You’re Average, So Am I

Average is an interesting term. The truest definition is:

Average: a level (as of intelligence) typical of a group, class, or series

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/average

That’s it, it means typical. But oddly that term has come to imply bad, or not good enough. Why would you just want to be Average?? Average is awful.

I’m sitting here writing this in a coffee shop in Omaha, Nebraska, the day after the Berkshire Hathaway Share Holders Meeting. Yes, they refer to this event as the “Woodstock of Capitalism”. During the first weekend in May, people from all over the globe descend on middle America for a weekend, hoping to get a glimpse into the mind of arguably the most brilliant investor ever.

The event consists of a “Shareholder Shopping Day”, in which all the subsidiaries of BRK sell their wares at a discount. It’s almost overwhelming the variety of goods available, everything from chocolates, ketchup and ice cream bars to trains, mobile homes and private jets. It’s an impressive assortment of companies.

The following day is the Main event, the shareholder meeting. After waiting about an hour to get into the main arena in downtown Omaha, we get in and grab our seats. It consists of a movie put together by Berkshire, poking fun at itself with a variety of special guests.

Then the true fun part. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger take questions from the press and the audience about Berkshire’s strategy or anything else really. It’s a free-for-all of questions. And it’s impressive, an 88 year-old and a 95 year-old sit on stage and get peppered with questions for about 6 hours. And every time they have insightful and entertaining answers to the questions. Mostly, it’s Buffett answering questions thoughtfully and Munger throwing in one-liners, but the wisdom they dispensed is priceless.

One of the answers that really stuck out to me, and it’s something that we’ve been struggling with for a while.

The question went something along the lines of:

Hershey’s and Mars are huge. Have you ever tried to grow See’s candies into a major competitor to them?

The answer was interesting:

Yes, we’ve thought about that and tried. It’s hard, those guys are good at what they do. But why do we really need to make the biggest candy company in the world? See’s has been a fantastic investment, and it generates enough cash for us to pursue other opportunities.

Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but the point stands. Why do you need to be world leading?

And the reason I bring this up, is that with Mrs. Wow’s company, or this blog, or my career I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. At what point to we need to continue beating ourselves up?

When is enough? What is good enough? Is average just fine?

Buffett is famous for touting the benefits of index investing. But what types of returns do you get from indexing?

Average.

By definition you get average returns, because you own everything. Some are good, some are bad. So, they come to some level in the middle, and that level is average.

Community

So Jim Rohn famously said:

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

Now, I don’t know that it’s five, or more people. But I can’t help but think there is some truth in this.

For instance, over the course of the last 3 years (yes, this thing has been going for 3 YEARS!?!?!) We’ve become good friends with several people in the FI community. This includes bloggers, and podcasters, but also plenty of people that are not content producers.

But, who would have thought that we would be able to count so many unique and interesting people in our group of friends.

I’m almost getting teary-eyed just thinking about it sitting here in a brewery in Omaha. (Yes, we moved… coffee shop to brewery. Would you expect anything less?)

If I am even below the average of the people I hang out with, I’m a way better for it. The people that I have met through this community are pulling me along for the ride.

So, now knowing that Buffett and Munger are comfortable being average, makes me realize that I’m blessed to be associated with so many people that bring me up to the average.

I’ll pose a question to you:

Are you average? Are you comfortable with it?

The Brewery

An Aside: Who I associate with most…

Anyone who reads this blog should know the answer to this:

Mrs. Wow.

I’ll warn you I’m going to gush a little for a bit. So, if you’re not interested, just skip to the comments…

But, how did I end up with such a great partner?!!? She’s beautiful, intelligent and driven. (And also, she’s not going to read this until 3 weeks after it’s published ;)).

Some of you may not know.. but when this comes out we’ll be on our way to celebrate 5 years of marriage in Belize, where we originally married. I’d say wedded bliss, but anyone that’s married knows that’s a complete fallacy.

Alas, she makes me a better person. I’m happier (when she isn’t driving me nuts), smarter and more even keeled just having her by my side.

So, yes…. I’m very lucky to have a partner that pushes me and makes me better every day, despite driving me completely insane sometimes.

The reason we have a pretty high average between us is her. I’m certainly the one dragging the entire thing down.

44 Comments

  • Fritz @ TheRetirementManifesto May 8, 2019 at 5:40 am

    Very cool that you got to go to “The Big Show”, an experience of a lifetime (and, in reality, there aren’t going to be too many more…those guys are getting OLD!).

