Being real about setbacks

Lessons from James Altucher

One of my favourite blogs is James Altucher’s. In a recent post he writes about what he has learned from poker. Now, I don’t care much about poker, but  Altucher practically always has something interesting to say:

D) Poker is a skill game pretending to be a chance game. Many things in life are like that: sales, negotiating, entrepreneurship, etc. All of these things have the element of chance in them but the ones who are skillful will take all the money from the ones who aren’t. The problem is: most people think they are good because it’s hard to rank yourself and many people go into denial when they lose money. They tell people, “oh, I broke even” when they lost money most of the night. How do you get better at any skill game:

  • study and think about your mistakes. Don’t regret your mistakes. You’ll always make mistakes. The better you are, the less mistakes you make. The only way to get better is to thoroughly analyze your mistakes. So the more mistakes you have, the more opportunities you have to get better. Of course, this applies to everything you do in life.
  • – talk to people smarter than you. Try to learn from them anything you can.

Acknowledging mistakes

Looking at my investments in the Ivory Coast I have indeed made lots of mistakes and had setbacks. I quite agree with Altucher’s approach of not regretting, but acknowledging and analyzing mistakes, and being real about setbacks as opposed to pretending to break even.

So, here are mistakes I’ve made in the last year:

  • Not checking the equipment (like triangle and stuff) of the car before sending it to Abidjan to become a taxi.
  • Getting the wrong person to manage the works on the Cocody house.  He was perfectly honest, but somewhat out of his depth managing the project. Guess I focused too much on integrity and not enough on competence. The real estate agency that’s in charge of letting the house took over the managers role and finished the works without hiccups.
  • Not insisting enough on keeping advances small and not giving last chances to the carpenter who took money and never finished his work. A combination not being there in person, having the wrong manager, and following a law firm’s advice instead of my gut feeling, is to blame here I believe.
  • Not acting early enough when rents go unpaid.  I haven’t written about the Yopougon apartments in a while, but after the crisis I’ve had a few problems with non-paying tenants and am in the process of replacing them.

None of the above has caused any material monetary setback.  The one material setback I have had since starting investing in the Ivory Coast, was when the two shops I had in connection with the Cocody house were looted and destroyed in a fire.  I learned about it at the same time as Gbagbo’s fall, so the bad news were overshadowed by much greater good news reducing the psychological impact.

Still, the shops always paid their rent on time with no hassle, so it  sucks to have lost them. The rents I collected during the 10 months or so the shops were in operation do not cover the building costs, so it’s a definite loss, no other way around it.  Here’s what’s left of one of the shops:


And since I’m a sucker for insightful/inspirational quotes from dead (or sometimes alive, but mostly dead) people, here are a few of those:

“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.”
— Louis E. Boone

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
— Bill Cosby

“The majority of people meet with failure because they lack the persistence to create new plans to take the place of failed plans.”
— Mark Victor Hansen

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”
— John Burroughs

“Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.”
— George Washington Carver (American Botanist and Chemist 1864 – 1943)

“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
— Samuel Beckett, playwright and novelist

“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.”
— Christopher Hitchens (sadly among the dead ones)

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”
— W.C. Fields


One thought on “Being real about setbacks

  1. Pingback: Avoiding Fraud « Hotel Ivory

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