Today Theo and Travis will dive into a subject that Travis is very passionate about. Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. Travis explains how you can be a stoic investor by utilizing the Stoicism teachings.
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Theo Hicks: Hello best ever listeners and welcome back to the Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show. And we are here today with Travis Watts for the Actively Passive Investing show.
Travis, how are you doing today?
Travis Watts: Theo, doing great. Happy as always. Thrilled to be here.
Theo Hicks: Perfect. Well, today, we are going to be talking about a subject that I can tell Travis is very passionate about by his very detailed blog post that he wrote on stoicism. So the blog post is entitled, Stoicism & Real Estate – How to be a Stoic Investor.
So if you haven’t heard about stoicism already, that’s totally fine. We’re going to give you a rundown of what it is, modern-day and ancient examples of who stoics are, and then we’re going to talk about how you can use these principles in your everyday life. So these are very practical things that you can do to become a better passive investor, but also just a better person as well. And so I’ll let Travis take it away, as always, with why he wrote the blog post, before getting into what stoicism is.
Travis Watts: Sure, Theo. Thank you. So I am excited about this topic, but I have to caveat something here, which is kind of humorous… Back in elementary school and junior high and high school, I wasn’t a great student. I didn’t necessarily get bad grades, I just didn’t really care about a lot of the subjects, and unfortunately including history, which was a big mistake.
But recently, I rewatched the film 300 about the Spartans, and it kind of reignited this interest in learning more about Rome and the Greeks and just kind of ancient Greece in general. That kind of led to refreshing myself on the movie Gladiator… And then one thing led to the next, I got real tied up in stoicism, which is the topic of today. I’ve got a couple books on the subject and I’ve just been immersing myself in this. And I feel like a junior high student, again, getting all excited about history and learning things for pretty much the first time, unfortunately. So that’s kind of the back-story to this. This isn’t my life study and I’m not a master historian, but this is just kind of the latest trend and fad that I’m on personally.
So let’s jump into really quick just the high level of stoicism and stoics. Because I think that word is still used fairly frequently today as far as the word stoic, but I think it’s misunderstood in a lot of ways. So what I wanted to kind of capture is the history, and then we’ll fast forward and relate that to modern-day and what that means to you as a real estate investor.
So stoicism was just basically an ancient philosophy; so not to be confused with a religion, but we’re talking 2000 years ago, it was popular for several hundred years. And you have these philosophers, a few of the ones that come to mind that a lot of people will recognize would be Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor Seneca, who was basically a wealthy advisor to Nero, another Roman Emperor… And then Epictetus, who was a former slave, who became a teacher later; and all of these were kind of your foundational stoics, those preaching stoicism.
So that’s kind of where I wanted to start this conversation, and kind of what is stoicism in a nutshell, besides just moral guidance and a personal development philosophy… It’s a lot like the Serenity Prayer. So I brought that up just to share that, because this kind of encapsulates the ideas of stoicism all in one quick bunch, which is not in the blog post, by the way… So I have to reference this because unfortunately, I’m not an A. A., but it says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
So I think from a fundamental level, what is stoicism – it’s quite frankly that a lot of things, in fact, most things in life are not in our control. We have to learn to relinquish control to the things that we cannot change and put a vast emphasis on the things that we can control, which would be our behavior and the meanings that we give to different situations in life. And that’s really the simplicity of it. We could go much deeper on that, we could talk a very long time about the intricate details, I could quote a thousand different quotes, but basically, that’s it in a nutshell, that’s stoicism.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, I remember when I had Trevor McGregor, who’s Joe’s coach, and he is a Tony Robbins certified life coach… And I guess I’m kind of getting ahead of ourselves, but you’ll find a lot of similarities between what Tony Robbins and coach Trevor talk about and what Travis just said, when it comes to things that you can and cannot control.
And one thing that I liked a lot about this is that it can be applied to real estate, but also like a lot of things we talked about on the show, it can also be applied to your life outside of real estate too, whether it be when you’re watching the news, or any quarrels you’re having with friends or family members… As you said in this blog post, this is not abstract, this is very practical. This is, as your have titled for your first bullet here, “the art of the living.” It is an art of actually practically living in the world and not going crazy while doing it, basically.
