Hedge Funds, Self-Deprecation and Growth Mentality – An Interview with Sprezzaturian Karl-Mikael Syding

Imagine for a second that you are a multimillionaire. You have enough money to spend that you could fulfill all your materialistic dreams. You could own an amazing sports car, you could live in a two floor luxurious loft in the center of big city, you could book tables in VIP restaurants and you could party in the best high-end clubs in town.

 

Yet, despite all that you still feel that something is missing. That strong feeling of fulfillment you were expecting to feel isn’t really there. The immense sense of lasting happiness you were anticipating is still a distant ambition. All your material rewards help you experience joy but only temporarily.

 

You thought that all your hard work would really pay off and that you could reach a state of eternal bliss, but you really didn’t.

 

That’s what Mike Syding also thought when he decided to study finance almost 20 years ago and pursue a career as a financial analyst in one of the most successful hedge funds in Europe.

 

He worked hard and he rose to the top, but he decided that it was time for him to stop. It was a wild ride but definitely an educating one.

 

Today, at the age of 43, he is wiser than ever.

 

After a long journey through the alleys of high finance, he decided to embrace a more balanced lifestyle and invest in his personal growth.

 

Amazed by his story and his abundant mindset I decided to get in touch with him in order to interview him and get more insight into his story.

 

We talked for almost 1 hour and 25 minutes. It was a lengthy but very delightful discussion. I decided to summarize the interview and cover the most important points in the following paragraphs.

 

However, at the end of the post you will find the whole recording for your own pleasure.

 

Blogger, Sprezzaturian, European Hedge Fund Manager of the Decade, Weight Lifter, Dog Owner, Swedish. This is how you present yourself to the world and I have to say you have all the ingredients that make up an attractive persona. So let’s talk a bit about this persona. I was introduced to you from a guest post you submitted on “Danger and Play” almost a year ago. That was a great introduction. Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and explain to our readers who you really are?

 

Almost a year ago Mike from “Danger and Play” asked his readers to introduce themselves and share their stories. As it turned out he really liked my story and I decided to work on a guest post. The guest post was really successful and Mike encouraged me to start my own blog, and so I did.

 

To be honest, that’s more or less how my whole life works. A tiny change, a flutter of a butterfly and I kind of grab onto it and suddenly find myself doing something completely different. Back then I was still the managing director of my hedge fund and who knows, if I wouldn’t have contacted Mike I could still be working there.

 

I think because I am kind of open to new challenges and possibilities, the best way to describe myself would be as a life optimizer.

 

I constantly want to improve things. But that’s also a bit weird because at the same time I am really lazy. I am lazy at the gym, I was lazy at school, I was lazy at work, and now I am lazy even with my blog. If you visit my blog you will realize how lazy I am just by looking at the design. It is crappy and I know that because firstly I get tons of emails about it and secondly because I suck when it comes to design. I could pay someone else to do it for me, but something always stops me because I know that I am the one who is supposed to live this life and do those things and learn everything.

 

And that’s my main mindset. Constantly learn and constantly optimize, even if you think you are lazy.

 

And for lazy people, the best way to embrace this mindset would be by focusing on the following sentence: Do just one thing and then just one more.

 

Just take a small step forward and you will see that you will find yourself eventually doing one more and one more and one more.

 

I like this perspective because our whole life is a constant battle between optimization and procrastination. And I think that the best way to win this battle is by doing what you just said. Some other people call it the 1% mentality, where you focus on becoming 1% better at something every day.

 

I totally agree.

 

I think that laziness is an integral part of our life and there isn’t really a reason to fight it. In the future, we will have robots doing all the hard work for us and then we will probably have to deal with other forms of laziness.

 

The secret is not to fight laziness but to focus on finding creative ways to optimize your life in small increments every day.

 

I read in your bio that you began with nothing, in a new city, with no education, no friends, no contacts, no family and worked yourself up to a significant negative net worth, by accumulating a student debt to study finance. This is quite a big step for a young person. What did you learn from that experience that you could share with our readers?

