you no good. In that case, it is probably better to go with more traditional markets such as SP&500.
So, How Am I Actually Investing?
And since I am often active in speculative markets, I need to make (sometimes bold) hypotheses and test them in practice while investing. And that requires a blood sacrifice. Namely, I believe that if you don’t stake your money on your bet, you won’t learn anything — regardless if your bet was correct or not. It has lots to do with Pavlovian learning through classic and instrumental conditioning. If your bet is wrong, it should properly hurt. As Master Yoda famously said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
I also always do some SWOT analysis and try to list anything that can potentially go wrong. Just as Sherlock Holmes liked to say, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Similarly, in my SWOT analysis, if you exclude all that can potentially go wrong, then the project — regardless of how ridiculous it seems to be — must become successful sooner or later. That’s how I managed to invest in a few seemingly unexpected winners in a few speculative markets.
I also think that you should focus on what you are good at. I am a career advisor for a reason — I can see talent in people in no time. So, I follow the approach that “talent is money” and I lean towards looking for undervalued people, not undervalued projects.
Is Every Day The Same?
Of course not. Every day is different. Sometimes, the whole day is spent on networking. Or, sitting still and learning new skills. Or, procrastinating. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which activity falls into which category, as procrastinating leads to an activity that can be monetized or unexpectedly teach me something new.
What I DO NOT Spend My Time On.
Lastly, let me list 10 things which, unlike most people out there, I choose NOT TO spend my precious time on.
1. Reading Politically-loaded Press Such as “Newsweek” or “The New York Times.”
I did that a lot in my twenties, especially as an undergrad. I used to spend hours and hours reading press every day — on the tram to the uni, sitting in the park, procrastinating instead of studying. And yes, I was well-informed in terms of “who-said-what” on the media. And so what? This information is irrelevant now.
Now I changed the strategy for collecting information about the world. I treat politics as a way to regulate the economy, nothing else. And yes, I still read the news — but now, I only subscribe to curated, quality newsletters such as the Morning Brew (news in technology, financial markets, and culture) or Medium publications from my favourite writers.
2. Talking Politics, Religion, Rumors, and Weather.
Related to the point above, there are many topics I don’t spend time discussing, just because they are too personal, too biased, or too meaningless. Unfortunately, these are some of the topics preferred by the general public, so I sometimes find myself with nothing to say at meetings. That’s fine though — I just switch to listening then.
I always run when I smell a conflict in the air — and I feel blessed that I can finally afford to run. When I was in academia, I was highly bound to the people closest to me, and I couldn’t afford to avoid anyone who was gaslighting or mobbing me. Now I can, so whenever I feel bad vibes in the air, I just fork myself out from the conversation.
Which doesn’t mean that I enjoy “yes-men.” I don’t. I enjoy all the people who can tell me that I am wrong and give me good arguments for that. The only person from my distant past with whom I still work is a therapeutist whom I first met in high school. And she is the only therapeutist whom I ever met, who doesn’t feel any authority and who has the courage to punch a table with a fist and say: “You are saying bullshit, Miss Natalia!”
4. People Who Don’t Know What They Want and Reading in Minds.
I would rather spend time with people who have different opinions and outlooks on life than with people who have no opinions at all. Unfortunately, many people out there are snowflakes with the personality of noodles. I would literally choose to talk to someone who is not even polite but has their own opinions than someone with nothing to say.
I also think it’s not worth spending my time on mind-reading, especially given that we live and work in a multicultural environment. Therefore, I tell people openly and directly what I expect from them, no matter how shocking that might sound to them. And yes, when you develop such an attitude, once in a while you will get a face palm 🙂 Yet still, it saves so much time!
5. TV Series.
TV series suck a lot of time, especially if you are a type of an addict with a tendency to binge-watch. I already learned that I am the type who gets addicted easily, so I tactically don’t even start. So, I focus on watching movies and making sure that for the full two hours, I get detached from my phone and all other distractors, and I fully emerge myself into another world and rest, rather than binge-watching a series for 10 hours and working with one eye.
6. Cooking and Highly Processed Food.
At some point, I noticed that by cooking, you lose both time and health. Raw, low-processed food is just handier and healthier. Now, my typical dinner is a HUGE ball of salad with avocado, olive oil, nuts, tomatoes, and a few other, minor ingredients. And I feel better than ever.