So I didn’t realize that’s what the Serenity Prayer was, but I think I have a quote in here somewhere about that… Yeah, that Epictetus quote about, “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”
Travis Watts: 100%. Yeah, that’s a great quote. That’s right to the point that encapsulates that idea. Also, to add on to that, the root of philosophy, the two root words from the ancient Greeks – so philo meaning love, and sophia, meaning wisdom… So basically, the love of wisdom, essentially the love of knowledge and the art of living, which I talk a little bit about in the blog, is kind of the core concept.
So again, if we fast forward through modern-day, we still have stoics today. They may not formally study stoicism, but they certainly share those characteristics, and in today’s world specifically about the United States, most of us are out pursuing money in income, which was the case back then, but it’s way more the case in modern-day America. But the key is, it’s not the love of money. It’s to learn how to produce income – we can relate that to real estate or passive income or whatever you want to call it – and then use that to better your life and your circumstances. To have that time freedom that we talked about. I know recently, we talked quite a bit about the F.I.R.E Movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early).
The whole core concept behind this stuff is to create a life of purpose, right? It’s the art of creating a living and it’s just to maximize what you want to have in this world. So everybody I can think of that’s a modern-day stoic is doing these things. So we can talk about a few, much more modern examples, which would be — use a couple presidents like George Washington was a stoic, Teddy Roosevelt was a stoic and if you want to relate it to modern-day today, Tim Ferriss speaks a lot to stoicism through his podcast and his books. He, in my opinion, would be a modern-day stoic. And even folks like Gary Vaynerchuk. He talks so much about tuning out the noise, not paying attention to criticism from others, not taking it to heart when somebody is picking on you or bullying you. It’s to shut it all out. All of that is out of your control, the opinions of others, and to hone in on your goals, your focus, your mission.
Again, and to your point, Tony Robbins – of course, Tony, he takes a lot from the past and from history and from stoicism and relates and defines that into modern day.
Did you have any thoughts on that section? I was going to jump into another quote here. But did you have anything to add?
Theo Hicks: I’ll let you do that quote first, because it is probably the quote I was going to do.
Travis Watts: Okay, got you. This is a Marcus Aurelius quote, I put this in the blog. So his quote is, “We might not be emperors, but the world is still constantly testing us. It asks: Are you worthy? Can you get past the things that inevitably fall in your way? Will you stand up and show us what you’re made of?” That was a Marcus Aurelius quote.
So if we think about that in terms of real estate, and again, I kind of recap this in the blog, but what came to mind when I read that is how so much is out of our control in real estate, especially in my experience when I was on the active side, dealing with tenants, or late rent, or water heater going out, or an unexpected roof repair, or a flood; so many things. And I remember how I personally would get so stressed over that. I would have constant anxiety. The more properties that I had acquired in the single-family space, the more I was constantly thinking, “God, I hope that tenant pays on time. I hope I chose some good tenant for that property. I hope that water heater lasts another year. I hope, I hope, I hope.”
Well, it’s a bad strategy. I wish I had studied stoicism at that point, because it’s out of your control. Let it go. All you can really do is what I said earlier, you can control your behavior, your reactions, and place a meaning on things as they occur. And I think a lot of us, myself included, will struggle in life in general, over things out of our control. We spend this time beating ourselves up in our head, when in reality, most of those things never actually occurred. So that’s kind of where this can help, both on a personal side or as a parent, as a spouse or as an investor, of course. So that’s kind of what I go into in the midsection of the blog, is relating some of these quotes to modern-day real estate investing and personal stuff.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, I think one thing that you also included in this section would be—I know Tony Robbins recommends this book, the Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, you said you recently read?
Travis Watts: Yeah.
Theo Hicks: And then another quote a little bit later on about the average per capita income in the world is 10 grand. So you know, reading Man’s Search for Meaning, this guy’s in a concentration camp, people around the world are making an average $10,000 a year… It kind of puts things in perspective, when as Travis says, you’re worrying about, “Oh, is my $500,000 rental property going to have a clogged toilet or something?” So I think stoicism also is about that as well, putting what you’re going through into perspective and getting out of your own head. That’s just kind of one thing I wanted to add.