 

The lesson here is to just do it. Get away from your parents and do something. These days, even if you can’t afford a college education because it is too expensive, you have unlimited options. You have access to everything on the Internet and you can even get a degree online. But you can even start your own business or live and work abroad with less effort compared to when I was in my twenties.

 

I can’t stress enough how important the “just do it” mentality is. Learn to move and think independently as soon as possible, even if it is really hard.

 

My living conditions, for instance, weren’t ideal when I first moved out of my parents’ house. I rented a room in a family house which had 7 more people. I also moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone or anything about it.

 

But I think that this was the best decision for me because this is how I learned to actually live.

 

People are really afraid of attempting something similar because they don’t really know how to deal with the fear of uncertainty.

 

The important thing is to feel comfortable with being uncertain and develop the required flexibility that will allow you to feel even more comfortable as you grow and face new challenges.

 

Most of the things I have achieved were through trial and error and although I hurt myself sometimes, I realized that the earlier you do them, the easier it is to bounce back.

 

Despite the difficulties, I think that your mentality really paid off. Eventually, you landed a job in a Hedge fund. Many people are interested in this career. Can you share some details about your journey? How did you start and what did you learn?

 

I was actually really tired of high school, so I thought instead of studying engineering or medicine, I will study something more manageable, therefore I chose economics.

 

Pretty early on I read a book called “The American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis. The pure violence in the book really resonated with me. I don’t know why but I really, really liked it. I read it three times in a row.

 

So, I recommended the book to a couple of friends at school and when they read it they came to me with the same response: “Well, now we know what to major in, Finance.”

 

And that’s how I decided to do it.

 

I graduated in 1994 and started looking for a job in a time, however, when Sweden was going through the toughest economic crisis since the 70s. So, I got a job as a broker’s assistant and I made about 1000 euros per month. In the beginning I thought that was heaven compared to my 500 euros spending allowance while I was studying.

 

Nonetheless, I worked hard, sometimes even more than 100h/week and eventually the people in the firm identified my potential and realized that I could do research for them.

 

I started working as an analyst and two years later I became quite attractive in the marketplace and another broker firm simply poached me from where I was. They doubled my salary, gave me bonuses and made me head of IT research because of my experience in computers and technology.

 

This was a really big step for me because until then I was usually the underdog. I came from a poor family, stumbled through all stages of school, became a broker’s assistant with the lowest paid salary compared to everyone in my school (despite being the best student) and eventually the situation turned around completely.

 

Things went really well and I really enjoyed the new job, until the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 when I decided that it is time for me to quit, mainly because I could not keep selling all those companies that would eventually go bankrupt.

 

After I quit, a friend who really liked me and was also impressed by me applied for a job at a hedge fund and thought he should pitch me as well. Eventually, they hired both of us.

 

So, there I was, entering a completely new environment and opening myself to new possibilities.

 

In the beginning, it was exciting. I worked hard, took over responsibilities and the managers trusted me a lot. The hedge fund was so successful that at some point we had just shy of 1 billion euros under management.

 

That was the bright side of the story but as you know in every story there is also a dark side. And I experienced many dark events during my stay there. Fortunately, my mentality really helped me view those dark events as lessons.

 

And probably the most important lesson that I learned was to never do meaningless work.

 

For instance, I wasted a lot of time talking to clients instead of focusing on actual hedge fund work. I also spent a lot of time just staring at the market when things didn’t work out as planned and this resulted to the ambiance in the firm becoming dark and heavy.

 

Also, the environment in a hedge fund is extremely stressful and I didn’t really know how to deal with it. Instead of just taking a walk to clear my mind when things got tense, I just stayed there hoping that something will change. Obviously it didn’t.

 

Although I did make a lot of money and gained some awards on the way, I came to realize that I didn’t have the time to do a lot of creative work and invest in my personal development.

