My biggest regret: that I spent all of 2002 pacing around, stressed out of my mind, stressed over every trade, over every little downtick or uptick in my bank account, over whether or not I was going to be able to sell my Ground Zero-based apartment, over whether or not I was going to go dead broke with one kid in the family and another on the way. I'll never have that year back. I slept in a bedroom by myself so it would be easy for me to wake up and pace in the middle of the night or wander around outside. I lived in a constant state of fear. I wish I could have that year back, even if it could be tacked onto the last year of my life.
Another time: 2 years later, things had already worked out from 2002. But now I needed them to work out again. I was helping an investor of mine sell his company and I would benefit from it. He had just finished telling me on the phone about how his wife peed on him the night before. When you have a big investor you sort of have to listen to everything he says and just say, "wow, cool." His wife, 20 years younger than him, blonde, then grabbed the phone from him and said, “he should NOT have just told you that” and then gave the phone back to him, neither confirming or denying. He then said to me, “I should ask for $60 million, not $40 million for my business.”
Why did he say this? Just a few months earlier he couldn’t get $10 million for his little mental health business, and now my partner and I had gotten him an offer for $40 million (for his mental health hospital for kids). How we got him an extra $30 million (cash, I will add) will be the subject of another story, titled, “how to make a man $40 million who is regularly peed on by his wife”. I got stressed then. That night I couldn’t sleep. I needed this deal to go through. I once again had that familiar feeling of the blood going through my body. I could feel every pulse. I felt I could slow my heartbeat down to zero, and then I would be dead. I was lying in my youngest daughter’s bed, because both my daughters slept upstairs with their mother. So, as was usually the case back then, I slept in a pink bed surrounded by barbie dolls, stressed out of my mind. Until I would pace again at 4 in the morning.
The next day I called my investor, “put your wife back on the phone.” His wife got back on the phone. I said, “imagine that a teenage girl commits suicide in your hospital. Your value is now $0. And that can happen any day. Also, imagine having to do for the rest of your life the job you just did yesterday.” The man’s wife had cleaned shit off the walls of a room where a patient had decided to do a painting with his excrement. So now we have shit, pee, $40 million, etc in two paragraphs. She conferred with my investor after that and he stopped asking for the $60 million. They closed on $40 million for their hospital a month later. But that’s another story.
Let’s get back to 2002 for a second. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I needed my house sold. But until then, the stress was unbelievable. And then I had a second child born. She was really an ugly baby. So now I was going broke, I was stressed out of my mind. Worldcom went bankrupt (I owned shares), and my new baby was ugly as sin. I would take long walks completely circling ground zero. This was going on for an entire year. Nothing helped. I was stressed out of my mind.
One time I tried to get a loan but the loan officer sort of looked at me and my situation and said, “we can’t do this type of loan at this time.” Why not? I only wanted a million or so. Why couldn’t they lend it to me? But I never got an answer. Maybe if I had worn a tie.
Meanwhile, other people I had vaguely bumped into in the street years earlier were calling me asking if THEY could borrow money from me. As a collective, we all needed a little more money or we were all going broke. It wasn’t a good situation to be in. Sometimes Ylon would come over and we’d play backgammon. He just sold his apartment. “Dude,” he said, “I have more money than you!”
So my biggest regret: why did I worry at all? It all worked out in the end. I could’ve spent the entire year just relaxing and enjoying my apartment, my new little baby, I could’ve read books, written a novel, started an Internet business. Instead, I wasted so much time and energy being anxious. The stress took years off my life. I can’t even imagine physically having that stress again. Stress is releated to cancer, heart disease, strokes, alzheimers, inflammation of the body.
Fortunately, I am the expert now in stress. I have a PhD in stress. I’ve lost all my money, I’ve fought hard to make money back, I’ve had people die on me, I've built businesses that have failed, I’ve built and sold businesses. I know stress.
Here’s what you do when you are experiencing stress. You must follow this advice. Or die:
- Pray. In 2003, if I was nervous about a trade I’d go at about 7 in the morning to the church across the street from where I lived. I’m Jewish and I’ve spent time meditating, but I had never prayed. But in 2003 I prayed. When you pray the key is to lean down, because then your body knows you are being humble. And then be thankful for what you have. Think of all the things you are grateful for. Just do this for five minutes. Its the easiest meditation. Then ask for anything you want.
- Write. This is not joke. if you don’t write every day your idea muscle atrophies very quickly. And it takes months to rebuild. Here is what I do: I go to webrestaurantsupplies.com. I buy 100 waiter paids for $10. 10 cents a pad. I then fill 3 pages of ideas a day. At least. This stretches your mind. Make lists of ideas. Lists of new potential clients. Lists of emails you have to send. List of articles you want to write. Businesses you want to start (with specifics how to start it), lists of reasons you love your wife or kids. But you have to stretch your mind. FEEL the stretch. It hurts. But you have to write every day. What I find is, things start to happen if you do this for a month or so.
- Play games. In avoidance of the “get ready for school” routine that occurred in my house every morning at 6 in the morning I used to escape the house before everyone woke up and play scrabble with my cohorts every morning at the local cafe, (The Foundry, in Cold Spring). I memorized all the two letter words. I memorized all the “q” words with no “u”. I memorized the several hundred or so easy 7 letter words (my favorite, that I was actually able to use, “etesian” and it was of course challenged and I won). This kept my mind off of my stresses and put that energy to better use.
- Basketball. At 5am, when the sun was rising I’d go out to the local basketball court in a field right next to the Hudson River. I’d shoot baskets until I was sweating profusely (about 45 seconds). Its good to sweat. Releases toxins.
