Saving Isn’t the Opposite of Spending

I often find myself saying no to spending money on something because it feels excessive, like no guacamole or the cheaper version of something small or not wanting to eat out. I could easily swipe my (debit) card and wouldn’t really notice the money go out of my account. But in the moment it just feels like I’m wasting money.

I thought for a long time that the opposite of not spending was saving; if “spending = money going out” then “saving = money not going out”. But the real opposite of going out isn’t staying in. The real opposite is going out the other way. For example, the opposite of movement to the left isn’t non-movement, its movement to the right. (Nod to Taleb’s Antifragile for making this clear to me.)

Anyway, the point of all this is that I found that non-movement isn’t rewarding. Not spending money wasn’t any fun and at the end of the month I didn’t know how much I didn’t spend or how much I had kept in my bank account. (After all, how do you measure non-movement?)

So, instead of saving by non-movement, I started saving by movement. Every time I didn’t spend something, I’d go on my banking app and transfer the amount I didn’t spend into an account I’d creating called “Investment Deposit.”

Decided to fill up my water bottle instead of buying an iced tea? Move $4 into the Investment Deposit account.

Skip dessert at dinner? Move $8 in.

Ate at home instead of out? Move $30 in.

As it builds up four, five, ten dollars at a time, I transfer what’s built up each month in my Investment Deposit account into my actual investment accounts.

p.s. I also calculate the future value of a dollar today and try to put things in future dollar terms to myself. The math for stock market investing is simple:

Future value = Current value X (1 + investment return rate) ^ number of years you invest it

With 6% annual return (pretty standard), $1 today equals $3.21 in twenty years. At an 8% return it’s $4.66 in twenty years. A penny saved spent into your investment account is about three or four pennies earned.


The 20 Books I’ll Read in 2018

2017 was a full year. Between graduation and the Army, I didn’t get in as much reading as I had hoped. That’s changing in 2018. I’ll have a much more normal schedule and can finally pick up books I’ve been wanting to read. Twenty books isn’t particularly challenging, but I think it’s about right considering what next year holds.

Here are the books I’m going to read in 2018:

1. Fighting Talk by Colin Gray — this modern version of ancient thinking, much of it based on Carl Von Clausewitz’s work, was shared by a friend at Officer Candidate School.

2. World Order by Henry Kissinger

3. Rational Optimist by Mark Ridley

4. William Tecumseh Sherman by James McDonough — another book shared by a friend at OCS, this biography on Sherman looks promising.

5. Principles by Ray Dalio

6. Do I Make Myself Clear? By Harold Evans

7. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

8. The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

9. The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse

10. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

11. Victory Lab by Sasha Issenberg

12. Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman

13. The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater

14. A Different Drummer by Michael Deaver

15. The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus by Susan Schiefelbein

16. Innovation Blind Spot by Ross Baird

17. Relentless Strike by Sean Naylor

18. Deep Work by Cal Newport

19. (Reread) Zero to One by Peter Thiel

20. (Reread) The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway — this is a classic and one I try to read annually.

Twenty books is an achievable number for 2018 and I can’t wait to read them.


Summiting Kilimanjaro

There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going. – The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemingway

A capstone of the MBA at Georgetown is the Global Business Experience – a semester-long course consulting project for an international company. We work for a few months from DC, spend a week in country with the company, and finish the semester with an extensive paper on the project and experience.

The trip is an opportunity to travel extensively because the airfare is a required part of graduation. We chose to spend the week before Global in Tanzania, hiking the highest peak on the continent: Kilimanjaro.

The Plan

Our time constraint of making it back to the airport in a week for our global project meant picking the Marangu Route. It is the fastest route, but not the easiest or most likely to succeed because there is little time to acclimatize ahead of the summit. The success rate on this route is just shy of fifty percent.

In the Google map below is the Marangu Route. We enter at the point marked A, the Marangu Gate. From there, we hike to point B, the Mandara Huts. The next day, we’ll hike to point C, the Horombo Huts, where we’ll stay the next day for a day hike to acclimate to the altitude. From Horombo we hike to the Kibo Huts, the final point before summiting the next night to point E, Uhuru Peak.

Day zero: Travel

We flew out of Dulles, near DC, on Friday afternoon. Troy and I had the same flight schedule and Nick, Norm, and Stephen had the a separate one. Between the five of us, we only checked one bag, which I thought was impressive but the suitcase was massive.

