No Substitutes

There’s a scene in Good Will Hunting (which many people would be familiar with), where Robin Williams (R.I.P) says to Matt Damon (whole scene here):

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“..if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that…

Robin then goes on to say:

..You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help..

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I love this scene because it really captures that point in life where you start to live life by choice of experience rather than live within the safety net of books. It also highlights that no matter how prepared you are, there is no substitute for real life experience. Recently, I had two such moments where the themes Robin Williams’ character talks about, holds true.

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The first is my recent foray into the stock market. Generally speaking, the market has been fairly stable and I was able to make a little money. The ‘books’ (a very basic understanding of fundamental and technical analysis) had taught me right and there I was thinking this was easy. I could quit my job and live like Leonardo Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Then the hysteria of Brexit hit (my first encounter with irrational volatility and something all the books in the world can’t prepare you for). No matter what my rational brain told me, every fibre in my body was screaming at me to get out before I got royally f*cked. It also really didn’t help that I had bet on a ‘stay’ vote and tried to captialise on this by over leveraging myself. In the end emotions won out and I took a large capital loss that day.

Fortunately, I have been able to benefit from the depressed market and have since recovered my original position as the market recovered from this irrational behaviour. Hindsight can be such a bitch as if I had just rode out the storm, I wouldn’t have had to incur those capital losses (and transaction fees) and would even be slightly ahead of where I am now. To be fair though, I can’t substitute the experience gained from such an emotional roller coaster.

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The second experience came through work. A series of events (some expected and some unexpected) resulted in myself being appointed as Project Manager of a high profile project worth over 3/4 of a million dollars. I knew I was potentially climbing aboard a sinking ship but I had plenty of experience in the basic skills required to see the project through to delivery (although never on such a grand scale). However, once again knowledge and books can’t prepare you for when things start to turn to sh*t and you start getting beaten from all sides (including your own company!). Even the weather gods weren’t on my side and for the first time in my short career I thought I was going to thoroughly f*ck up.

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Fortunately, I kept my wits about me and managed to start solving problems. I used the knowledge and skills at my disposal and adapted to my surroundings. I even managed to talk myself out of the holes which I had unwittingly fell into. Now three months on, it seems like a bit of a walk in the park but like many a Disney hero who experiences heartbreak early on in their story, I was forced to learn some invaluable experience pretty quickly.

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Despite these two ‘moments,’ I’m still at the stage of my journey where I’m constantly transitioning back and forth between the safety of the books and the adrenaline of the life experience. That’s probably why I like to watch movies like Good Will Hunting every 6-12 months as some sort of reality check. It’s so easy to get caught up in the options you have in life, such that it’s just so satisfying to escape for 90 minutes and come out feeling inspired on the other end.

So to finish by quoting Robin Williams again; Your move, chief.

#Hanbaobao

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