Lengthen Your Timeline

The U.S. stock market hasn’t hit a new all-time high since January 3rd, 2022.

As I’m writing this the S&P 500 is about 5% off new highs, which isn’t a huge decline, but we’re quickly approaching two years without any significant long-term gain in the stock market.

For investors who may find the current state of the market frustrating and wish their portfolios were growing at a faster pace, I have a couple of short stories I wanted to share.

I first read these anecdotes in Billy Oppenheimer’s newsletter and would definitely recommend checking it out.

In the early 1980s, a sociologist named Daniel Chambliss wanted to get a better understanding of the nature of excellence. He figured sports was the best field to study on the subject because success is clearly defined by competition. There are winners and there are losers.

So he decided to dedicate years to studying swimmers at every level of ability. He spent time with beginner learn-to-swim programs, coached a regional swim team, and eventually traveled with the U.S. Olympic Team. After doing his research, he published a paper titled, “The Mundanity of Excellence.”

What Chambliss found was that Olympic champions don’t train more than the average swimmer. Rather, they train differently. In particular, he found they do “what others see as boring.”

He tells the story of a group of coaches from around the world who visited a U.S. Olympic Team practice:

“The visiting coaches were excited at first…then soon they grew bored, walking back and forth, glancing down at their watches, wondering, after the long flight out to California, when something dramatic was going to happen.”

In response to this reaction, the U.S. Olympic Team coach said:

“They think we have some big secret. There is no secret. There is only the doing of the mundane, boring work, day after day.”

Did you know that before Harrison Ford became one of the most iconic actors in movie history, he was a carpenter?

In 1964, Ford moved to Hollywood to become an actor. But he soon realized that he was just one of many young aspiring actors all with the same dream. In his words, “I arrived on a metaphoric bus full of people who had the same ambition.”

As he spent more time around the other actors, he realized that most of them were in a hurry. They were in a hurry to “make it.” Either to make lots of money or to prove something to someone, they were all on a tight timeline.

With this knowledge, Ford came up with a plan to prevail over his competition. He would do the opposite: lengthen his timeline.

“I had to have another source of income. So I became a carpenter. By doing carpentry I was able to wait it out. And as the years went by, the attrition rate eliminated many of those people from the competition pool until finally, there were only a few of us left on the bus from that entering class. I always saw life that way—you just have to find a way to stick it out, to prevail.”

It seems Daniel Chambliss and Harrison Ford might also know a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful long-term investor.

Dharmesh Shah likes to make a distinction between skill and talent. Skill is the ability to do something. He says talent is the rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something. For example, if you have a talent for playing basketball, that means you’ll learn how to play basketball faster than someone who doesn’t have that talent.

Shah says that for most things in life, talent—the rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something—doesn’t matter. What really matters is if you can consistently do something over a long period of time.

Thanks for reading!