Troy and I flew into Zurich, about a seven hour flight. It was the first time in years that I had been served a full meal on a plane. On the flight I watched The Accountant. It was the first movie I can recall that had a man with a mental disability as the admirable lead character.

From Zurich we flew to Nairobi and slept most of the flight. Once we landed in Africa we exited the back left of the plane which I didn’t understand because there were jetways available. We found the rest of the group who landed just after we did and together boarded the last leg of the journey on a four-seat-wide propellor plane that took us the 50 minute journey from Kenya to Tanzania.

Once we landed, we gathered the luggage which surprisingly had made it through all the transfers and found our pick-up shuttle. The truly last leg of the trip was the 50 minute drive through the quiet night in an extended Toyota Land Cruiser. It was a typical African safari SUV and we fit inside without even putting luggage on top.

After passing dozens of small towns, some working gas stations and many broken ones, we arrived at Mountain Inn, close to our entry point to Kilimanjaro, Marangu Gate. Although it was nearly 1:00 am the staff graciously made us some food and we sat in the empty open-air restaurant listening to the familiar sounds of the night made by unfamiliar birds and bugs and frogs before turning in.

Day one: Mountain Inn

We had a day to adjust to the timezone and elevation before we started the climb at the small inn near Moshi, Tanzania. We spent the day mostly getting our gear organized and relaxing in the open air restaurant. The grounds were beautifully maintained and lush–a stark contrast to the surrounding area. The inn was owned by Indian immigrants and we were quickly impressed by the quality of the delicious food. This was a trend throughout Africa, especially on the eastern side of South Africa.

Day two: Sunday – Marangu Gate to Mandara hut

Distance: 4.3 miles | Elevation change: 2821 ft

At the hotel we loaded the rented gear into the duffel bags, packed our daypacks, and loaded into a long van that would take us the kms from the inn to the gate. We also met our guides who would see us at our best and worst over the next week and push us to the top of the mountain. John, the head guide, was a mid-40s man with a broad smile and, we would learn on the trek, children just entering University in Dar Es Salaam. Jonathan, clearly being groomed to be a head guide soon, was in his mid-30s and had a quiet demeanor. He’d stop frequently along the trail to point out fauna and wildlife. Samuel, was the third guide who seemed to be the least comfortable speaking English and often hiked quietly 15m ahead of us. There were many other porters and a cook but they were entirely out of our sight and group, hiking on their own each day.

At the Marangu Gate we waited for a bit of paperwork to be finished, the last great unconquered obstacle of man. A few hours later, we set off onto the trail which began in a lush rainforest, the first of Kilimanjaro’s climate zones. The rainforest would continue until about 10,000 ft elevation.

From left to right: Stephen, Norm, Chris, Nick, and Troy.

After a few hours of hiking, we stopped for lunch along a trailside creek. This was our first taste of the food we’d be eating for the next week. Included in lunch were two half sandwiches, one with butter and one with cucumber, a small orange, a lean chicken wing, a small banana, and a few pieces of potato. The hike ended an hour or two after when we came to the Mandara Huts.

View out into the lower elevations from the Mandara Huts.

We quickly settled in, had dinner and called it a pretty early night.

Day three: Monday – Mandara hut to Horombo hut

Distance: 6.8 miles | Elevation change: 2821 ft

As the sun came up the next morning, I was struck by the the morning clouds and the view into the lower lands but it was nothing compared to later in the trip. The hike continued into the beautiful rainforest.

Rainforest just outside the Mandara huts.

After only a few hours the landscape begins to change from this lush green to low alpine, mostly brush and some high altitude trees.

Mawenzi peak in the distance. L to R: Stephen, Norm, Troy, Chris, Nick.
Uhuru Peak on the left and Mawenzi Peak on the right.

On the trail, we’d play the movie game. I was terrible at it. Someone starts by saying the name of an actor. The next person has to say a movie that actor was in. The third person has to say another actor that was in that movie and the process repeats. It’s an ideal game for an odd number as the players rotate actor and movie each cycle. When that got boring we talked politics, women, and anything that allowed us to speak in short sentences between belabored breaths.

We arrived at the Horombo huts after the long hike tired and ready to eat and sleep.