The other thing that you mentioned reminded me of a post that I wrote based off a conversation I had with like a life coach, basically. And she teaches other people how to overcome limiting beliefs and whatnot. And basically, the idea is that you need to figure out why you are thinking about this certain situation the way that you are. So using Travis’s toilets as an example, right? Why are you freaking out about the toilets? And then ask yourself if that story you’re telling you is actually the truth or not. And so for your case, you said, “Nothing actually happened to the toilet, nothing has happened in this toilet yet. And so why am I freaking out about something that I really have no actual objective evidence to prove to be the case?” And so you talked about this at the bottom of that section about reframing a problem.
And then you said, “Rather than just kind of reframing it with a true story, also reframe it –” because if you look at it and say, “Okay, well, it actually is true,” then, rather than looking at it as something that’s threatening to you, look at it as an opportunity to actually grow. And you gave some examples of that as well.
Travis Watts: Yep. 100%. And to piggyback on what you said about Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning… That book — it’s really intense, first of all. It’s not a book I would really say, “Hey, I highly recommend this book.” It’s kind of like that movie that Mel Gibson made many years ago, The Passion of the Christ. It’s very intense. It’s very violent. This is a true story. This is written by Viktor Frankl about his years in various concentration camps during World War II. His family was killed, his wife was murdered, so he’s trying to find the meaning of life, Man’s Search for Meaning.
So I put this in the book – spoiler alert, by the way, if you haven’t read it. This is basically the answer is that he concluded to. He says, in a sense, in a nutshell, here’s the overarching idea. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And that’s really what it was, is a constant mental reframing of the circumstances that were happening. We all know how horrific those circumstances were from documentaries and movies, but just imagine being immersed in the middle of that.
So he had to create alternative meanings to all of this, and nobody could take that away from him. They could physically beat him up and harm him and put him in a cell, but nobody could take that freedom away. So again, it’s not that Viktor Frankl necessarily was a studier of stoicism. In fact, he never even mentioned it throughout the entire book. But that really resonates in the philosophy of stoicism.
Theo Hicks: So as Travis said and as I said, looking at your current situation and comparing it to a situation like Victor Frankl’s, or even people alive today, or studying history and realizing how uncomfortable at least physically things were, will put things in perspective… But also, you don’t want to go overboard and get too lost in the comfort, which is the next section. This is something that I really like. I’m not going to read the quote, it’s a really long quote from Seneca, and he’s basically talking to some guy and telling him that you need to go out and basically live like a bum. He doesn’t say how often, but for three days, just be a bum, basically, to be more grateful for your current situation and not get accustomed to the comfort of your life. And this is definitely even more so true today.
But this also kind of reminded me of something else that Joe talked about at The Best Ever Conference. And he said that you need to have a thorn. So this is kind of taking this concept and applying it a little differently. But you need to have a thorn or a negative situation that either happened in your past and use it as inspiration, or some sort of punishment you’re going to give yourself if you don’t accomplish your tasks. So for Seneca, it might have been, “Hey, you have to leave your house and live on the streets for a week.” For Joe, I think he talks about grabbing poop with your hand and playing with it. And I was like, “What?! What are you talking about?”
But I understand the point that he’s trying to make is that — it can either be a punishment or if you’re unwilling to do something that’s seemingly gross, but kind of not that big of a deal as grab your own poop, then you’re not going to be able to survive when the going gets tough. So lots of lessons there when it comes to what Joe said and then what Seneca talked about, about living like a bum.
