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What I'm reading #28: Do you have internal or external success?


By Sam Instone - July 15, 2022

I read a great article recently by best-selling author Morgan Housel. 

It explained the value of finding the balance between your internal and external benchmarks...

In 1968, The Sunday Times offered £5,000 to whoever could sail solo, non-stop around the world the fastest. 

Nine men joined the race and only one man finished, 312 days and 27,000 miles later. 

Despite this, there were two men who generated the most news yet never completed the race. 

One ended up dead and the other found happiness like never before. 

Both, from decisions made at sea, but nothing to do with sailing. 

Housel believes that these two men, Donald Crowhurst and Bernard Moitessier are, 

"Astounding examples of how the quality of your life is shaped by whom you want to impress. Their stories are extreme, but what they dealt with was just a magnified version of what ordinary people face all the time, and likely something you’re facing right now."

Donald Crowhurst

Crowhurst was a tinkerer who came up with his own boat modifications and was sure it would propel him to win. 

However, he was broke and ended up striking a deal with an English businessman to cover the costs...but only if he won. 

Two weeks into the race his boat started leaking.

This small leak posed little threat and could be bailed with a bucket.

But continuing on to the treacherous Southern Ocean would bring certain catastrophe.

Crowhurst had two options

  1. Continue the race and potentially break down at sea; or
  2. Finish the race facing bankruptcy and humiliation.

However, he chose a third option: Pretend he was on track by sending fake coordinates. 

He ended up going nowhere for months.

By mid-summer, enough time had passed to give the impression he'd circled the globe. 

He didn't want to win the race and draw too much attention to himself. 

But he didn't want to be runner-up either.

Crowhurst timed his return so that he'd finish in third place, enough to maintain dignity yet low enough to avoid suspicion. 

Then, by an interesting twist of fate, the second-placed boat sank.

After miscalculation, Crowhurst was now on track to be first place.

Crowhurst wrote in his diary:

"I have no need to prolong the game…It has been a good game that must be ended…It is the end of my game. The truth has been revealed. It is finished. IT IS THE MERCY."

Soon after he sent his last fake coordinates to his team, and shut his radio off.

His boat was found 11 days later. 

There was no major damage, no sign of an accident – and no sign of Crowhurst.

He had presumably thrown himself into the sea.

Bernard Moitessier 

Moitessier was an expert sailor...

Although, he despised the commercialisation and sports side of sailing. 

Housel suggested, 

"The personality required to spend nine months alone at sea selects people who are fine detaching from society. Moitessier was an extreme version of that, and the idea of sailing for someone else’s pleasure – to perform for the press, the race organizers, the sailing magazines, the fans – was so detestable that midway through his voyage he’d had enough."

Moitessier wrote in his diary:

"I really feel sick at the thought of getting back to Europe, back to the snakepit…I am really fed up with false gods, always lying in wait, spider-like, eating our liver, sucking our marrow..."

After spending time at sea, Moitessier said, 

"There were so many beautiful days on this beautiful boat that it really made time change dimensions…I was just feeling totally alive. And that was just fantastic"

A while after, he changed course and off the race's path and headed to Tahiti. 

Moitessier wrote in his diary:

"Now it is a story...between me and the sky; a story just for us, a great story that does not concern the others any more…To have the time, to have the choice, not knowing what you are heading for and just going there anyway, without a care, without asking any more questions."

He remained in Tahiti for years, where he built a house on the beach, grew his own food and wrote a book about sailing. 

“You can’t understand how happy I am,”

He wrote.

The irony is that Tahiti was so far away and needed that much backtracking that he ended up circling the globe and setting a world record for the longest ever nonstop solo sail, despite dropping out of the race. 

Internal and external measures of success 

Housel highlighted that Crowhurst's outcome seemed to centre on the fact that he was addicted to the opinions of others. 

Whilst, Moitessier was disgusted by them. 

One lived for external benchmarks, the other only cared about internal measures of happiness. 

Of course, these examples are more extreme. 

But their stories are important. 

Ordinary people, like you and me, often struggle to find the balance between external and internal measures of success. 

In today's world, there's a strong pull toward external measures. 

Comparing yourself to others and their accomplishments.

Even if you don't like it. 

Social media enhances this immensely. 

As humans, we also have strong natural desires for internal measures. 

Being independent and having freedom in life is what people actually want. 

When it comes to personal finance...

Would you rather care more about your portfolio performance?

Or,

Have enough money to travel with your family?

What is your sole benchmark?

 

Further reading

Sitting on cash during a bear market? Here's what to do

Warning: The danger of chasing meme stocks [case study]

How to transfer your Shell pension (Shell Overseas Contributory Pension Fund/SOCPF)

5 reasons your estate plan is out of date

2022: A review at halftime

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