Day four: Tuesday – Stay at Horombo hut

Distance: 3.1 miles | Elevation change: 0 ft

Today was an extra day we had planned for acclimatization. The early morning was stunning over the clouds below.

A panoramic view down from the Horombo huts.

Without a long hike in store, we slept in this morning and took our time at breakfast–a welcome break–before setting out on a few hour hike to Zebra Rock. The brief hike led us along a path that provided stunning views of Mawenzi along the way.

Mawenzi, hidden behind the clouds.
Zebra rock on a day hike during our acclimation day.

With the hike behind us, we settled in for a slow afternoon in the meal hall and played poker using trail mix as our chips.

Day five: Wednesday – Horombo hut to Kibo hut

Distance: 7.4 miles | Elevation change: 3215 ft

Today was another long hike as we proceeded up the mountain from the Horombo huts to Kibo, the final base from which we would summit the next night. Unlike the previous days, we hiked through high alpine zone and saw little vegetation and no wildlife save a few birds here and there.

As we hiked between the two peaks toward Uhuru, we had beautiful unfettered views of Mawenzi.
Panoramic view from an outcrop near the Kibo huts, facing Mawenzi.

We arrived at the huts and settled in for an early night. None of us were at 100% given the altitude and length of the hike that day. Unlike the other huts, which were individual and more private, Kibo was more like a barracks – a long hall with large rooms on each side with 10-12 beds in each one. As we were unpacking, three girls who just summited joined our room and quickly fell asleep. Their expressions and recounts of the experience were daunting but they all made it to the top so we felt both intimidated and comforted. We ate a bit and drifted off to a light sleep.

Day six: Thursday – Kibo hut to Gilman’s Point to Uhuru Peak to Horombo hut

Distance: 13 miles | Elevation change: 3,911 ft

We awoke full of adrenaline and energy at 10:45 pm to get dressed, pack our gear, eat, and depart at midnight. We dressed for the freezing but dry weather donning multiple layers of socks, undershirts, thick gloves and balaclavas under beanies. Since we were coming back to Kibo after the summit we packed only light daypacks for the night ahead and left the rest of the gear.

As we stepped out into the night, I took a moment to look up at the stars. Stretched out in front of me, unimpaired by light pollution or clouds was the most vast and stunning stretch of stars I had ever seen. It was an immensely contrasting feeling to feel both so capable that you’ve climbed the highest peak on the African continent and so small in context of the night sky.

We set out on the trail, climbing switchback after switchback, our headlamps illuminating the ground in front of us and not much else. Ahead of us up the mountain we could see strings of other group’s and their headlamps, an encouragement and reminder of the long way ahead. Our guides somehow began singing through the more difficult parts and we slowly passed the hours alternating between their voices and the quiet crunch of the rocks beneath.

We finished the switchbacks (or so we thought) and arrived at the last few hundred meters of more steep rock that we scrambled over. A few hours of that and we pulled ourselves over the last part and in front of us was Gillman’s Point, the first place that qualifies as the summit, but not the true summit. Kilimanjaro’s top is mostly flat, sloping upwards nearly a mile from Gillman’s Point to Uhuru Peak, the true highest point on the mountain. We walked with stunning scenery passing us – the remnants of a volcano long quieted.

The stunning view on the right side of our ascent.
The path ahead to Uhuru Peak on the summit.

On top of Kilimanjaro it was so cold that our Nalgenes and Camelbaks froze over and we had to wait for the sun to come out before we were able to drink again. Nearing the summit, a girl briskly walked by us on her way down and said, “You’re close! Ten minutes!” We took this encouragement to heart for the next twenty minutes until realizing she had undersold the rest of the hike and we still had another twenty minutes to go.

Finally, as the sun came up, we reached the peak, looking out to the horizon over an entire landscape of clouds that stretched before us with nothing obstructing our view except the sun’s bright reflection off the glacier.

In front of the famous Uhuru Peak sign. L to R: Stephen, Nick, Chris, Norm, Troy

We celebrated briefly at the summit, but in the early morning cold didn’t stay long before heading back. Under the aspiration of summiting, none of us were mentally prepared for the difficulty of the climb down. Not only the walk from the summit back to Gillman’s Point, but the grueling downhill gravel slide of the switchbacks. One of the girls in our hut had said it was like skiing and, in wide-eyed state we discounted the truth of that. Once we got to the switchbacks, we saw what had been invisible in the dark – an alluvial fan next to the path up. With bouts of high energy, one could truly ski down the fine rocks and make it down quite quickly. This was immensely taxing and was difficult to keep up for long so most of the trip down was a slow walk.

