Saturday, March 18, 2023

Pivoting from Wealth to Relationships

I consider myself extremely lucky, as after my last post, my old JC pals got me out to cheer me up this week. My mum has recovered, but this is a grand opportunity to review my priorities. 

Almost as if I needed another sign, I just received heartbreaking news that a secondary classmate of mine is currently in a fight against an aggressive form of cancer. 

One of the most challenging issues my generation will have to cope with is when we should pivot from emphasising our wealth towards pouting more effort into our relationships. In your 40s and 50s, wealth is a big deal as you need it to thrive in Singapore society, but you soon reach a stage where you find less need to flex your economic status but want deeper connections with loved ones because that’s the last thing that matters in the final stage of your life. The financial equivalent is when a person can begin the process of decumulation or the gradual spending down of wealth they have accumulated. 

As we think deeper, we realise that friendship is a complicated topic, because all relationships need cultivation and in earlier stages in our lives, there are more important priorities like financial security or starting a family. As a consequence, men suffer from the lack of friendships the most because we get penalised for looking vulnerable and tend to keep our weaknesses to ourselves.

When thinking about this pivot, the first question is when should we shift from thinking about wealth accumulation to the accumulation of rich personal connections? I can't help but think of confirmation signals in a trade. When creating my new course, I often have to backtest trading algorithms. One technique I employ to confirm a downtrend is to observe that a stock has been falling for the past year and also been falling for the past month. Dual signals are more robust than just one, and this can be easily put into programming code.

The general rule of thumb is if you see your parents getting older and becoming frailer or losing them entirely to old age, and you witness folks in your generation falling sick, it is time to consider a pivot. At least from what I have observed, both signals have come true many times over the past year.

The second question is how to pivot. Which relationships to cultivate? 

The book The Good Life, which contains research on the lives of volunteers, provides a very functional view of what good friendships are like. Friends are there to diminish your hardship and reduce the stress of existing in Singapore society.

This is an exquisite way to construct a filter and decide which relationships to cultivate. Which friends are there for you when you face a crisis? Which friends have a sense of humour and provide levity in hard times? If you have friends who can solve your problems and make life easier, you need to cultivate these relationships.

But note that if you agree with this utilitarian view of friendship, you should also try to be there for your friends while in a crisis. 

If you apply this idea to practice, you may conclude that the wealthy may struggle with their friends. People will always be available when there are free meals and parties. This is not a valid test. But only in times of crisis can you figure out which relationships are worth cultivating. 

[On a personal note, I’ve been grappling with building my new course and coding almost everyday. If you want to know my views on the economy, I guess you should be attending my course previews for now. ]