10 Years of A Wealth of Common Sense

I started A Wealth of Common Sense 10 years ago.

Before ever hitting the publish button on my first piece, I created a list of topics and blog posts to write about. Based on that list I thought this blog might last 6 months max.

I certainly didn’t think I would still be writing on a regular basis a decade later. And never in my wildest dreams did I think starting a blog would completely change my career trajectory and open up so many opportunities.

This blog helped me land a dream job working with some of my heroes in this industry. Writing the blog has led to book deals and podcasts and YouTube videos and speaking engagements and meeting countless wonderful people who I never would have interacted with had I not gone down this path.

Starting this website really was a fork-in-the-road moment for me even though I had no idea at the time.

Coming out of the Great Financial Crisis was an eye-opening experience for me. After surviving what will likely be the biggest financial crash of my lifetime I witnessed many intelligent people in the finance industry go to a dark place.

It felt like everyone was bearish for a number of years coming out of the 2008 crash. Some of it stemmed from career risk. Others simply latched onto the prevailing negative sentiment at the time and pounced on an opportunity.

I didn’t get it.

How could you not be bullish on the long-term following a 60% drop in stock prices?

Coming out of college I knew next to nothing about the markets so I spent the first few years of my career playing catch-up. I read every book I could get my hands on about asset classes, market history, legendary investors and various investment strategies.

I asked every professional investor I came into contact with what their favorite 2-3 investment books were, created a list and slowly but surely checked them all off.

The overarching message from these books was two-fold:

(1) The best investment opportunities tend to come about during a market crisis.

(2) Human emotions make it very difficult to invest in uncertain and stressful market environments.

It probably helped that I was so young and naive but I couldn’t believe how many seasoned investors were moving into the fetal position after the crash had already occurred.

It also felt like a cottage industry developed to prey on the fears of others.

Trust was at all-time lows following the subprime mortgage bust and the fact that so many of those crooked bankers walked away with millions of dollars as millions of regular people lost their jobs, homes or both.

Those formative years helped shape my thinking and what would eventually turn into this blog.

I was also fed up with all of the needless complexity in finance. Whenever friends or family members would ask me about saving or investing most of the time it was because they were confused.

I was put off by how complicated everyone in the industry made things out to be.

The financial markets are complex but everyone I was learning from — Buffett, Graham, Lynch, Marks, Munger, etc. — were masters at simplifying my understanding of how they worked. Simple but not easy became one of my guiding principles.

I’ve always loved the Einstein quote, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

My goal when starting this website was to put the complexities of finance into plain English. I thought I was writing for other people but the more I wrote the more I realized how little I actually knew.

That led to more writing and learning about all of the things I didn’t know. Ten years later here we are (and there is still so much I don’t know).

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

Writing is one of the best forms of learning. I never enjoyed writing much in school because the assignments required you to share how much you know (admittedly I didn’t know much).

I find the process of writing this blog to be a form of learning. Writing forces you to figure out what it is you actually think.

Writing on a regular basis has forced me to learn more, read more, do more research and seek out opinions and analysis from people who are smarter than me.

Take your work seriously but not yourself. Life is too short to take yourself too seriously.

I can’t stand the gurus who pretend like they have it all figured out because they spout fortune cookie advice.

No one has it all figured out and that’s OK.

Do your best but keep your expectations low. It took a while for this blog to attract readers. No one knew who I was so I didn’t really expect to build an audience.

I was writing for friends and family at first (mainly because that was my readers for the first 6 months or so).

If I would have gone into this endeavor with the idea that I was going to build a brand or audience it never would have happened because I would have given up when no one was reading it for the first year or so.

Process over outcomes is a helpful approach to life since things rarely work out how you expect.

You have to write about the things you care about, not what you think other people want to read. People ask me all the time how I’m able to write so much.1

The main reason is I write about topics I enjoy. You can only regurgitate clickbait for so long before your audience loses interest.

I prefer to write about stuff I’m interested in as opposed to trying to figure out what an audience would like to read.

And the funny thing is I never know which posts are going to blow up and which ones are going to get ignored ahead of time.

As William Goldman once wrote, “Nobody knows anything.”

You have to find your own voice. I read a lot of other finance blogs before starting my own and probably tried too hard to emulate my favorites when first starting out.

After a while I figured out my own writing style and became more comfortable using my own voice.

It’s a lot easier to just be yourself than try to copy what someone else is doing.

Good stories and visuals beat even the best data. Charts and analogies are far more useful when trying to understand finance rather than spreadsheets and textbooks.

Not everyone on the Internet is mean. Sure, I get the occasional troll from those who always think the world is coming to an end but ~90% of my online interactions because of this blog are positive.

I love the feedback, questions, constructive criticism, opposing viewpoints and recommendations from my readers.

I don’t even mind people pointing out my grammatical errors (still happens even when I proofread every post like 4x and use Grammarly) as long as they’re nice about it.

There are plenty of kind and helpful people on the Internet.

There are a lot of intelligent mom-and-pop investors out there. Retail investors get a bad rap but give me a buy-and-hold Vanguard investor over the majority of institutional investors any day of the week.

They worry far less about beating quarterly benchmarks, investing like their peers or career risk like those managing billion dollar pools of capital.

I’ve traded emails with thousands of individual investors over the years and I’m constantly impressed with the level of knowledge out there.

Context is more important than predictions. I’m not good at predicting the future on a consistent basis but neither is anyone else.

I find it more helpful to seek out context and perspective rather than forecasts and predictions.

“I don’t know” is my favorite starting point when thinking about what comes next.

Personal finance is more important than investing. My readership tends to spike during bear markets. As my friend Phil Pearlman likes to say, “The higher the VIX, the higher the clicks.”

Outside of market upheavals, my posts about personal finance, especially the housing market, tend to get the most readers.

I’m fascinated by the psychology behind the markets but getting your personal finances in order is far more important than optimizing your investment strategy for most people.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the second coming of Warren Buffett if you don’t know how to save or spend your money wisely.

My readers are the best. I want to thank everyone for reading my stuff throughout the years. I truly appreciate all of the support and feedback.

Further Reading:
Observations From a Decade in the Investment Business

1Please excuse the humblebrag.

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