Being in Control of Your Own Time

The Washington Post had a fascinating profile of investor Bill Miller last week. By my count, this is the 45th comeback for Miller (give or take) according to the financial press.

Miller is most well known for his streak of beating the S&P 500 for 15 years in a row as a mutual fund manager for Legg Mason. Michael Mauboussin estimated that the odds of pulling off this type of streak based on pure luck alone were something like 1 out of 2.3 million.

He followed up this streak with a poor run of performance during the financial crisis that saw his funds lose billions of dollars from client redemptions. I like his take on how he probably should have gone out on a high note:

“I regret I didn’t retire in 2006,” Miller joked. “Then I would have had this extraordinary record nobody else ever had. They would have thought I was a genius. By 2009, I was like an idiot.”

This is a nice illustration of how performance drives narrative more than anything else in the asset management business. There are plenty of investing nuggets throughout this piece but the part that caught my attention was Miller’s admission that he’s enjoying the freedom of working for himself after leaving Legg Mason:

Everything else has changed. But, Miller says, he relishes the independence. At Legg Mason, he said, “I spent a lot of time doing stuff that I really didn’t want to do, like traveling all over the world and pitching for business and meeting with clients.”

“If the sovereign wealth fund in the Middle East says ‘be over here,’ I have to go over for it,” he said. “Whereas now I’m much more in control of my own time.”

Everyone spends time doing something at their job they really don’t want to do — even star mutual fund managers.

I’ve seen studies that show well over 50% of Americans are unhappy with their job or career path. I don’t know how accurate these findings are but it sounds about right to me (and maybe even on the low side).

I have friends who make a ton of money but absolutely hate the work they do or the people they work with or the firm they work for.

Some people don’t like the travel their job entails. Many are too stressed out at their jobs. Others would relish the opportunity to have more responsibility. The laundry list of job complaints could go on for a while — working too many hours, not making enough money, terrible bosses, performing mundane tasks, too much time spent selling, dealing with difficult customers, too many meetings, unfulfilling or depressing work, no respect from colleagues, no path to management, no work/life balance, office politics, etc.

I’m in full agreement with Bill Miller — it’s hard to put a price on the ability to be in control of your own time and avoid doing things you don’t want to do on the job.

I’ve found that my priorities have changed a great deal over the course of my career. Whereas initially I was made to believe the name of the game was simply being happy that I had a job in the first place (mostly through the financial crisis period), I’m now much more cognizant of the ability people have these days to create their own path.

Here’s a short list of things I value in terms of my career:

  • Working with good people that I respect and get along with.
  • Helping others (both clients and colleagues).
  • Aligning my work with my personal value system and principles.
  • Staying away from products or services I don’t believe in or wouldn’t personally recommend to others.
  • Working on projects I’m interested in.
  • Working with the right clients and avoiding the wrong ones.
  • Doing work that keeps me engaged.
  • Continuing the learning process on the never-ending path to self-improvement.
  • Keeping stress levels to a minimum.
  • Avoiding micro-managers.

I’m sure I missed a few things, but you get the general idea.

I realize it’s impossible for anyone to find the perfect job, firm, or career path but I love the idea of giving yourself enough independence to at least avoid the things you hate doing the most.

In many ways, a career is a lot like an investment philosophy. There are no perfect jobs (or investment portfolios). Step one is finding a job (or investment stance) that works for you. Steps two through one-hundred are dealing with and accepting the drawbacks to your job (or investment strategy) and being content with your chosen path.

Bill Miller is staging one of Wall Street’s most closely watched comebacks (Washington Post)

Further Reading:
Disrupting Your Own Happiness

Now here’s what I’ve been reading this week: