The Past Doesn’t Matter: What Surviving a Warzone Can Teach You About Finance

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Before I lost my damned mind and walked away from a cushy six-figure paying tech job to travel the world and learn the secrets of successful rich people, most of the travelling I did was to and from a little city called San Jose, California, commonly known as Silicon Valley. Most of the time I visited, I spent my time in conference rooms, eating expensive tacos, and drooling over the newest Tesla model that just came out.

And on one of my visits, my entire outlook on life changed. Let me explain.

I was still a few years away from retirement and I had just changed teams at work. I was flying in to meet my new Director, a guy by the name of Mario. And even before I met him, I knew there was something up with this guy. Mostly because try as I might, I just could not dig up any dirt on him at all!

Not that I didn’t try. Like with most people, when a new boss comes in, the first thing I did was ask around. What’s he like, what’s his deal, is he a raging psychopath, you know. Standard stuff. But this time when I did it, to my absolute shock every single person had nothing but good things to say. Sales liked him, Customer Support thought he could walk on water, Corporate gave him a thumbs up, and even the other engineers respected him. When was the last time those 4 groups agreed on anything?

And when I met him I could see why. Turns out he was known in the Valley as kind of a “Fixer.” When shit hit the fan, and your chips weren’t working, and customers were screaming bloody murder, you’d send Mario in. And so when I got a chance to see him in action, I paid attention.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in this situation: A project’s on fire, nobody knows what’s going on, and management doesn’t have a clue how to get out of it. Worse than that, people are just wasting time calling pointless meetings and finger-pointing, desperately trying to save their jobs by making sure someone else gets blamed when the heads start to roll. Sound familiar? I thought so.

So here’s what Mario would do: He’d come into the room full of people squabbling about who fucked up, or who should have done what, and he’d just go

Guys, it doesn’t matter. It literally doesn’t matter what went wrong. What do we do now?

And it worked. Immediately, everyone shut up, sat there silently as their brains slowly switched from “politician mode” back to “engineering mode.”

Engineer: “Well, we need to know whether the issue is in the mask or the metal layer.”

Mario: “How do we find out?”

Engineer: “We’ll run a full-chip sim.”

Engineer 2: “Why didn’t we run the damn sim before we went to production?!?”

Mario: “Shut up. Doesn’t Matter. Can you run it?”

Engineer: “Sure.”

Mario: “Great. Do it.”

And that’s what he kept doing. Every time someone started to dwell on the past and start to lay blame, he’d shut it down and keep everyone thinking about the next move. Even if that person was his boss. Even if that person was the CEO. And the strange thing is, at the end once the crisis was over the people who were previously at each other’s throats would be patting each other on the back for pulling together.

So knowing a good idea when I see one, I courageously stole it and starting doing it myself, both at work and at home. And like with Mario, it worked like a charm. So for example, when the Mrs. and I would get lost on our way somewhere (a frequent occurence when you’re travelling the world), rather than devolve into “You should have downloaded the map!” or “You should have reminded me to download the map!”, we’d just go “Doesn’t matter. What do we do now?” And like that, we’d be on our way again.

It’s such a deceptively simple trick, but something so profoundly useful because it immediately stops you from dwelling in the past and starting solving the actual problem. I’ve spent countless hours listening to countless people complain about their own personal money problems, and the number 1 reason people give for not changing is because they can’t stop dwelling in the past.

“Oh, I can’t. I’m in too much debt.”

“Oh, I can’t. I picked the wrong degree.”

“Oh, I can’t. I’m too old to change.”

I get it. You’ve made mistakes. Literally ALL of us have made mistakes. The difference between really successful people and everyone else is that they, like Mario, don’t spend time moaning about what could’ve been. They spend that time fixing the problem instead. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve tumbled as long as you never stop climbing.

So repeat after me. Look into a mirror if you’re reading this in the bathroom, or are perhaps starring in a Lifetime movie.

It doesn’t matter what went wrong. What do we do now?

About a year later, I had the chance to meet up with Mario again in San Jose, and after gushing about how brilliant his technique was, I asked him “How in the world did you learn that?”

His reply: “It’s simple. I grew up in a war-zone.”

Despite his Italian-sounding first name, Mario is actually Lebanese, and from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s, Lebanon’s history can be summarized as a mixture of “horrible civil war” and “horrible regular war.”

So…not the best vacation spot, is what I’m saying.

And, as Mario explained, when a cluster-bomb takes out the top half of an apartment building, or a car-bomb goes off in a marketplace full of your friends and family, you don’t have the luxury of dwelling over the past. Questions like Why did we have to come to the market today? or Why did we choose to live in this neighbourhood instead of that neighbourhood? become utterly meaningless when everything’s literally on fire. In that environment, you only have two choices: Pick up a bucket and help put the fire out, or stand there and watch more people die.

Fortunately, Mario’s family eventually managed to escape that hell-hole and emigrate to America. Now, the only bombs he has to deal with are of the Jager-induced variety. But those experiences shaped him into the person he is today.

One of my favourite parts of post-retirement is getting to travel around the world, meeting exceptional people, and learning about what experiences they had that made them they way they are. And the more I do it, the more I realize that the more experiences I collect, the more everyone can benefit. Mario’s experiences and the lessons he learned did not come easy, to say the least. But those lessons we can learn as well if we just know where to look.

It doesn’t matter what went wrong. What do we do now?

Because I met Mario back there in San Jose, I’ve learned that lesson. And because you just read this, now you have too.



image: bnpositive @Flickr 

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12 thoughts on “The Past Doesn’t Matter: What Surviving a Warzone Can Teach You About Finance”

  1. “I get it. You’ve made mistakes. Literally ALL of us have made mistakes. The difference between really successful people and everyone else is that they, like Mario, don’t spend time moaning about what could’ve been. They spend that time fixing the problem instead. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve tumbled as long as you never stop climbing.”

    One trait of responsibility is optimism, if you are optimistic, you will never stop looking for solutions.

    Safe journeys comrade.


  2. Wanderer, great lesson! I can relate to your story – not only because I’ve seen similar situation countless times, but because I think I know the Mario you’re talking about. Did you work for a company whose name starts with “A” and recently got acquired by a company whose name starts with “I”? 🙂

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  4. The past does not matter because in all wars there are winners and losers. In fact, every war is a zero-sum game — every gain for you is another loss for your enemies. The only exception is when you fight an asymmetric war where both sides have a similar level of technology, so that one side can potentially win by out maneuvering his opponent. I always like to visit website for help in my essay. If you’re alive after a war, then the past doesn’t matter because it has been erased from your memory and replaced with the present moment and what needs to be done next. This means that whatever lessons you learn from surviving are going to be very different than if you were killed before learning anything useful.

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