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A Strategy for the Buffet

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

Life is a buffet, hey.

I am aware that for many people that isn’t true – choices are limited, resources need to be carefully managed, and they are not generally spoiled for choice. I imagine that contributes to the bankruptcy statistic for lottery winners, where the sudden and excessive access to wealth and opportunity is just beyond the scope of the recipient to process or handle.

I think this might also be true for people who achieve success too early/too quickly. Sports stars, tech wiz kids, Youtube teenage millionaires, Britney Spears… you get a lot very quickly, and it all ends up in tears because you end up overeating. You don’t have the tools on where and how to pick on the buffet, and the feeding frenzy of choice leaves you bloated, unhappy and with a sugar hangover.

I’m an Enneagram 7, which means I am particularly susceptible to the buffet. I want to eat it all. All the time. And yes, I am using food as a metaphor, but only partially. The food buffet is a danger zone for me. My first vivid memory of losing it was at a school function when I was 11, where my favourite teacher and hero Mr. Smit gave me a tongue-lashing for being a pig.

7s are enthusiastic visionaries. Perpetually suffering from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), always looking to the next thing, the worst meditators in the world, unhypnotizable and notoriously bad listeners. Yep, that would be us. We are also at high risk of suffering from the broadly undiagnosed but ubiquitous affliction known as CFE. I am reminded of my silent suffering every time I go out to dinner.

CFE (Chronic Food Envy) is the horrible condition that, no matter what I order off the menu, I will always covet your meal. Luckily I married Caroline, who understands and actively assists in limiting my suffering. We have, in our 8 years of being together, only once ordered the same meal. It was an incredible truffle oil and parmesan linguini, so that was merited. She helps me in her small way, but even her kind assistance is limited in keeping my monkey mind at bay.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because, luckily, I have been privileged with sound physical and mental ability, as well as demographic momentum, to be presented with quite a nice buffet. All the time.

Become a doctor, an accountant or a lawyer. Sure, I can do any of those if I wanted to.

Take a trip to Athens, New York or Dassiesfontein. I have a visa-filled passport and options.

Send my kids to an Afrikaans school, an English school, maybe even the really good Jewish school round the corner. Why not?

It’s a rare privilege to have so many options, and one to be grateful for and treasured. These many choices also require, for someone like me, to be highly intentional. To start with the end in mind, to always work with a strategy, to refine that strategy into highly actionable and short-term tactical moves. If I don’t, I’ll end up not getting to the cheesecake because I overdid it on the meat selection. Down to the detail of what I put in my mouth every meal, I need to apply discipline and guardrails to my decisions, because otherwise, it will JUST BE CHAOS.

This is what I teach, by the way. How to take that big hairy scary goal (Hike Cathedral Peak with the boys at 65!) into short-term action items that are right in front of me (go to the gym 3 times this week! Stop snacking after 7!). And then finding someone to hold you accountable for those moves. Keeping your eyes (at least peripherally) on the long-term prize, while having laser-like focus on the thing I need to do right now to move the dial. Even if just a little bit at a time, and keep the faith that a bunch of small moves will compound into some decent momentum.

Whether it’s Jim Collins or James Clear, Barack Obama or Bryan Adams, Cindy Crawford or Charl Schwartzel, there’s a common message of disciplined focus that gets you to play at the top of your game.

It’s hard when the rest of the buffet just looks so tantalizing. But more often than not, worth it.

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