What is Chasing You?

Ian Cassel Blog, Educational 21 Comments

At the turn of the 20th century a delicious white flaky fish known as Cod was gaining popularity. The fish was found in the North Atlantic and word quickly spread to the west coast. 

The question was, how could you get the cod fish across the country and still keep it fresh? 

At first they tried to freeze the fish and ship it by railcar, but when the fish arrived and prepared it was mushy and lacked flavor.

Then someone had the great idea of turning a railcar into a large aquarium and shipping the cod fish alive across the country. The fish would certainly stay fresh. But unfortunately, this was not the case. Even though it was transported alive, the cod was still mushy and tasteless. 

Finally someone studied the cod fish and discovered its natural predator was the catfish. They put a few catfish in each tank and shipped cod fish across the country. During the journey the catfish would chase the cod fish. When the cod fish arrived on the west coast and prepared it tasted fresh. In order for the cod fish to be fresh it had to be in an environment of catfish. 

“Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then, by God, do something. Don’t just stand there, make it happen.”

– Lee Iacocca

Don’t go through life just standing there. Fresh means being uncomfortable. Fresh means you are being chased. We all want to go through life anxiety free, comfortable, and letting life take us where it wants. But God, destiny, whatever you want to call it puts catfish in our lives for a reason. Because you run the fastest when someone is chasing you. You pray the hardest when something is after you. You go further, harder, faster when you are being chased. 

What is chasing you?  

In late 2008 during the financial crisis I decided it was time to cut the safety net of income and become a full-time private investor. This was a risky move, but it was something I had thought about every day since 2001. I waited for a bear market to test myself and the portfolio. A strategy that is tested is a strategy that can be trusted. 

I was 27 and single. I had the ability to travel light and travel far. I could live on a dime if I had to. I was never going to work for anyone. That fear is what chased me. It is amazing how disciplined you can become when your livelihood depends on it. 

I believe that when you go after your dream you burn the bridge behind you. You don’t burn relationships. You burn your plan B’s. Don’t underestimate what focused and relentless intensity can do to knock down any obstacle in your life. There is no plan B. You pay the price until your dream happens.

A few months later in early 2009, at the height of the crisis, a friend invited me to attend a cocktail party in NYC with a few prominent investors and fund managers. I remember I was able to book a room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC for $200/night. By comparison it was probably $800/night a year earlier. This was obviously a sign no one was spending money around the country.

I went to the cocktail party and I was one of twenty guests. It was mostly fund managers, analysts, etc. I think it was the last 20 people that still had jobs on Wall Street. What I remember from that night was getting into an argument with a fund manager. I told him I was a full-time private investor and he just looked at me like I was beneath him. He literally told me, “So I guess you weren’t good enough to keep a job.” I shot back quick, “You know what you call a fund manager? Someone that couldn’t support themselves on their own capital.” I left the party and enjoyed a $20 vodka tonic at the Waldorf. Drink prices didn’t change from a year earlier.  

Sometimes the biggest motivator is someone that disrespects you. I thought about that guy for years. Every day I would wake up at 5am motivated to crush it. Anger chased me. 

In late 2009 I met my wife. I like to tell her that this was “the peak of my net worth” in which I smile and she furrows her brow. She understood me and I think she was drawn to the fact I didn’t have a normal background. At parties she knew when to interject and change the subject when people asked what I did. It was too confusing and tiring explaining what I did for a living. I would say I was unemployed and they would quickly look at my wife with pity. 

When you support your family by managing your own capital it’s a different mental game. If you take a big loss managing other people’s money it hurts your bonus. If you take a big loss when you’re a private investor you hurt your family. 

Fear continues to chase me. A few times per week I wake up at 4am worried that someone might know more than me about a businesses I own. This might sound unhealthy but it isn’t. If you aren’t waking up in the middle of the night every once in a while thinking about what you own or what you could own you don’t have enough at stake. 

My wife lost her mother in 2012 to ovarian cancer. In 2013, one year later almost to the day I lost my mom in a freak car accident. It was a collision course of emotions that ultimately ended up focusing us on starting a family. In 2015, we had a daughter, and in 2018 we had our son. It also marked my 10 year anniversary as a full-time private investor. 

There is something about losing people you love and also having young kids that speeds up time. You start thinking about how your kids will view you once they are old enough to understand you. Will they see courage and compassion? Will they like what they see? If not, I still have time to change. Time starts to chase you. 

As you get older you start to think about the skills you have developed and how they could be used for something bigger than yourself. You start to see young people that remind you of you and want to support them and invest in them in time or resources. You realize you aren’t going to be remembered for what you did for yourself but for what you do for others. Your legacy starts to chase you. 

We are all being chased by something. That thing is put there for a reason. You weren’t put on this Earth to be average. You were meant to crush it in business and in your personal life. To be successful you need to wake up every day like something is chasing you. As you get older you are chased by different things. Winners have a duality of thinking and action. They have a short-term sense of urgency for action that is guided by their long-term goals. Action is always uncomfortable. Growth rarely happens from a place of comfort. 

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Comments 21

  1. A wonderful read……….I always enjoy your analysis, perspective and wit.

    My daughter played on the women’s tennis team at the University of Colorado. Her coach taught her players that the motivation was ‘not to lose’. Don’t focus on winning as the emotion of losing is much stronger and greater. I find that true in investing………I am a nonchalant winner but a bad loser……..I hate to lose.

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  2. Great stuff Ian. I can relate my wife still can’t explain what I do! You can’t evolve if you’re comfortable! Congrats on your success with your career and family. Cheers, Ron

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  3. Ian,

    This is your best piece to date. I used to fence Saber in College. My coach used to tell me;” Don’t think, just go”

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  4. Hi Ian,

    Thanks, this was a very thoughtful piece born out of the story of your life – you wove your personal experience through it. It’s original to hear things expressed this way, and it makes you think about what you are being chased by – for me it’s a push to get less comfortable, or to go all in, in order to win at investing.

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  5. Ian, you are so blessed to have the courage to do this! Coming from an army kid background, the quality of life was what was given to my sister and me along with the best of education that could be afforded!

    Subsequently, I built a life in the corporate world that helped elevate our living standards and in chasing that dream to give a better life to my family, I lost my father to an aneurysm! His constant repartee, maybe because he was an army officer and a pilot who had seen all the wars that India fought, was to be happy! His last conversation before the aneurysm was “Be fit and healthy and be happy”!

    So the desire to be Happy chases me! Financial freedom to a point gives me more time to be with my children and family but the chase changes as you age! What do you think, Ian?

    – Karthik Menon, Singapore

  6. Yeh I have this issue of explaining what i do to. Now i just say i’m a day trader, as people know what that is. Even though, we know the difference between trading and investing.

  7. Solid gold Ian. It takes a lot of courage to step out of the comfort zone and refuse to fail at whatever the challenge may be.

  8. Great read Ian. You have captured the significant shifts in your life through this article. One can see how you have evolved as a human being too. Stay blessed.

  9. Amazing read . Truly inspirational. Gives me courage to look at the catfishes that chase me daily in a new and constructive angle. Keep going Ian.

  10. Thanks Ian< Wonderful Article! I lost my wife to Cancer in 2016.. I understand the pain of losing someone yo you love. Time in the Market are tough!! They wont always be this way.. This too shall pass..
    All my Best

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      Thanks David. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I’m sorry to hear about your wife. We all go through life dealing with life’s struggles and it’s easy to feel isolated in the moment. But we are all dealing with the same things, and if not, it’s just a matter of time until we are. Same with the markets.

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