TCW x Brian Li: Chasing Gold

Friends, welcome back to TCW. Today, we’re very excited to feature a guest post by Brian Li. In an ambition-infused world, it’s important — no, essential — to take a step back and look at whether it’s “all worth it”. Brian is an Analyst at TD Securities, and enjoys spending free time pondering about life, career, and the meaning of it all.

There’s an old Chinese Proverb that speaks in light of human greed and ambition. The story revolves around a man who finds treasure and gold. He maneuvers and traverses across the deep sea on a small paddle boat, envisioning a life of glory and fame when he returns back home. Halfway through the journey, he realizes that the boat is slowly submerging; there is too much weight on the boat. Panicking, he begins to throw everything in the water, including his clothes, personal belongings, and portions of his rations. Essentially, he discards everything but the gold. The boat travels a bit further, but it was clear that it will eventually sink.

He frantically looks into the waters. “Maybe I can find some floating pieces of rope, build a small raft for the gold, and tie it to my boat,” he thought, but dismisses the idea in fear that a big wave might topple the raft and send the gold to the bottom of the sea. Agitated, he begins to search for nearby ships and starts yelling for help. He stops abruptly after a few wails and calls. “No, they’ll steal my gold or ask for some sort of compensation,” he suspected nervously. He was running out of ideas as the boat starts to fill up. He grabs a small bucket on the side and starts to fervently scoop water out of the boat. “I’m so close, I’m already almost there. I just need to keep scooping!” his mind was screaming. He was at least a 1.5 days away from reaching his village shores.

The man knew that if he got rid of his treasure, the boat will be afloat again and he would be able to return home safely. He rebuffs this idea and continues to scoop frantically. The boat begins to sink as he holds the bag of gold tightly against his chest. He cries and begins cursing aloud. In those last few seconds before he drowned, he achingly thought to himself, “I should have threw away the gold.” He refused to come to terms with this fact until the very last moment when it was already too late, ultimately sacrificing his life as the boat sinks due to his unwillingness to give up and relinquish these newfound assets.

The moral of the story is that nothing is more important than your life. Wealth is insignificant if you don’t get to utilize and enjoy it. From a rationalist’s perspective, this is an irrevocable truth. While the fable takes a more explicit approach to this concept, this is very much reflective in today’s society as well.

People become obsessed with the idea of success, a depiction formulated by mass media and societal culture. They slave away on overtime, grind for hours day after day, hoping to accumulate wealth and live extravagant lifestyles. This obviously takes a negative toll on personal health and it certainly strays one away from family, friends, and loved ones. One can say “We can work hard now, rest and rekindle our relationships after right?” Sadly, wealth cannot buy lost time. Economically speaking, as time passes by, the impact of feelings and relationships dwindle and diminish in effect. The feelings you had from an experience or a relationship 3 years ago will not be as vivid today. Would you be able to re-connect and gain back the friendship, the love, and the life you had before you embarked on this path to riches? Things don’t always sail smoothly, as in the case with the man on the boat. He prioritized on the gold because it paved the way for his future, but how can you have a future when you’ve sacrificed the present?

It’s really a strategy of short term losses for long term gains. The problem is that these “short-term losses” are subject to the snowball effect; they might not be temporary and they can drastically worsen. One can argue that it’s all worth the risk, and I can understand that. Everybody has their reasons and their stories. However, don’t fall for the bandwagon effect and hop on board because it’s the societal norm. It’s your life and you should prioritize on your own values, your lifestyle, and what you think is important. The price is high for many, but you are ultimately the merchant who sets it.

It’s difficult to stop what you are doing, splash some cold water on your face, and re-evaluate. You’ll have thoughts of doubt and anxiousness cross your mind, similar to the sailor in the story. Obviously, the situation isn’t nearly as dire as life and death and as such, you don’t have to make that U-turn. At the end of the day, you just have to ask yourself what you truly want and if it’s all worth it.

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