Travis Watts: Yeah, 100% 100%. And I’m not going to go too much into it. I painted a few examples in my own story back in college, but when you learn how to live or survive, or in some cases thrive off very little, it really does give you that positive perspective that what is it that you really need in this life. And again, modern stoics – I was listening to Tim Ferriss speak about exercises he puts himself through, in similar ways. Living on very little, or he went to — where was it… Somewhere in Utah, and he put on these skin-tight leotards with flowers everywhere. And he just went walking around the city center to put himself in a very uncomfortable situation where people would be making fun of him or laughing at him or starting conversations with, or just ask him what he’s doing… But it brings more humility to your life and we can all get caught up in the comforts of life, the luxuries of life. And it’s kind of a unique perspective, because I took both routes. I took one out of necessity early on, where it was $6 a day for food, and crappy car, I drove around Florida with no air conditioning and sleeping on an air mattress, and all these things, which was very minimal. But if I really think about it, I was generally very happy during that time. I had friends, I had family, I got out to do things, I was learning, I was exploring… It was a fun time.
And to reflect back on that, it’s like, I don’t want those things today, after having houses and fancy cars and all this stuff. But I fully recognize that if I had to or if I chose to, I could learn to be happy again with those circumstances. And I think that’s really key and fundamental, again, on a personal side to anxiety and stress. If you know that you can have very little – and I know we’re not reading that long quote by Seneca because it is quite long… But what he’s saying is basically, live off stale bread and sleep on a mat on the floor for four days, and ask yourself, “Is this is bad as it gets? Is this what I’m so fearful about? Is this the worst thing in the world?” And the truth is no, it’s not; you can survive, many people do.
And to your point earlier that I put in the blog, the average individual worldwide income is $10,000 per year. So I talked to accredited investors all week long of all sorts and all different states, folks sometimes making millions of dollars per year, and a lot of them have some complaints.
There’s a gentleman I was speaking to about a week ago, he was telling me how he was only pulling $600,000 a year from his business to live on, and how it was a struggle, and how he felt he really couldn’t live on any less than that, because he had been doing so for such a long time that he didn’t feel he could really cut any corners in any possible way. And it’s just interesting. It’s not to judge anyone, but it’s just that perspective that I think is useful to realize that, “Hey, you can survive on $50,000 a year if you had to.”
Theo Hicks: Exactly. And we talked about this before, but it goes both ways. people survive off of $10,000 a year; people survive on way less than $10,000 a year, and they’re happy, they’re fine. They might even be able to go a little bit lower… But there’s other examples of people who make maybe 500 grand a year or a million dollars a year, and as we said in other talks, they’re living paycheck to paycheck. And so living paycheck to paycheck is going to be relative. It’s not going to be once you surpass a certain dollar amount, you’re never going to be living paycheck to paycheck again. And so as we have in this quote here from Epictetus, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few ones,” which summarizes that very nicely.
So Travis, is there anything else to mention about stoicism before we wrap up?
Travis Watts: No, there’s so much more detail. This was like a four or five-page blog. Check it out. The title is “Stoicism and real estate. How to be a stoic investor”, which I know we didn’t hit on a lot of those points. So check out the blog for more on that.
Also, to this last topic that we were just talking about, you and I discussed on a previous episode, check that out, about high net worth frugality. It’s very interesting to see so many billionaires and multimillionaires living the simple life, but being fulfilled and happy while doing so. So it’s not all about keeping up with the Joneses. Great quote, as you mentioned by Epictetus about that.
So no, that’s it in a nutshell. I know we stayed pretty high-level, but The Daily Stoic is the book I’m reading right now. It’s by Ryan Holiday. It’s 366 meditations by the ancient stoics and some modern-day examples as well. And what’s great is they’ll give the quote and then they’ll relate it to today’s world or they’ll explain exactly what they were meaning by that. So it’s a very practical book. I’m listening to it on audio format, but reach out if I can be a resource in any way or point you to some additional resources. But thanks, Theo. Great topic and that’s all I got.
Theo Hicks: Perfect, Travis. Well, thanks again for writing this blog post and sharing with us your wisdom on stoicism. So again, this blog post is Stoicism and Real Estate: How to be a Stoic Investor, so check that out. Check out that book that Travis mentioned as well, The Daily Stoic. Thank you for tuning in. We will be back next week. Until then, have a best ever day and we’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Travis Watts: Thanks everyone. Thanks, Theo.
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