Once we made it back to the Kibo huts, we slept for a few hours and then pressed on to the Horombo huts. At this point the group was exhausted and moved relatively slowly. It took us a few hours to walk the rest of the distance down and once we arrived we quickly settled in and slept.

Day seven: Friday – Horombo hut to Marangu Gate

Distance: 7.4 miles | Elevation change: 2821 ft

Our final day was the long hike from Horombo to Marangu Gate, where we’d be picked up and driven back to the hotel. After the summit, a long night of sleep, and in increasingly oxygen-rich air, our spirits lifted and we moved quickly down the mountain, retracing our steps.

From the Marangu Gate we drove back to Mountain Inn and relished the hot showers – our first in a week. We reconnected with friends and family on the hotel’s wifi and spent the afternoon in the outdoor restaurant drifting between sleep, cold beer, and hot food. There’s no relaxation quite like that after summiting Kilimanjaro.


Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It

This essay is from a Patagonia catalog in 2004. This ethos has resonated with me lately as I’ve seen more and more of the inside of the business school classroom. I hope to do a lot more thinking about the future of our economy and consumerism in the next two years and come out with a clear philosophy and model of what could work.

They also took out ads in 2011 with the same concept:



Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It

by Yvon Chouinard & Nora Gallagher
Late Summer 2004

Near the headquarters of Patagonia, on the central coast of California, the Chumash Nation enjoyed a good life for thousands of years. They lived in small villages and possessed fur blankets, intricate baskets and soapstone pots decorated with shells. They painted elaborate abstracts in mountain caves. In every village were game-playing fields and sacred buildings. Almost every day, most Chumash enjoyed a cleansing sweat in the village temescal. In each village was a granary for stockpiling food that would later be distributed to those in need.

Chumash traded exquisite olivella shells for black pigment, honeydew melons, pine nuts, wild tobacco and various herbs and salt. By the 16th century, theirs was a complex society of hunters and gatherers with a far-reaching, sophisticated trade network.

Other nations along the western coast shared this life. Gerald Amos, a member (and former chief) of the Haisla Nation in Kitamaat, northwest Canada, recalls a friend of his father who would leave home in the dark to paddle to his trapline four miles by water. He would spend the day walking the lines, checking and resetting the traps. “Along the way back to the boat, during the late fall and early winter, the coho salmon would be still in the creeks that they passed, so they would stop at one of these creeks and take a couple of coho, which they would clean and pack home in their backpack together with what-ever animals they had taken in their traps. The fish provided them with their supper later that night.”

Such lives are often called subsistence, which brings to mind the barest, hardscrabble survival. But there is another way to look at them. At Patagonia we choose to call them “economies of abundance.” In an economy of abundance, there is enough. Not too much. Not too little. Enough. Most important, there is enough time for the things that matter: relationships, delicious food, art, games and rest.

Many of us in the United States live in what is thought to be abundance, with plenty all around us, but it is only an illusion, not the real thing. The economy we live in is marked by “not enough.” We once asked the owner of a successful business if he had enough money and he replied, “Don’t you understand? There is never enough.”

We don’t have enough money, and we also don’t have enough time. We don’t have enough energy, solitude or peace. We are the world’s richest country, yet our quality of life ranks 14th in the world. As Eric Hoffer, a mid-20th century philosopher, put it, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need to make you happy.”

And while we work harder and harder to get more of what we don’t need, we lay waste to the natural world. Dr. Peter Senge, author and MIT lecturer, says, “We are sleepwalking into disaster, going faster and faster to get to where no one wants to be.”

We might call this economy, the one we live in, the economy of scarcity.

Lest you think the economy of abundance is gone with the old Chumash, consider Europe. Europeans still buy only a few well-made clothes and keep them for many years. Their houses and apartments tend to be smaller than ours; they rely on public transportation, and small, efficient home appliances and cars. Europeans enjoy a 25 percent higher quality of life than Americans (while we consume 75 percent more than they do).

