Why Focusing on the Long Term is More Important Than Ever
Look at the photo above. See that road in the center that cuts through the mountain ridge? The history behind that road is one of the most remarkable tales of human perseverance, yet you have probably never heard it.
The story starts in 1960 in the town of Gehlaur in the north-eastern part of India. In order to get supplies or seek medical treatment, the villagers of Gehlaur would have to walk a treacherous 30 mile (50km) path around the mountain ridge pictured above. Phaguni Devi, one such villager, was walking along the ridge one day when she fell and injured herself. Upon hearing of his wife’s injuries, Dasrath Manjhi decided that the villagers of Gehlaur had walked around that mountain ridge for long enough. Determined to change this, that same night Dasrath told himself that he would carve a path through the mountain.
Starting in 1960 using only a hammer and chisel, Dasrath started cutting away at the ridge. When the local villagers heard about Dasrath’s goal they mocked him saying that it would be impossible. However, this didn’t stop him. Over the course of the next 22 years Dasrath chipped away at the mountain to carve a path that was 360 feet long (110m), 30 feet wide (9.1 m), and 25 feet deep (7.6m). In total he moved over 270,000 cubic feet of rock by himself, day by day, night by night, finishing the path in the early 1980s and earning the nickname “Mountain Man.”
In creating this path, Dasrath Manhji was able to reduce the travel distance between the neighboring villages from 34 miles (55km) to 9 miles (15km) in order to provide easier medical access for the village residents. Sadly, Dasrath’s wife, who was the inspiration for his mission, died a few years before his work was complete.
If you search “Dashrath Manjhi Breakthrough” on Google Maps and go to Street View you can find the final product of his two decades of work:
I tell this story because it illustrates one of the most important things in both investing and in life — great things take time. I know you have probably heard this idea 100 times before. However, my goal isn’t to convince you of the power of compounding or why you “need to invest for the long term.” I know you already know that.
My goal is to remind you how important long term thinking is in a society that is dominated by instant gratification. Without even realizing it, we are constantly being bombarded with messages that make us focus on the short term:
- Need a driver now? => Uber/Lyft
- Need stock advice now? => CNBC
- Need entertainment (or social validation) now? => Instagram/Twitter
These messages are everywhere, and they are impacting our behavior. Ian Cassel wrote this great article in 2015 that showed how the average holding period for stocks by Americans had been decreasing over time from 8 years in the 1960s to 6 months in 2010. As for Warren Buffett’s average holding period? 20 years.
Of course the decline in the holding period of stocks is not completely due to the “instafication” of our culture. However, don’t you find it at least a little coincidental that the newest asset class (cryptocurrency) is premised on the idea of getting rich quickly? Why get 5% a year (and wait) when you can get 20%+ a month, right?
I tell you this because you have to remember to focus on the long term in a world that has become used to having everything now. Whether its your career, your family, your health, or anything else worthwhile, take a step back and realize that it takes time. So when the CEO of the company that can ship you any item in the world in 2 days flat is always talking about the importance of long term thinking, maybe you should listen…
Build Your Fire
I used to think that most of my early 20s was “wasted time” because I did nothing productive outside of my career. However, looking back now I realized that I was consuming information that would eventually help with this blog. The information you consume will likely one day provide you with some benefit, you just don’t know where yet. It just takes time.
The analogy I like to use is building a fire. Most of your life you gather firewood. It’s not useful by itself, but it has potential. You keep gathering. You keep storing away information, memories, thoughts, opinions. You do this until one day you get a spark of inspiration and decide to start a fire. Your fire starts small. A few people see it, but most ignore it. You keep throwing more logs on the fire and it burns brighter. Maybe more see it and take notice, but it’s still mostly unknown. You keep at it day by day, night by night until you have a roaring blaze. Then they can’t ignore you. Build your fire.
I had my first truly viral post last week. It was post #71. Don’t forget posts 1–70, because I won’t forget all of the great readers like YOU that helped me get here. Great things take time. Thank you for reading!
This is post 72. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data