 

That realization was pivotal to my career and somehow initiated my retirement from the fund and ignited my new career as a blogger.

 

When I first found out about your blog I wasn’t really sure if I could take you seriously. You enjoy talking about yourself in a self-deprecating and humorous way. When someone reads your posts, however, he can realize that you have a lot of important things to say. How did you cultivate this attitude towards life and how has this helped you in your journey?

 

Well, the simple answer is that this is who I am.

 

I am not really in control there. I just happen to be this way. Perhaps my Swedish mentality played a role in this. It is some short of a Swedish ethic to not think you are somebody important. In Sweden the higher you rise, the more people expect you to be humble.

 

All these facts aside, I think that with the way I go about life and with my thirst to cut down to the essence of things and explore the underlying principles of everything, I have come to realize that you can’t really control reality.

 

This complex and multidimensional experience we call reality is way far from our reach and we understand only a fraction of it, thus not allowing us to control it. And because you can’t control reality, it is better not to take yourself seriously.

 

Nassim Taleb calls events in our reality that we can’t control black swans. I guess that the more you try to predict a black swan the more you will be fooled by randomness and if you are fool enough to take all these events seriously you won’t really stay sane.

 

And we will be the bigger fool in the end if we walk around and try to act like adults and be so serious about stuff we can’t control.

 

I am not sure if adults keep behaving that way today, but when I was little, everybody above the age of 30 was so serious and somehow now I can’t see myself in their shoes.

 

Also, most of my close friends still behave like children and I really like it.

 

You are quite the growth evangelists in all areas of your life. Why is growth mentality so important to you and what areas do you focus on in order to “fertilize” that growth?

 

This is probably the most difficult question because the topic is so vast and so hard to grasp as well.

 

For starters, we need to identify growth as a natural process because that’s what living organisms do. Growth is life. Life isn’t stagnation. If we stagnate we will wither and die.

 

In a communist regime, you will sometimes see them freezing all prices because they want to balance the status quo. They think they will stop unemployment from rising and so on but this doesn’t really work and the economy completely crumbles.

 

The same idea applies to living organisms. If you try to freeze your level at anything, from language skills to your physiology, you will crumble. Things are changing underneath anyway so the best thing one can do is to embrace change.

 

To be honest, I have come to understand that change is probably more important than growth. When you want to take one more step as we said before, it doesn’t mean that it needs to be in the same direction.

 

I am also like anybody else. I also get stuck in homeostasis. This comfortable position where you just do what you did yesterday. But it doesn’t work. If you stay in the same place too long you will just grow boring and depressed and you will become like Lestat the Vampire and eventually lose contact with the world around you.

 

However, if you constantly change and grow with the environment you will feel much attuned with the environment and accomplish so much more.

 

So, my advice to young people with regards to change and growth would be to stay thirsty, stay curious, be open to whatever life throws at you and also try to constantly meet new people.

 

What we do right now for instance is so rewarding for both of us.

 

It definitely is. Also another thing to note here is that while you grow, you need to manage properly your energy levels. Understanding your limits, understanding when to say no and when to move forward is essential to your growth.

 

 

Exactly. Sometimes you are supposed to just sit in front of a campfire and do nothing. Just embrace mindfulness and maybe also meditate. Even this state is very beneficial for your growth.

 

Take care of your energy and don’t focus on activities that drain your energy. And from my perspective the most important thing in this direction is to not do a meaningless job just for money and status. This is such a waste of life.

 

In Closing

 

It’s been a great conversation and I would like to personally thank Mike for sharing his amazing insight. I truly believe that interacting with people like Mike who have experienced such a lifestyle and are in a position to offer a holistic interpretation of their experience is paramount for anyone who wants to follow a similar trajectory.

 

Mike also shared with us his favorite books and resources:

 

 


 

Andrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at The Quintessential Mind - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.