The Importance of Knowing Yourself
I started drinking alcohol when I was 14 years old. It was the very first Friday night of my first week in high school. I headed to my friend Julio’s house because his parents were gone and my metalhead friends would be there. I arrived around 9pm to a sea of black shirts, long hair, and Bud Light. Lots of Bud Light. It looked something like this:
Within an hour I was 5 beers in and all 115 pounds of me was feeling it. This was my introduction to binge drinking. And though that night was uneventful, I had other drinking experiences that I am not particularly proud of.
There was the time my friends and I trashed a hotel room at the Beverly Hilton in Hollywood (all damages were paid for). The time I ditched school to go drink E&J Brandy all day with my friends. The time I came home black out drunk and my mother had to stay up all night to prevent me from choking on my own vomit. And that was just in high school. In college, it got worse. I binged almost every weekend and so did most of my friends.
I remember one time we played an Inception drinking game with Four Loko where every time they changed dreams in the movie you had to drink. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, let’s just say that the game gets exponentially more excessive as the night goes on. 148 minutes and two Four Lokos later, I was plastered. Despite being a drunken mess, I rode my bike home in what I remember as “the most enjoyable bike ride of my life.”
But, the next morning wasn’t so enjoyable. I had by far the worst hangover I had ever had. I remember trying to eat around 1pm and I couldn’t get the eggs from the fork to my mouth because I was shaking so much. Someone I didn’t know came over to me in the dining hall and asked if I was okay.
Despite all of this behavior, I justified that I didn’t have a drinking problem. Why? Because my drinking had no effect on my academic performance. One weekend in high school I would be at a heavy metal kegger with my friends and the next weekend I would pass my Advanced Placement (AP) exam with flying colors. Shot. Chaser.
Over my 4 years in high school I got straight A’s and was the valedictorian of my class. I got voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by my peers. Then I got a full ride to Stanford University where I got a 3.78 GPA. Upon graduation, I got a good, high-paying job in consulting. See, I have no problem, right?
But, how many hangovers were enough? How many embarrassing nights were okay? I saw my behavior starting to get worse after moving to NYC and I realized that I had to stop. So I quit cold turkey. I already know your next question: “Why don’t you just stop drinking after you’ve had a few drinks?”
Because I can’t. I know myself far too well. Once I have 3 drinks, it’s easy for me to justify a 4th. Once I have 4, it’s easy to justify a 5th. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more.
This is especially true in a group setting where everyone else is drinking and having a good time. Being out with my friends for 4 hours and I would throw down 8 drinks easy. Hangover secured. And this is without participating in group shots or any sort of drinking games.
But, the thing is that my struggles are nothing compared to those of others. I’m lucky because I am not an alcoholic. I have no dependence on alcohol and no urge to drink. I just get carried away when out with friends more often than I want to. I would say that 85% of my drinking experiences have been positive (no hangover), but 15% of them weren’t.
This is one of the reasons why I quit. The negative experiences (15%) weren’t worth the positive ones (85%). This is just like investing in a portfolio that isn’t right for you. If you can’t handle the gut-wrenching drawdowns (the 15%), then you shouldn’t be in that portfolio. You have to forgo the gains to prevent even more tragic losses.
This is the most important lesson I have ever learned: know yourself. Don’t let anyone decide who you are. Not the media. Not your family. Not your friends. Advertisers and society will tell you what to like, how to think, and how to feel. They will sell it to you wholesale. DON’T LET THEM.
And people will judge you for these choices. But, who cares? At the end of the day, they haven’t lived your life. They don’t know your experiences. They don’t know your story. So how could they possibly know what will work for you?
I can’t say with 100% certainty that I will never drink alcohol ever again. But if I do, I will do so with a system that works for me. I like to pride myself on being an objective, data-driven person. But, I’ve realized that most things in investing and life are subjective. You should invest a lump sum right away, unless you know you might panic. You should limit your drinking, unless you know you can’t stop…
Don’t Betray Your Gift
After thinking about all the foolish things I have done over the years, I realize just how lucky I am. Since I was a child I have had more advantages than most. I was born with intelligence, a great work ethic, and a very supportive family. These things made me who I am, yet I did nothing to earn them.
I have been like this my whole life. I was the kindergartener who finished his weekly homework packet on Monday though it was due on Friday. Then, on Thursday night, I helped the kids who procrastinated all week to finish their homework packets, which further reinforced my learning ($STUDY).
When I think about going out and getting drunk today all I think about is betraying this gift. Betraying my ability to make the complex seem simple. Betraying my data visualizations. Betraying my writing. Betraying the thing that makes me…me. So, whatever you do, don’t betray your gift.
If you are going through a struggle with drinking, feel free to DM me on Twitter. It was refreshing to hear from many of you after I announced that I quit drinking in February. Keep the messages coming. I will be back to my usual investment posts next week. Thank you for reading!
This is post 118. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data