Letter to an Optimistic Contrarian: Creating Wealth by BEING different

A contrarian isn’t one who always objects – that’s a conformist of a different sort. A contrarian reasons independently from the ground up and resists pressure to conform

Naval Ravikant

Context: I grew up in a (relatively) conservative but socially liberal family with 4 siblings, living in a ‘bubble’ in the beautiful city of Salzburg/Austria, with classical music literally in the background, sent to a private catholic boys school and joined the choir for 8 years (with up to 4x a week professional choir training) including (nearly) every Sunday singing at one of the (many) churches in Austria. 

If you only read the above paragraph you might think “oh my god, another white snob who has been raised in a conformist/conservative culture”. Yes, I would think the same. But the context was true up until I was 14 years old when I was willing to make my own choices. My life today cannot be more different: I live and work in Vietnam (before that in/around Southeast Asia with my home base in Singapore), I am father of a +2year old little boy (and not married!), I am working in the intersection of entrepreneurship, investing & tech, most of my friends are ‘global citizens’, my number 1 core value is freedom: to do what I want to do (and things I don’t want to do), freedom of choosing what I work on (and not work on), freedom of my own emotions and choosing how I construct my reality (which is pretty exciting and joyful in the super majority of my time).

I knew early one that I am ‘different’. Different as simple as when we went to a restaurant and all my 4 siblings ordered Coca Cola, I was the only person ordering Sprite. My 4 siblings went to an Art High School and I chose – on my own – to leave the private catholic school (against my parents wishes) and switched to a public business high school. My former private school friends continued to go to church while I started my DJ career (inspired by my older brother and his friends). My former private school friends went with their parents to ‘high society’ events and I went to underground Drum’n’Bass events and hang out with my best friend (who btw is an Anarchist). I have been a social capitalist. Social in terms of taking care of all stakeholders (and not only shareholders) and capitalism in its truest sense: You are the owner of your destiny, and you have to take the responsibility for all the actions (or inactions) of your choices. And not the ‘proclaimed’ capitalism of banks (and other companies) sucking the blood out of its customer(s), selling them complicated products and then – when s*its hit the fan – getting bailed out by governments (and thus taxpayers money). This is NOT capitalism. This is cronyism (but that’s a different topic).

So how does it look like to be an Optimistic Contrarian: I don’t do whatever everyone else does. And I create my own independent opinion – and I am happy to re-think my opinions if I have data that proves me or my thinking wrong. (Btw: recommend books “Factfulness – The world is better than you think” and “Rational Optimist”).

But seriously, how does it look like to be an Optimistic Contrarian. Simple.
During my studies all my student colleagues wanted to go to Investment Banking, join an MNC (for a ‘stable’ career) or continue their Master/PHDs and making their career in academia. My choice? I co-founded a business right out of university. Obviously, there are so many other people to thank for (and a high portion of luck) but within 22 months the business I co-founded got acquired by Google:

Fast forward, I am independent: financially, physically and spiritually. And creating wealth (not just in monetary terms but in intellectual, spiritual, physical and social capital) is incredibly easy.

“Optimistic contrarians are the rarest breed”

Naval Ravikant

How does it look like? Let me give you a handful of examples:

  • Monetary: I am a passionate art collector since 2010, I collect art that speaks to me (mostly Contemporary Art, Expressionism and Street Art) and recently I have been expanding my interest to NFTs. I saw that Damien Hirst is releasing a NFT project (The Currency). I shared it with most of my friends who are interested either in Art or Crypto (Investments).
    • My friends in Art said that this is not a ‘real art’ project. It’s not unique as it has a collection of 10,000 art pieces.
    • My friends in Crypto said it’s not worth an investment as they think it’s overpriced (compared to other NFTs)
    • For me, it’s a perfect intersection of art + technology and as a side product an interesting investment opportunity: So I signed up and was lucky enough to get 1x art work allocated for U$ 2,000
  • Fast forward (literally 16 days since the launch of “The Currency”), this artwork is valued +17x the price.

  • Intellectual: I love reading books. And I don’t care what other think when I carry a book with me and sit down in any restaurant & cafe and read my book(s). The combination of reading ‘great literature’ and the actual world/on-the ground experience is my way of discovering knowledge. I learn or discover everyday something new. I don’t read daily newspaper and/or have a TV at home. My preference is based on actual experience, research and book recommendations. And I am willing to spend (on average) 1-2 hours per day reading. 
  • Physically: I do have a Swim and Triathlon coach. I don’t follow a strict training plan but focus on setting breakthrough goals (such as Ironman) and then discover what works/doesn’t work for me. Both in terms of training, sleep, gear and nutrition. My biggest recent discovery is the importance of sleep on my performance. So I have a strict rule to sleep min. 8 hours and weekends even longer.
  • Socially: I choose to spend my time strictly with people that I find inspiring, interesting and/or have a different view (or operating mode) than myself. I generally don’t like people who play the ’status game’ or have not delivered something by themselves (e.g. inherited the 4th generation of wealth without significant contribution by themselves). And if I join a dinner or event with someone that is acting or behaving against my core values, I make a choice not to meet with them in the future. Period.
  • Spiritually: I pray once in a while for my (extended) family and friends, I meditate regularly (Samatha and Vipassana). I spend time with Buddhist monks (my partner is Buddhist), visit all kind of spiritual places (from Catholic/Protestant Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, Buddhist Temple and other worship places). I discovered so many similarities of each religion and in my (limited) view – at the core of it – all religions share some commonalities. I had some of my best conversations with my catholic friends in Vienna/Austria, protestant friends in (North) Germany, my muslim colleagues in Malaysia, my Chinese/Singaporean colleagues in Singapore and more buddhist friends from Bhutan to Vietnam. It’s just incredible what the world has to offer.

So why I am sharing this with you? It took me nearly 20 years to discover and finally accept that I am an optimistic contrarian. And that it’s not only OK to be different but that you can be incredibly successful being ‘different’. For me “incredibly successful” is to live a happy and healthy life. And I experience being happy and healthy – nearly everyday. This is the type of wealth that’s worth exploring.

Featured image copyright: https://www.heni.com/, 16th August 2021

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