    And, did you really say, publically, that Mrs. WoW drives you nuts? You’re going to get an “above average” scolding for that one. Good post, nothing wrong with average.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 8, 2019 at 7:32 am

      Yeah, I did. She knows it… I drive her nuts as well.

      Thanks Fritz! Hopefully we are all better off for pushing the average forward.

      Reply
  • Crispy Doc May 8, 2019 at 6:48 am

    Probably the greatest gift of marrying up is knowing what a terrific deal you got and never taking it for granted.

    The second greatest gift? When you’ve duped your partner into thinking they married up as well.

    To your other point, I’ve experienced the FI community to be like Lake Woebegone, where “all the children are above average .”

    Happy anniversary WoWs!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 8, 2019 at 7:31 am

      Hey Thanks!!

      That definitely is a super huge secret to living a good life. Surround yourself with good people. Better people than you. Which I would include all of you in that category!

      Reply
    • FIRE Up The Couch May 8, 2019 at 10:59 am

      “When you’ve duped your partner into thinking they married up as well.” Hahahaah. I pulled this off so far but my partner is getting wiser as the years go by. Gulp!

      Reply
      • Mr WoW May 9, 2019 at 8:11 am

        yeah you and me both… the gig is almost up!!

        Reply
  • Gwen @ Fiery Millennials May 8, 2019 at 7:34 am

    Aww you guys are cute. Enjoy the trip! I’m glad I can count you as friends 🙂

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 9, 2019 at 8:03 am

      You as well. Looking forward to seeing you again soon!

      Reply
  • freddy smidlap May 8, 2019 at 7:40 am

    well, congrat’s on the 5 large years. you win the game if you find somebody who will be nice to you. i still buy individual stocks and try and beat the average but i am clearly misguided and probably should ride a short bus to work.

    i was thinking about public versus private companies. let’s say you owned a coffee shop outright and it was profitable and popular. you, as the owner make a theoretical 75,000/year profit. you have the opportunity to open a second location using some of your cash flow but for a few years expect the combined businesses to generate “only” 120,000/year and not double the amount of the already established shop. as an owner only you would certainly take the extra 45k, but if that shop was public they would probably be punished for diluting earnings per share for a period. reminds of a good reason not to take on some of the big boys in candy and just cash those profit checks.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 9, 2019 at 8:09 am

      Thanks for the congrats!!

      So, I think that’s the exact way they were looking at it. Since Berkshire is a holding company, they could either take the profits and sink it back into the candy company or invest it elsewhere. They took the cash flow from See’s and invested it elsewhere and got a greater return than they would have otherwise. The way the company is set up allows that and makes it worth while.

      The other question for the private coffee shop is this: “Is that additional $45k a year worth the trouble of running two shops?” And that’s where it gets interesting. And what we are running into now. We could easily grow the company, but to what end? Is the additional effort going to provide enough marginal return? Or are we happy with where it’s at? It’s an interesting question. We have no investors or shareholders to please other than ourselves.

      Reply
  • FIRE Up The Couch May 8, 2019 at 10:54 am

    I feel well below average in the FIRE community and that’s A-ok with me! It still puts me light years ahead of most other people I know in so many important ways.

    As for investing, I’m very satisfied with “average” returns. They’ll make me very rich one day.

    Congrats on your anniversary!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 9, 2019 at 8:10 am

      Thanks… I don’t think average is bad. It’s simply a matter of running with a different crowd!

      Reply
  • Young FIRE Knight May 8, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Great post. This mindset can be huge for life, and help avoid taking on additional stress. When you truly figure out what is “enough” for your life, you don’t need to put all this energy and effort into making something that’s already working even better (ie. Investing in index funds, not taking that director role in your job, only buying a couple rental properties, etc)

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 9, 2019 at 8:13 am

      Enough is a great way to put it. And some people don’t have a concept of it. Reminds me of a great story:

      Joe Heller

      True story, Word of Honor:

      Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.

      I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?”

      And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”

      And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”

      And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

      Not bad! Rest in peace!”

      — Kurt Vonnegut

      Reply
  • 5am Joel May 8, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    Don’t sell yourself short! I think you bring a lot of good things to your relationship. Like, umm… well, actually, now that I think about it, you are definitely the shit one. Sorry.

    Happy anniversary guys! Travel safe!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 9, 2019 at 8:14 am

      Shhhh… keep that quiet … don’t tell her!!!

      Reply
  • Steveark May 9, 2019 at 6:07 am

    I remember my dad went to the Walmart shareholders annual meeting and got to stand up and ask Sam Walton a question. It definitely made him feel above average! My wife and I wil hit 41 years of marriage this month, and it’s even better than it was at year five. You guys are destined for a wonderful future! Great post.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 9, 2019 at 8:16 am

      I wish I had gotten the chance to ask him a question. But just listening to him answer all the other ones was quite fascinating.

