Metacognition

What Is The Cumulative?

Recently, I heard a question posed to famous investor Charlie Munger about making money. Charlie Munger replied, “What the questioner is actually asking is how do I become rich like you, but faster?”

From my frame of reference, I see a trend in our culture, summed up in the following: I want it now.

What is “it?”

Well, anything and everything.

  • Money
  • Love
  • Health/Fitness
  • Success
  • Paper Towels

All on-demand. We live in a get-rich-quick, Tinder, surgery, the rise of Silicon-Valley overnight billionaires, Amazon Prime, and Netflix world.

I guess I could consider myself one of them. Recently though, something is happening to my way of thinking (maturity?). I have begun to find joy in doing tiny little things every day that add up to huge things in the long run. The things you just can’t do overnight, like:

  • Be married for 7+ years.
  • Memorize an entire book of the Bible.
  • Grow vegetables.
  • Get in good physical shape.
  • Read 100+ books a year.
  • Pay off debt.
  • Save piles of cash.

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”  – Bill Gates

It seems that many people would rather do nothing at all than do just a little. This makes no logical sense. When I want to give to a charitable cause or put money into savings, sometimes I can only do $10-20. I admit, it does feel like I am not doing anything meaningful, but over the long-term, the results can be remarkable. This is most often looked at through the view of compound interest. A great example is Warren Buffet’s fortune, most of which has been accumulated in only the past 15 years or so.

For myself, compound interest is a hard concept to carry over in other areas of my life, so I ask instead, “What is the cumulative?”

The other day I thought about buying a $1 cookie. Doesn’t seem like a big deal. But I asked myself – what could the cumulative result be of buying this cookie every day?

I would spend $7 per week. I could gain weight. That could lead me to not paying off my debt as fast or losing sight of my fitness goals. I decided not to buy the cookie.

I am happy with my decision.

Technology has brought some great things to our world. But look around – do you see anything truly valuable gained by the ability to have something now?

I do – The valuation of Netflix (~$47B). 

All I see happening in myself is my attitude hastening toward that of a spoiled prince. I look around and see young adults who cannot form meaningful relationships (or sentences). Here’s a thought experiment: Look at our culture and the things we are addicted to. What is the cumulative? 

Scary.

All of the best things in my life took long periods of time and hard work to acquire and grow. Next time you make a decision, try asking: what is the cumulative?

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