Or, look at the people of Bhutan, whose king insists on measuring “gross national happiness.”

Any person or nation can grow fatter and fatter, richer and richer, sleepwalking toward disaster. Or we can choose to remain lean and quick, wealthy in beauty and time and, that word that inspired our forefathers, wealthy in happiness.

In Patagonia’s environmental campaign this year, we looked at the plight of wild salmon and what it might take for us to become what Ecotrust calls “a Salmon Nation,” a nation of people who make choices that contribute to the health of whole watersheds and the economies of the people who live in them. A salmon nation is a nation of abundance, where people live in a way that fish can thrive. If you think this is an impossible dream, check out Seth Zuckerman’s essay “The Gift: Salmon Recovered”and learn how wild salmon rebounded in Alaska after the state employed sophisticated tools like sonar, stream bank counters and airborne spotters to ensure their salmon were not overfished. In the last two decades, commercial catches in Alaska have more than doubled.

At Patagonia, we are dedicated to abundance. We don’t want to grow larger, but want to remain lean and quick. We want to make the best clothes and make them so they will last a long, long time. Our idea is to make the best product so you can consume less and consume better. Every decision we make must include its impact on the environment. We make ski jackets that are the right jackets, with no compromises, yet they are elegant enough to wear over dress clothes in a storm in Paris. (Most ski jackets sit in the closet nine months out of the year.) We want to zero in on quality.

In the economy of abundance, wild salmon are given back rivers in which to run. Trees grow to their natural height. Water is clean. A sense of mystery and enchantment is restored to the world. We humans live within our means and, best of all, we have the time to enjoy what we have.


So run that you may obtain it.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

(1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV)


Icon Ambulance

Found this great story about Steve Jobs from Vic Gundotra on Google+. Enjoy.

One Sunday morning, January 6th, 2008 I was attending religious services when my cell phone vibrated. As discreetly as possible, I checked the phone and noticed that my phone said “Caller ID unknown”. I choose to ignore.

After services, as I was walking to my car with my family, I checked my cell phone messages. The message left was from Steve Jobs. “Vic, can you call me at home? I have something urgent to discuss” it said. 

Before I even reached my car, I called Steve Jobs back. I was responsible for all mobile applications at Google, and in that role, had regular dealings with Steve. It was one of the perks of the job. 

“Hey Steve – this is Vic”, I said. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer your call earlier. I was in religious services, and the caller ID said unknown, so I didn’t pick up”. 

Steve laughed. He said, “Vic, unless the Caller ID said ‘GOD’, you should never pick up during services”. 

I laughed nervously. After all, while it was customary for Steve to call during the week upset about something, it was unusual for him to call me on Sunday and ask me to call his home. I wondered what was so important?

“So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I’ve already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow” said Steve. 

“I’ve been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I’m not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn’t have the right yellow gradient. It’s just wrong and I’m going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?”

Of course this was okay with me. A few minutes later on that Sunday I received an email from Steve with the subject “Icon Ambulance”. The email directed me to work with Greg Christie to fix the icon. 

Since I was 11 years old and fell in love with an Apple II, I have dozens of stories to tell about Apple products. They have been a part of my life for decades. Even when I worked for 15 years for Bill Gates at Microsoft, I had a huge admiration for Steve and what Apple had produced. 

But in the end, when I think about leadership, passion and attention to detail, I think back to the call I received from Steve Jobs on a Sunday morning in January. It was a lesson I’ll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.

To one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met, my prayers and hopes are with you Steve.



Startup advice, how to build a $100m business, how to build a world-class network – What I’m Reading (9/17/15)

Earlier this week, my first class essay posted from pre-term. Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past few weeks.

How to Build a $100 Million Business – Boris Wertz
The Ten Most Important Books to Expand Your Brain
 – James Altucher
Paul Graham’s Startup Advice for the Lazy – Stelios Constantinides
The Secrets of living to 200 years old – BBC
Ben Horowitz’s Best Startup Advice – Product Hunt
How to Give Advice So That People Will Listen – Ramit Sethi
Want to Design a Mobile App That Feels Like Magic? Start here. –
The Ten Most Important Books to Expand Your Brain – James Altucher
The Education of Airbnb’s Brian Chesky – Fortune
How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time – Tim Ferriss