      41 years?!?!!? Congrats!!! That’s impressive. I can say that 5 years feels like an eternity. 41 years is amazing!

      Reply
  • Friday Hits: You’re Average, So Am I – Affiliate JedEye May 9, 2019 at 7:03 am

    […] You’re Average, So Am I […]

    Reply
  • FitDIYDad May 9, 2019 at 7:40 am

    Great post!

    Overall I’m average (most of us are), below average in some things and above average in others. As a culture we’ve become so obsessed with growth, being the “best” & too much competition that I feel like the rate of aneurysms are bound to skyrocket because some folks are wound so tight.

    It’s good to be like Buffett and choose to be above average where it counts the most for you.

    Happy 5th’aversary and enjoy the vacation!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 9, 2019 at 8:20 am

      Since I work in tech, and work with data and stuff. I always like to say to people, “Despite what your mom says, you’re average.” Meaning, if you can’t figure out our site, no one else can either. Or if you won’t use it, no one else will either.

      I think competition is good to an extent. It needs to be a cooperative competition. Symbiotic if you will. It will push everyone to get better, but there is a limit to the marginal returns… and that’s where it gets tricky.

      Seth Godin wrote a great book called “The Dip” that discusses when to push through and when to cut your losses. It’s interesting, because where is that balance? When is enough enough?

      Thanks BTW!!

      Reply
      • Fit DIY Dad May 9, 2019 at 8:41 am

        Yep, the normal distribution is what most can expect (with some “fat tails”, you mentioned you’re into data and clearly a Buffett fan so figured I’d throw that in).

        Agreed about competition to the point of diminishing returns (wherever that is) is good, since healthy competition can lift the level for lots of people.

        But yeah, getting into too much of that unhealthy competition and everything turning into a competition, without taking into account what’s important to you and what’s worth that effort can become dangerous and not a very good use of the limited time available.

        Perfect recent example is getting my son ready for kindergarten and sitting around with other parents at a school while our kids were getting placement tests to figure out the right mix of students per class and seeing some very anxious parents waiting for their kids to return and report back on how they did. It’s kindergarten! I was just happy that my son went with the teacher without a fuss and didn’t seem at all nervous.

        I’ve seen that Godin book, with the cover with “The Dip” drawing, but haven’t read it. Does it offer a good way to figure out the balance and what to cut?

        Reply
        • Mr WoW May 13, 2019 at 11:25 am

          Ahh.. the fat tail. yes, it certainly makes life interesting.

          Competition is great in certain doses. It makes us better, it makes us progress. But everything in moderation as they say. Like booze, or gambling, or anything else. There’s a dangerous side to anything.

          What the hell is wrong with people? I agree with you … be happy your kindergartener is coloring on the paper and not the desk.

          I haven’t read the book in a while, but most everything he writes is worthwhile. and The book is like 50 pages long, you can read it while waiting on the next kindergarten screening test 😉

          Reply
  • Peter Horsfield May 9, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Aim for the “Golden Mean”.

    To eat good food, to live in a comfortable home, to own a reliable car, to be with those I love and to work with clients who pay me well. These are all simply practical (and even healthy) things to have in a modern, everyday life. Not more…

    In fact, it has been proven time and time again that after our basic necessities of life are met the correlation between having more and our happiness declines i.e. more doesn’t make you happier or give you a more fulfilling life.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 13, 2019 at 11:19 am

      “more doesn’t make you happier or give you a more fulfilling life.” This is something that we need to constantly remind ourselves. As we continue to strive to get to where we are going, we have to remember that once our basic needs are met, there is very little marginal return for the additional effort.

      Where do you draw the line is the question.

      Reply
      • Peter Horsfield May 13, 2019 at 5:34 pm

        By identifying where I spent money then linking it my feelings at the time has shifted my perspective from seeking happiness to one of wholeness.

        Wholeness simply means complete, lacking nothing, entire, undivided and uninjured. It evolves, gives and is regenerative. Wholeness “becomes” rather than “strives” and by default it naturally purges itself from impurities, through ones thoughts and actions.

        Reply
        • Mr WoW May 14, 2019 at 1:59 pm

          Interesting concept. That’s a great way to look at life.

          It’s something we are certainly striving for as we move through this whole journey we call life.

