This Incredible Journey

In October of last year I made the decision after seven and a half exhilirating years at Morgan Stanley that I was going to start my own boutique firm.  Two months ago I resigned as a Managing Director and Senior Portfolio Manager at Morgan Stanley, and fifteen minutes later stepped into the temporary office space at 4695 MacArthur Court I had secured for the month of April to begin transitioning my business.  The six months in between the decision to go and the actual moment of departure were amongst the most stressful, busy, anxious, and taxing months of my life.  The two months since we made the actual break have absolutely been the most stressful, busy, anxious, and taxing months of my life.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I don’t often use this blog to discuss my personal work and my actual business, and I still won’t use it to disseminate my own investment worldview and counsel.  I will shamelessly plug my business website, www.TheBahnsenGroup.com, and would love for you to sign up there if you care at all about my Weekly Market Commentary or “AD HOC blog”.  I LOVE writing about the markets, and new found independence and freedom will allow me to write (1) Without handcuffs, (2) Often, and (3) With unlimited distribution.  I am not saying that as an employee of a large firm I had handcuffs, was limited in what I could write, and was limited in how it all could be distributed.  I am just saying none of those things will be true any more.  [wink]

But the purpose of this blog today is not to discuss investments, it is not to bemoan the deficiencies of large bureaucratic organizations, it is not to advocate for a fiduciary standard in how wealth management is delivered to clients, and it is not to pitch my new firm in partnership with the first class professionals at HighTower Advisors.  Rather, it is to provide any of you who care a brief pitch for chasing your dreams, not settling, and believing that it is okay for you to tie some of your identity as to who you are with what you do.

I am an investments guy.  God made me to manage two things: Clients, and money.  I believe in the core of my being that this is part of who I am.  Very few people even in my inner circle would believe how much I love the capital markets.  From the deeply challenging role of allocating asset classes for a client portfolio, to the hyper-detailed task of security selection, I have had absolutely no dimunition of enthusiasm for my chosen profession since the day I entered it.  I view portfolio construction as a task enjoyable beyond my wildest dreams, but then I view the task of getting to do so on behalf of actual real life people to be an accelerator of joy and existential purpose.   Running a hedge fund for no one in particular would be a lot of fun, but it would not be as meaningful as running real life money for real life people with real life goals.  It provides an incredible added layer of meaning and joy.  With that said, my passion for the business of managing clients and money has taken on new life these last few months, free of the hindrances a large bureaucratic  firm necessarily represented.  Whatever perceived comforts and advantages I enjoyed in the prior structure had to be risked for the upside opportunity to manage clients and money the way I want.  This was the risk I had to take, and in so doing I believe I have set myself up for two decades of client management and portfolio management unshackled from whatever could impede their successful enactment, and unshackled from whatever could suppress my joy and freedom.

Much of the preceding paragraph may only be understood by people in my business.  Much of it may be disagreeable to people in my business still scrambling to defend large and impersonal institutions (I can understand this).  But I am writing to say that apart from my business and my recent move, my broader point is that the pursuit of an optimal work environment – a culture in which you can fully thrive – is to be promoted and recommended at every opportunity.  When someone says that what we do has nothing to do with who we are, they not only have said something intellectually incoherent, they have said something demonstably false.  What we do is exactly who we are, even if what we do is to be defined more than just vocationally.  My journey has caused me to realize that this whole thing was never merely economic.  I have moved my bar of economic success higher so many times over the last twenty years I have lost count.  Economic success is likely a part of the journey for most people, but it is not synonymous with the journey.

For me, my journey has been about an insatiable desire to believe that i am living up to my full potential at something – anything – in my life.  I have had certain advantages in life of which I can claim no dessert (somehow my family got to grow up in Orange County instead of Mississippi, and because my dad taught at the schools involved I got to receive a private school education growing up).  I also have had to deal with some challenges in life (my mom took off when I was 15 years old and I have not seen her since; my dad died when I was barely 21 leaving me with the deathly fear that I would fail in life without a college degree).  Through a combination of some blessings and some hurdles, I entered grown-up life in my early 20’s penniless and parentless, but filled with a theological and existential commitment to productivity.  Twenty years later I am the humble beneficiary of a life and career that God has smiled upon, both because He loves me, and because I have tried to work tirelessly along the way.  I enter the next 20-year block of whatever God has in store for me with the business I should have assembled years ago (I say that only partially believing it – sometimes I think the right thing also has to happen at the right time, and for me the right time was now, not earlier).  I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything in the world, and I hope you won’t either.  Whatever your journey entails, and wherever you are on your journey now, may it be filled with an unwavering confidence in the legitimacy of your journey, the tools needed to see it through, and the grace of a loving God who cares about your work and calling as if He were sovereign over it all.  Because He surely is.