- Swing in a swingset. There was a local children’s playground a few blocks away. After basketball I would swing. Your brain sits in a sea of cerebellum fluid. When you swing, that fluid swirls all around. Your brain doesn't stress then. It says, "wheeee!" No matter how old you are.
- Go to a museum. In 2002, in the afternoons sometimes I’d got a museum. You can easily get lost in someone else’s creativity. In 2008, when the financial world was collapsing at the same time my marriage was collapsing I used to go the museum “Dia”. They would have these several hundred foot long exhibitions. I could disappear for hours in those. And then sit in the cafe reading books about the artists. When It was dark I would go home, my mind awash in all the genius and creativity I had witnessed.
- Friends. I would love to take walks with friends that had nothing to do with the markets. People I could just talk to.
- Comics. I had about ten boxes of comics packed away from when I was a kid. Reading them would remind me of the stories that I loved so much when I was younger. I never knew stress when I was a kid. So it was good to be reminded of those times.
- Sleep. I never slept more than 3 or 4 hours at a time. Sleeping for 8 hours reduces stress. Several times I would try a routine sleeping from 4-8 in the morning and 4-8 at night. So I would get in my 8 hours but it would be irregular. It worked in a grad school but was hard to work as an adult. But you need 8 hours to be healthy and avoid stress.
- Charity. A couple of times I folded envelopes for “City Harvest” a charity in the city. I had a flirtatious thing going on with the other envelope folder. Charity, when done right, reduces stress. I wasn’t necessarily doing it right. I wanted to brag about how stressed I was.
- Delegating. If you could hire people and get them to do what you are stressed about, this quickly reduces all stress. When you are building a company, the key is to know when to hire that first secretary, that first project manager, that first programmer. Once you break that hiring virginity, the rest is easy, and life is better. Until you have to meet payroll. But thats another story.
- No TV. TV is all stress. If you are serious about reducing stress and making your life better, no TV.
- No drinking. Drinking is a depressant. At the end of the day, we want to be happy. Not depressed.
- Light dinner. You know that feeling when you’ve had a heavy dinner? Like steak, fries, dessert, wine snack later while watching TV. And then sleep. And then how you feel the next day? That won’t help you make your life better.
- Shower. It feels good to be clean. I’ve gone a week or two without showering. Nobody around me was happy with this. And I wouldn’t change my clothes. I’d walk up and down Main Street in the town I lived in, a half beard on my face, unclean, an earpiece in my ear so I can talk to my business partner, and I’d be muttering and gesturing since we were usually in intense conversations about our favorite topic: money, and people would actually call my house and wonder if medical attention was needed. Better to shower in the morning to be fresh for the day, and shower at night, to clean away the grime of the day.
- Teeth. Similar with brushing teeth. After every meal and before you go to sleep and when you wake up. How come? A) avoids bad breath. B) avoids infections. An infection in your teeth can hit your brain or heart with you realizing it. Then you are in trouble!
- Clean desk. Some people are proud of a cluttered desk. It means they are working hard. But cluttered desk equals cluttered mind. I’m not an organized person by nature. But I always feel better when I have a clean desk. Worst case: hire someone to come over and clean your desk every few days.
- Lists. List the things you did yesterday. Even small things. Include all emails you send and phone calls you made. You did more than you thought.
- By 8am you should have a list of small to-dos you need to accomplish today. Send out 10 emails that all advance your career by noon today. 10 thank-yous or 10 “can I help” emails. You’ll feel you accompished a lot on the day. This works.
- Quit. If you are still stressed, think of something drastic to do with your life. Quit everything you are doing. At least entertain the idea - what else can you do? You might not be ready or capable of making a big change (yet) but start the “quit muscle” thinking of what you can do.
- Fly a kite. Its different. Nobody can call you while you fly a kite. You’re looking at the sky the whole time the kite is in the air. You have to run to get the kite going. You have to focus to get the kite unraveled. Its the perfect meditation. Its like yoga. And then when you are sitting there watching the kite you have to remain competely focused or it will fall.
- Make a blog, “10 things I love about my wife”. Go to blogger right now. Make a new blog. Come up with 10 things you love about your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/children. This wll take ten minutes. Use google images to come up with a fun image for each item. Surprise her.
- Don’t talk to people who are stressing you out. You need a vacation from them. The airplane is going down, You need to put the gas mask on your self first even if means your kid is suffering from a painful suffocation.
- Read a spritiual text. I made sure I did this every day. Here are some go-to texts. You only need to read a page or two. The Tao Te Ching. Anything by Chuang Tzu, Quotes of Buddha. The Bible. Pema Chodron’s books. Karen Armstrong’s book on the Bible.
- Help someone with their problems. Even though you might be stressed, sometimes we find the ability to dig deep when someone we feel compassionately about is having a problem. That ability to dig deep is hard and is also a muscle that needs to be exercised. Use it or lose it!
I was in the room when my investor got the $41 million cash wired into his account. He was so happy. His entire life had just changed and the lives of his descendants. Everyone was smiling. The wife forgot to thank me but thats ok. She would never have to clean shit off walls again, My friend said lets talk tomorrow and drove off. Over the next year he became very good at golf. The lawyers and accountants all drove off. My car service was late so I was standing in the parking spot by myself. The sun went down and it was dark. I had made some money on the deal also. Once again everything had worked out. Once again all the stress was for naught. Once again I had wasted about five months worrying.
I was scared, though. Because I'm an addict. And I knew the next morning there would be new things to stress about. And so I felt sad because I knew something was wrong with me. That no matter what good things were happening I had to find something to worry about. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Sometimes, tomorrow is just another day. Thank god its today.