The Benefits Of Being A Short-Term Optimist And A Long-Term Pessimist

Morgan Housel calls it managing a “barbell life.” We have the things we are optimistic and pessimistic about. We have the things we want to do and the things we have to do. They all require a balance. While the natural tendency might be to find a balance between good and bad in time, Housel says the real advantage is figuring it out over time. Like a barbell with two weighted ends, we can look at anything look side to side, and forwards to backwards.

Housel took a flier on a chance with a writing job years ago. He had no qualifying experience to build on and only had loosely set foot in the finance industry. But, a year and ton of digital ink later and he’s one of the most influential writers in the space. Barry Ritholtz, in a Masters In Business interview, said the bet to “just go be a writer one day” seems like it was an awfully big risk. Housel’s response was he also had nothing to lose. There’s that barbell again: a short-term risk with limited downside in time, unlimited upside in exchange for minimal harm over time.

Career paths have short and long-term risks. In the short-term, anything can happen, good or bad. If we wall off all of the bad, we might keep the good out too. Housel giving writing a shot was giving luck a chance early on. Now, reading and researching into possible dead-ends serves the same purpose. Sometimes there’s gold, sometimes there’s not, but the variations keep things interesting. Over the long-term, these little decisions compound. A few pages today is a book later on. Luck and skill have their own way of compounding. We tend to that stack with our habits.

These two relationships, Skill:luck and short-term:long-term matter. Whether it’s for ourselves or those we serve, we need to stay mindful of how they combine and relate. If we get too stuck on one side of the barbell, we’ll end up stuck overall. Housel’s approach is simple and smart. Be a short-term optimist who is open to new ideas and options, and a long-term pessimist who is mindful of protecting the stack being built. Get the balance right, in and over time, and keep making progress.