          Reply
  • TheHappyPhilosopher May 9, 2019 at 4:37 pm

    A Twitter follower posted a great article that is tangentially related.

    https://www.alifeinprogress.ca/want-mediocre-life/

    Hope all is well 🙂

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 13, 2019 at 11:17 am

      Great article. Really makes you think.

      Hope all is well with you too!

      Reply
  • Mr. Tako May 10, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Nothing wrong with being average! Nothing at all.

    But let’s not kid ourselves — See’s is very far from being an average business. Just look at the numbers. Sure, they might not win in volume of candy shipped, but everything else about the company is incredible.

    Buffett got very lucky buying See’s when he did for as cheap as he did. Phenomenal business.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 13, 2019 at 11:14 am

      See’s is anything but average, but they certainly aren’t the world leader either.

      It was just interesting to hear them talk about how See’s has provided them with ample opportunity, without being a front runner in the world chocolate space.

      Reply
      • Mr. Tako May 13, 2019 at 6:28 pm

        It’s quite a fascinating business case actually. Growth has been tiny, but the business has some pricing power — which has generated around 2 billion in profits (approx) over the years. Not bad for a $24 million investment. Not bad at all.

        Just goes to show — you don’t need big growth to have a great investment.

        Reply
        • Mr WoW May 14, 2019 at 1:58 pm

          Yeah it’s amazing. Just has to be set up right and you can create a lot of value.

          Reply
  • Joe May 10, 2019 at 9:48 am

    Congratulations! Have fun in Belize. We visited once and loved it there. They have a really good retirement visa program the last time I looked.
    I’m not sure if I agree with being average. My philosophy is you don’t have to be the best, just better than average. It’s not than hard to be above average because there are many many screw ups in the world.
    But if you look at the average of people you spend time with, that’s a different story. You’re right. We should spend time with people who are better than us. That’s a good policy.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 13, 2019 at 11:11 am

      Hey thanks.

      Trust me when I say, we’ve been contemplating it while here. This has been a great time and it reminds us how we all need to be refreshed after a while.

      I’d agree with you… being above average is fairly easy. In fact, all you really have to do is put a little thought into something and you’re already ahead of about 90% of the rest of the world, as most of them just don’t think at all.

      I always strive to be the dumbest one in the room, and then I can hope to be pulled along by the average.

      Thanks!!

      Reply
  • DON DZEJAK May 10, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    I’m on the other end of the FIRE community. Retired at 63, my wife retired at 60. Invested all in individual stocks, while taking advantage of every deal my employer gave us. Liquid worth over 2 million, house is paid off, no credit card debt except what we spend monthly. Always pay off balances every month. Married 46 years. Living a comfortable retirement, and last year paid less than 1% in federal taxes. Congrats on your anniversary, may you look forward to many more….

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 13, 2019 at 11:09 am

      Thanks!!

      Looks like you’re doing quite well. Congrats.

      Reply
      • DON DZEJAK May 13, 2019 at 2:56 pm

        Yes, but it took 30 years of steady investing. Some losers, some winners, as long as you hit 1 big winner you can be OK (Visa). Now if only Trump would stop roiling the markets. (Down 600 this Monday due to trade tariff tiff.)

        Reply
  • FIRECracker May 11, 2019 at 8:42 am

    “Woodstock of Capitalism” Bwahahaha. Financial nerd joygasm joke right there.

    I like your policy of not trying to one up yourself and other people all the time by being the best. The more often I go back to Thailand, the more I learn about buddhism, and the more I understand that true happiness doesn’t come from constantly trying to be the best. It comes from being satisfied with yourself and cherishing your relationships. I started meditating recently and it’s helped a lot with anxiety (trying to get a book out is HELLA exhausting and anxiety inducing). I’m hoping to keep it going and try my best to “be average”.

    Hope to hang out with you guys in Europe soon! Stay awesome!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 13, 2019 at 11:07 am

      Well… that’s what they call it, and it’s a good time. You should try to make it one of these times.

      I think it’s Sheryl Crow that has a line in one of her songs that goes: “It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you got.” Which seems to make a lot of sense.

      You guys are way better than average. Just being associated with you helps bring us up.

      Also… for Europe, We had an idea… hit us up!

      Reply
  • Cubert May 14, 2019 at 4:12 am

    You guys make me think I’ve been completely average about building friendships within the FI community. D’oh!

    It sure helps when your partner is into the community thing. My wife just could care less about FIRE. Thank God she’s frugal or we’d be toast!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW May 14, 2019 at 1:57 pm

      I think the best thing I could do was let her make her own decision and understand the benefits for her.

      Reply
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