WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – Mark Ford, whom I used to work with, expressed an important truth about life in his blog:
In the mid 1970s, my wife and I were living in a humble three-room house without indoor plumbing in N’Djamena, Chad. I was sitting on our front porch watching the rain spill off the roof and onto our little garden when I had this thought:
“One day, you will live in a big, fancy house back in the States. But you will never live in a house that can give you more pleasure than this one.”
Our round-the-world trip – with Kate… the kids… all the countries and hotel rooms – was a two-year “intensive” on this one idea.
We got detained by the Egyptian military at a remote checkpoint last year. We spent the evening under arrest in a room with nothing but two broken, disconnected toilets in it…
We slept on filthy mattresses in a rundown love hotel in Hong Kong, to the sound of amorous couples and headboards banging against walls…
We played cards on our suitcase in some eastern European train station in the dead of night when the train we were waiting for came seven hours late…
And yet, like Mark, I look back on these times, and they were among the most satisfying times of my life.
Why? Because I was proud of what we were doing… and we were doing it together, as a family.
Nothing else mattered. Not comfort. Not money. Not possessions. Not even a roof over our heads.
We had a hard mission to complete: To travel around the world, live out of a suitcase for two years, and introduce the kids to the different cultures of the world.
We were doing it together. And we were totally fulfilled.
I’ve never been on a successful sports team, but I imagine this is a taste of what it feels like. The French have a word for this: camaraderie.
This insight discredited almost every other “life strategy” I’d ever tried.
It was such a revelation to me – that you can feel camaraderie with your wife and kids – that it motivated me to start telling our story publicly with emails, photographs, and social media posts.
My Revelation About the Markets
Since I discovered Bill Bonner’s daily Diary nearly 20 years ago, Bill has been an important inspiration to me, too.
Like Mark Ford, he expressed in a very clear and entertaining way what I already knew in my heart was true.
And that is… things come and go… busts follow booms… investors get optimistic then they get pessimistic… and contrarian investment strategies always work, if you’re patient and disciplined enough to sit through the madness.
The strategy Kate and I are following with our money – using the Dow-to-Gold ratio – is the ultimate contrarian stock market strategy. (We got it from Bill!)
We buy stocks when they’re cheap. Then, when they’re expensive, we go to the sidelines (in gold – very important) and wait for stocks to get cheap again.
This idea was such a revelation to me, I still remember exactly where I was when I read about it for the first time.
And it motivated me to a) bet all our money on it and b) start writing about it and thinking about it every day.
Is It Narcissism?
In the feedback not long ago, someone said these Postcards are “narcissistic.”
I write about my life… and about finance… and I take a lot of pictures of my family. I post it all online. Is that narcissism?
I don’t know. But every day I ask myself why I feel the need to tell strangers about my life and share photographs of my family.
“Is it because I love myself?” I wonder. “Or is it because my soul has a ravenous hunger for fame and validation that must be fed?”
This is what I’d prefer the answer to be…
I feel like something inspired me… some of which I learned from others (Bill)… some of which I learned from experience (our trip). And then I felt the tremendous urge to create something (pictures and words) out of it.
And, paradoxically, because I’d lost all my self-esteem through depression and divorce, I found the courage to begin sharing these pictures and words with others.
So I started writing emails to my family and friends and posting on social media. (It served the additional three purposes of letting them know we were safe, helping me organize my thoughts each day, and memorializing our trip in a nice way for my family to look back on in the future.)
And some of them wrote back to me and told me to keep going… that they were being entertained… that they wanted to keep getting them.
I started to feel pride in what I was creating. And it emboldened me to share with a bigger and bigger audience. Slowly at first. Then more.
Each time, the people I sent my “stuff” to validated me and encouraged me, which emboldened me even more. Then Bill’s publisher asked me if she could send them to her audience in return for a little money…
And here I am, telling you about our life every day.
Narcissism? I’ll leave it to you to decide. I don’t like that word, though.
I heard it all the time when I lived in South Florida, before our trip. And no one ever seemed to be able to pin down for me exactly what it meant… except that no one wanted to be around it.
– Tom Dyson
P.S. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read this urgent briefing from Bill. He writes about the coronacrisis we’re in… the feds’ role in it… and what he sees coming. It’s a MUST read. Just go right here.
A reader is on board with Tom’s plans to do a second American road trip… and offers a suggestion…
Reader comment: Great idea to travel around America in the coming months. As you do so, please share your observations and ideas on places that would be a good “bolthole.”
Dan Denning made a “bolthole” journey around the U.S. last year and his recommendations in The Bonner-Denning Letter were informative and thought-provoking. It’d be wonderful and interesting as well to get your opinions and thoughts on the same subject. Safe and enjoyable travels.
Meanwhile, others weigh in on Tom’s British boarding school experiences (catch up on the first three parts of that story here, here, and here)… and Tom’s concerns that his stories are too self-indulgent…
Reader comment: Keep the personal stories coming. We all have our boarding school experience even if we didn’t attend one. Mine was growing up in a cult within the Catholic Church, believe it or not. I had a lot of introspection growing up asking why nothing was “normal” and why things were the way they were. Why my dad finally left my mom and the kids when I turned 18. Why a sister ran away and brother was kicked out.
Neither were bad kids, but I have stories that would turn you green if you heard them… So please indulge in your stories. It’s a rare thing as are your Postcards.
Reader comment: Our childhood plays a big role on who we become. I think being able to look back and see, maybe, there are some answers to why we do what we do, whether good or bad. It’s not to make excuses or place blame, but awareness is key. Sheltering in place would make anyone start going inward and I think it’s a good thing. Carl Jung’s quote comes to mind, “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
I’ve been reading your Postcards since you and your beautiful family were traveling in China. Your kids are adorable! I’m glad you guys got back in the States and, I would say, amazing timing to be back with Kate’s family. Full circle for you, I would imagine. Looking forward to your next postcard!
Reader comment: Always good to read your anecdotal additions to investment advice. I, too, went to boarding school from the age of 5 – first a military-style one in South Africa until I was 9, and then in the UK until I was 18. Your experience, I would guess, led to your initial relationship with Kate breaking down, as the most common side effect from this form of early education is that of stultified emotions.
It took five years of counseling for me to relate properly to others with some form of emotional intelligence. However, it sounds as though you have now finally come out the other side, more or less in one piece.
Tom’s note: Thanks for all the kind messages! Kate and I read every one you send in. Please keep writing us at [email protected].