Some Things Are Best Done Slowly

2017-01-24T11:34:54+00:00 August 12th, 2016|

Kilimanjaro

Last month, my wife and I, together with eight great friends had the very challenging opportunity to hike up to the highest point in Africa, Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Uhuru peak is at 5895 metres above sea level and is also the highest free standing mountain in the world.  We had chosen to go up via the Lemosho route over 7 days.

In this blog, I would like to draw on some of the lessons we learnt doing the hike and how this may be used in thinking about investing.

Lesson 1: You have the capacity and capability of achieving much more than what you think your limit is.

  • Certainly all of us in the group and many others who have hiked up Kili (as she is affectionately known as), whom we have spoken to; have described this as one of the (if not the) most difficult physical challenge we ever had to endure. It required a deep mental resolve and determination in order to be able to summit.
  • Not only did we need to be physically fit, but we had to endure the elements: wind, dust, cold, altitude; and also the lack of modern conveniences like running water, flushing loos and warm beds.
  • So the lesson that I take away from this is that if you have the mental resolve, you can achieve much more than what you think your limit is. You just have to test yourself. Maybe you can do with a little less spending every month and use that to invest for the long term? Ultimately, it is only with some sacrifice and lots of endurance that you will be able to achieve your long-term investment objectives and aspirations.
  • Another lesson that I draw from this is that you will have to endure market conditions throughout your investment journey. At times, those conditions will be very treacherous, and you will have to be able to cope with this if you if you want to achieve your investment aspirations. When markets are treacherous, it will certainly test your mental resolve. This is when you dig deep and make sure that you are able to withstand these conditions in your investment portfolio.
  • In a previous blog, I talked about an investment club from the township that has achieved extraordinary growth (beyond each member’s wildest dreams) just through sheer determination and resolve. You have the capability of achieving much more than what you think your limit is.

 

Lesson 2: Some things are best done slowly.

  • One of the first things we learnt from our guides during the hike was the Swahili words ‘pole pole’. It literally means slowly slowly. Unless you are a super-being, with great athletic capabilities and you have the ability to cope with altitude, then the best way to summit Kili is by doing it slowly. Slowly slowly. Pole pole.
  • Our guides paced us at a slow shuffle from the first step on Day 1. Even though initially we could have walked at a faster pace, we were being trained to slow down, so that we do not run out of steam. Our minds and bodies were being conditioned to slow down, so that we can conserve energy and to allow our bodies to acclimatise to the altitude.
  • In our everyday lives, we are so accustomed to rushing to get things done and to meet our commitments. But if you rush on the mountain, you burn out very quickly and reduce your chances of summiting dramatically. Slowing down was hard for this Jo’burg kid at first!
  • With a moderate level of fitness, most people will be able to summit Kili if they pace themselves appropriately from Day 1.
  • Investing in many ways is the same. Take time to build up your portfolio. Acquire little bits of great companies over time and you will likely be more successful in your investing strategy. If you try to swing for the fences, you will likely burn out quickly. Remember what I wrote in a previous blog: It’s not timing the market but TIME IN the market!
  • Pole pole also implies that you need to take the time to develop your investment philosophy and approach, to study the businesses that you want to be invested in – read their annual financial statements, understand the industry that they operate in, who their management is and whether they have skin-in-the game.
  • Pole pole also means that you need to ignore the bombardment of ‘tips’ by so-called experts, ignoring the minute-by-minute or daily fluctuations in the market, not watching the screen all day, and not trying to react to every tweet or breaking news story.
  • Warren Buffet read the annual reports of IBM for 50 years before he started making an investment in the company. Only when he was convinced that this was a good investment did he finally decide to invest in the business. Now how pole pole is that for making an investment decision?
  • Personally, I will make some additional time for reading great books on subjects that interest me and also study company annual reports more rigorously.

 

Lesson 3: Eat, Hydrate and Focus.

  • We were also encouraged by our guides to eat when we still had an appetite, hydrate throughout the hike and lastly to stay focussed.
  • When you are faced a long and difficult task, you need to ensure that you have the right resources to carry you through and that you do have a high degree of focus on the task at hand.
  • In investing, this is similar. Make sure that you arm yourself with the knowledge to make the right investment decisions. Keep educating yourself about the market and the companies that you are invested in, so you don’t make rash decisions when there is a dislocation in the market.
  • Staying focussed on the task at hand allows you to attain your long-term goals and aspirations. There’s a famous saying by Lao Tzu that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I would like to humbly add that you need to take each step at a time – i.e. start with the first step and stay focussed on every step.
  • If you are in the fortunate position of having a regular job or income, then now is the time for you to nourish your balance sheet, by feeding it every month so that you can build up a reserve that you can use one day when you need it.

So there goes some really great lessons that I learnt whilst hiking up to Uhuru Peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro:

  • Your threshold is much higher than you think – test yourself!
  • Pole pole – some things can only be done slowly slowly by us mere mortals. If you don’t do it slowly, there is a very high probability of not meeting your objectives. If you do it slowly, there is a much higher probability of achieving more than what you thought yourself capable of.
  • Build up your resources because you will be needing it when things get much tougher. Stay focussed on the task at hand and give yourself the resources to stay focussed on every step.

My final words are of deep gratitude to my wife, my hiking friends, our guides and porters who made our hike up Kili possible, with great memories and full of wonderful life lessons.

 

Asante sana!