7. Working Out.
This is a counterintuitive one… Everyone will tell you to exercise to be fit and healthy, but I personally think that most people overdo with workouts. I personally feel the healthiest if I spend 10 minutes not the treadmill 2-3 times a week. If I exercise more, it starts working against me and I start feeling chronically tired. I believe good sleep, fresh and raw food, and drinking a lot of water already cover 95% of what you need to be healthy — exercise is the remaining 5%.
And of course, I arranged a gym in my garage so that I don’t need to waste time commuting.
8. Standing in Front of the Mirror.
This is a funny one. When I was twenty, I used to use too many cosmetics and diet supplements. I literally had a fear of ageing. I was looking forward to the first wrinkles on my face, and I was the same paranoid about my looks as most Polish women.
Fortunately, the Netherlands and the Internet healed me from this pain. In the Netherlands, people really look deep into your soul; they don’t care too much about how you look. They prefer natural beauty and give you a chance to just be yourself. Plus, when I started spending more time online at the end of my undergrad studies, I noticed a simple correlation. Middle-aged women who use a lot of cosmetics, tend to age much worse than those who do nothing around their face.
At some point, I started eliminating chemical substances from my daily life one by one. I threw out all diet supplements. I eliminated the vast majority of the makeup stuff. I replaced shampoo with baking soda, and then, a few years later, with pure water. I replaced the deodorant with lemon juice. I replaced flavoured shower gel with grey, flavourless soap. By 30, my closet was pretty much empty, and I have a rule that I don’t spend more than 60 seconds in front of the mirror a day.
And the only thing that changed about my face compared to when I was 20 is that the workers of the liquor stores stare at my ID for longer now.
9. Vacations With No Purpose.
I used to go on vacation just to be alone. In 2014, I spent a month alone in the Andes in Chile and Argentina. But now, I never have a real vacation, even if I try. As a matter of fact, a content creator never has free time. Your train of thought will never fully stop unless you get drunk or fall asleep. You just can’t stop working regardless if you want to or not. Hence, I never “waste time” on vacations.
I was never a fan of commuting, as commuting time is the time when you neither work nor relax. You still need to be vigilant of the situation around you, so what kind of relaxation is that? This is why I was always choosing to live in places close to my workplace, and currently, I happily work online.
Last Words: On Gambits and Stuff
As you might have noticed, I treat my life in quite a holistic way. People, work, money, leisure, hobby, free time… all these categories cross each other. I know that this lifestyle can seem messy, and it’s clearly not how most people prefer to organize their lives. For me, my whole life means never-ending investing. And yet, I feel that there is a method to this madness. Despite the complexity of the model, I rarely have issues with making decisions.
Last, to say, most people assess their investment strategy by the ROI, or, their net worth. The higher the net worth, the better the investment — that’s how they like to think. But that’s not how I think. I think of much more complex KPIs and optimizing the overall happiness rather than just boosting your net worth as fast as you possibly can.
And, I like the idea of a gambit. It is a concept taken from chess. Gambit means a sacrifice of sorts: giving up on one of your figures in an exchange for a more active position on the chessboard. You can’t become a true grandmaster without mastering the art of gambit.
Similarly, in personal investments, it might be worth exchanging cash for the experience or surroundings of the right people. In the short term, it might look like a loss, but in the long term, it will open the door to the right tribes, and lead to competitive advantage and massive gains.
Lastly, your net worth is only the surface of your real wealth. I believe that your net worth is not the KPI you should optimize for, as life is much richer than just that. Increasing net worth is the only means to reach the goal, and not the goal itself.
Many people out there are sad people glued to their laptops who have millions on paper but in fact, they are lonely and miserable. Or, they never read anything, are detached from pop culture, and have nothing to say on any topic outside of their narrow field of expertise. Are these people wealthy? I don’t think so. I believe that to be REALLY wealthy, you need to stand on a few feet at a time, not just one.
Good luck with your investments!
Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2022, June 12th). My Personal Approach To Investing (As of Now). Retrieved from: https://nataliabielczyk.com/my-personal-approach-to-investing/
* * *
If you would like to read more about careers (for PhDs and other white-collar professionals) and effective strategies to self-navigate in the job market, please also take a look at the blog of my company, Ontology of Value where I write posts dedicated to these topics.