When I matriculated at Wharton in 1983, I was taught a very important concept—it’s a simple one too—“the time value of money.” This basic principal was driven home at Wharton, over and over again. The notion of the time value of money is the central precept in classic financial theory, and it was hammered into my brain by a variety of professors, assignments, papers, group projects and calculations on my HP 12C.Adhering to the time value of money and the related fundamentals eventually helped me to forge a successful career on Wall Street. I found a career that was a perfect match for my skill set. I worked in the “high net worth” group at Morgan Stanley in New York (before the Dean Witter deal). Basically, I was selling stocks and bonds to billionaires, and I was good at it. The ’90s bull market was flying high. I was in the right place at the right time. My career progressed quickly, and I adapted instinctively to the Wall Street model.
I encountered important issues that I had not read about in my school books or spreadsheets: stress, time management, office politics, nepotism, staffing issues, taxes—complicated stuff like that. For me, the stress related to managing money for people and managing the expectations of my clients was much harder than picking a fundamentally sound investment. As the first Internet bubble began to froth in 2000 and stocks were being valued on multiples of projected sales (rather than profits), I began to feel uneasy. The euphoria and lack of fundamental valuations in the stock market did not allow me to rest. A bad day in the S&P meant a sleepless night for me. The stress was killing me. As the market began to plummet, my health began to deteriorate. I needed to make a change. In 2002, I did.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been a ski bum/blogger in Aspen, CO. I ski every day and party every night as the founder and editor of AspenSpin.com. I’m much happier and healthier, even if blogging and ski bumming is not very lucrative (I often get paid in chapstick and T-shirts). I now have a very different perspective than most Wharton grads about business and life in general. My priorities have changed. I’m not chasing dollars, I’m chasing experiences.
Living in Aspen, I’m still exposed to big business. In addition to skiing moguls, about 50 members of the Forbes 400 have strong ties to Aspen. Riding the Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain, I get to meet and interact with America’s business leaders.
Just eyeballing it, I’ve noticed one thing about American capitalists: They don’t know how to relax. Even when they’re on holiday, there is no downtime. It has become a reflex action for business people to pull out their phones on the gondola to “get some work done” on the 17-minute ride to the top of the Aspen Mountain.
I get it. Business is tough. Margins are slim. Competition is rabid. Business people need to stay on top of their workload or else it turns into a never ending to-do list. I understand that people have responsibilities, families to support, mouths to feed, meetings to attend, conference calls to make, deals to do, companies to take over, profits to earn. But how can business leaders think clearly when they never shut it down, never log off, even when they’re on vacation?
What’s my point? It’s all about asset allocation and diversification. I have learned that time is one of the most undervalued assets in today’s globalized, 24/7, hyperconnected, overstimulated society. I call it the “time value of time” (formula available upon request). It’s a precious commodity, and no one knows how much of it they have left in their bank. Time is often the most overlooked asset when creating the portfolio of life.
I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t work hard. I’m just saying that everyone should take time to smell the roses. Find a hobby or a passion that is outside the business world. Read a book. Try leaving your phone in the locker room for an hour or two.
You might be better off for it. You might even do bigger and better things at work.
Time is the ultimate asset, so spend your time wisely. Don’t waste it. Live each day to its fullest. It’s OK to work hard, but just give it a rest once in a while. Take it from me, a ski bum/blogger. I know what I’m talking about.
Andrew M. Israel, WG’85, is the founder and editor of AspenSpin.com, a division of PineLakePictures LLC. Prior to creating Aspen Spin, Israel was a top performer with Morgan Stanley in New York City. He has also had success in the real estate industry and began his career with a three-year stint at a national “big eight” accounting firm. He is a certified ski instructor and an avid adventure traveler.