Did It My Way

Michael Flack

“I DON’T LIKE BEING too much of an example for people who just want to make money. If you wrest a fortune from life by buying little pieces of paper, I don’t think that’s enough. I never consider it enough of a life to merely be shrewd at picking stocks. If you’re good at just investing your own money, I hope you’ll be good at something more.”

What Charlie Munger, the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said at the company’s 2015 shareholder meeting could be useful advice to most investors. I do, however, appreciate the irony of this advice coming from a man who is known almost entirely for “buying little pieces of paper.”

It’s much like when Donald Trump said, “Part of being a winner is knowing when enough is enough. Sometimes you have to give up the fight and walk away, and move on to something that’s more productive.”

For too many years, I spent too much time trying to beat the stock market, reading Value Line, Barron’s or, even worse, Investor’s Business Daily, all part of my efforts to find undervalued companies that would lead to increasing dividends, investment riches and, of course, bragging rights with others who are similarly afflicted.

I’ve had a few scores. Master limited partnerships, Central Securities Corp. and Illinois Tool Works immediately come to mind. But after a while, I just lost the drive. Annual reports, which I previously found just boring, have now become insufferable. I’d rather get a root canal than read one more footnote regarding the Society of Actuaries’ new mortality improvement tables. I found my time better spent researching the Second World War, planning travel and sleeping.

One of the best books I’ve ever read, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, posits that those who join mass movements, such as Nazism, communism or the French Revolution, come from a cross-section of society: the misfits, the outcasts, the selfish and the sinners. Specifically, those who tend not to join mass movements are the “artisan skilled in his trade…. Nothing so bolsters our self-confidence and reconciles us with ourselves as the continuous ability… to see things grow and develop under our hand.”

Simply put, I have found producing or repairing a physical product far more satisfying than 100 spreadsheets. I have always respected those who work with their hands—people like the auto mechanic, the carpenter and, of course, the plumber.

This all came back to me when I was recently informed by my wife that hot water was now coming out of the cold water faucet in our bathroom. “That’s odd,” I thought, “did someone break in last night and replumb our home?” So I did what any man not schooled in the art of pipe sweating would do. I asked the internet. It took a while, but eventually I realized I had what’s known in the trade as a “crossover.”

Crossover in most residential homes comes from an issue with a single handle valve, like the one in your shower or kitchen. The thermostatic mixing valve or the pressure balancing valve fails and allows hot water to leak into the cold water piping. This can lead to scalding issues in the shower and excessive hot water consumption.

After using some Holmesian logic, and by looking three feet to the left of the bathroom sink, I determined the culprit was most likely the adjacent single handle shower valve. I won’t (excessively) bore you with all the details, but after replacing both the possible offenders—ever heard of the 50-50-90 rule?—the issue was resolved.

I can still remember singing the song My Wayspecifically the line “I did what I had to do, and saw it through without exemption”—the moment I realized the hot water now knew its place and was staying in its own pipe.

I won’t tell you how long all this took. But let’s just say it was the longest workday I’ve put in since I retired five years ago. I told my wife that I was now a professional contractor, as the job took twice as long and cost twice as much as estimated.

When I went to bed that night, freshly showered, the sense of satisfaction I had was unimaginable. Honestly, it had nothing to do with the money saved by not calling a plumber, although that didn’t hurt. While a part of it might have been the challenge to my masculinity, I think it was more the physicality of it. Something was palpably wrong, and I made it right.

The feeling of satisfaction was better than any stock market win. It was so good, I’m even looking forward to dealing with the next house-related issue. Not necessarily tomorrow though, but maybe later in the year.

Michael Flack blogs at He’s a former naval officer and 20-year veteran of the oil and gas industry. Now retired, Mike enjoys traveling, blogging and spreadsheets. Check out his earlier articles.

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