Short, But Sweet

I turned 50 last Friday. I had a great time Saturday night with friends and family. We drank some great wine (Lindstrom and Del Dotto cabernets) and had a fantastic meal, prepared by a guy I believe is the best chef for hundreds of miles around these parts. I’d never heard of Moroccan anchovies or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, but they’re both delicious. Over the weekend, I sat around and did little but play the guitar. It was a great 50th birthday celebration. I’m a really lucky guy.

It’s hard to nail down the most important thing I’ve learned in 50 years of living, but one thing I learned in my first year of college comes to mind before all the others. Longtime subscribers will remember that I’ve told this story before, but I think it bears repeating…

When I first began studying music in college, I found the work of Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach tedious. It put me to sleep. Just drop the needle on the record player, and if Bach was on the turntable, I’d be out in five minutes. Needless to say, if I was going to be a music major, I had to get over this.

Then, one day, I noticed everybody loved Bach but me. Every teacher and student was ultra-passionate about Bach. You could hear students and teachers alike struggling to play his difficult music in the practice rooms. I remember Reynaldo Reyes, a virtuoso pianist, telling me Bach was hard to play… but he also said it was worth whatever you had to put into it. It was that rewarding.

So I decided to suspend my doubt and listened to little else but Bach. Within weeks, I was hooked. I was soon learning some of his works on the guitar (even though it took months to gain competence on a simple three-minute piece).

Now, instead of putting me to sleep, Bach’s music energizes me. Sometimes, I play it at a low volume while I work. No other music helps me focus better. Most music distracts me while I read and write. Not Bach. It keeps me on task.

But that’s not the real breakthrough… The real breakthrough for me was that I could teach myself to fall in love with something I deemed worth falling in love with, and use that new found passion to gain some level of competence, or even mastery.

Bach once said of his great musical prowess, “Whoever is equally industrious will succeed… equally well.” You may doubt that, but I don’t. Bach worked constantly… similar to the way Steve Jobs worked… or the way Warren Buffett works. They fostered a love for their craft and kept at it in a focused manner. I think anyone can do this, if they’ll only believe it long enough to keep working to gain competence and, eventually, mastery.

As a child, I never demonstrated any musical talent. I didn’t have much of an ear at all. But I loved it and kept at it. Eventually, I got a college degree in music, played in music theatre orchestras, and even once played in an opera at the Kennedy Center under the direction of Placido Domingo.

Similarly, I knew little about investing back in the 1990s. I’d spent years playing music and doing theatre. I couldn’t hold onto a dollar to save my life. But now, if I stopped working tomorrow, I’d never have to worry about money again because of what I’ve learned about investing. And I started out with investing the same way I started out with Bach… trying to stay awake!

Love is what’s most important in life. Doing what you love, being where you love, and with whom you love. Developing a method for falling in love with any worthy pursuit has helped me lead a really fulfilling, wonderful life. That’s one of the greatest secrets I learned in my first 50 years. I hope passing it along to you has some value for you.

[Ed. Note. Dan Ferris edits the 12% Letter from Stansberry Research. It is a monthly investment advisory with one clear objective: To help subscribers collect a steady, reliable “paycheck” (in the form of dividend payouts and fund distributions) and earn a safe 12% return every year. Click here to learn more.]