Overcoming Ego

A stubborn ego can cloud one’s judgment, leading to short-sighted investment decisions. This is significantly pronounced in recent market phenomena, like the cryptocurrency and NFT trends, where inflated egos led to the creation of economic bubbles that ultimately burst, causing in some cases, severe financial damage. Dennis and Katie share the importance of recognizing ego biases to make more rational and balanced financial and investing decisions.

The ego wants to be a winner, wants to be on top, wants to be better, the best, and winning. But I think the better thing to focus on is your potential. – Dennis Morton

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Important Disclosures:

Reference Links:

Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall by Zeke Faux

Sam Bankman-Fried Quoted on Sequoia Capital’s site (since been scrubbed)



Welcome to simply why, a podcast about money and purpose, where we pull back the curtain on running a financial advisory business focused on providing intentional advice to couples and families. I'm Dennis Morton. And I'm Katie Brown. Welcome back and thanks for tuning in.


We have a fun topic for today. This is good. It is good. We are going to talk about ego and how sometimes we let our ego get in the way of some things that we're trying to accomplish and how that can potentially show up in positive or negative ways, oftentimes the latter of the two. So, Denis, why don't you kick us off with this?


Right. So fortunately, we work in an industry where there are no egos that's really so blessed that whether it comes to salespeople or investors, everyone's very humble. And I've just always been wowed by that. There is a constant batting away, I think industry. Oh my goodness.


Yeah. Is it ever. And it shows up at a micro level. I think confidence can trip into a lot of ego sometimes, whether it's advisor confidence and being I'm the one who can promise you better returns or whatever it might be, or investors thinking they can do it all. But you want to start with kind of the egregious examples of the last few years.


Just look back over the last four or five years and the bubbles that expanded and burst, especially if you look at things like cryptocurrency and if you rip from the headlines the stories of FTX and the trial of Sam Bankman Fried and what's happened with his conviction. There's some great podcasts out there. A lot of ink has been spilled. There are books coming out. And Barry Ritholtz did an interview with an author who has a new book coming out called Number Go Up.


And that was the strategy around cryptocurrency is like the only philosophy around it is the number is going to go up there, there. And that was literally what they were doing. And you talk about the ego that we encountered in 2021 where people were flush with cash, they were chasing after returns, and they were defining winning by having the most. And cryptocurrency was going to the moon. NFTs, SPACs, all of this other wonky stuff that has since collapsed mostly.


I mean, you look at the numbers on non fungible tokens have just gone, a lot of them have gone to zero. Cryptocurrency exchanges have gone bankrupt and all this other stuff. But it was a lot of ego showing up. We unearthed an ad. There was an ad posted on Twitter which was an FTX ad, a cryptocurrency ad, where Sam Bankman-Fried had a quote on there.


It said, I'm very skeptical of books. I don't want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something very close to that. And you and I were just floored by that statement, but not surprised. Wow. Yeah.


Immediately, my first reaction is, he truly thinks he knows everything he needs to know at this point in his life, and there's nothing left to learn. Yeah. He's 32, by the way, today.


That is unbelievable. And I recognize there are lots of different ways to take in content education, but books are classic to say, I'm done with books. I'm done with that for the next, I don't know, 60, 70 years. And like you said, in his 30s, not even halfway through living his life, likely. Wow.


And I think back to the early stages of my career, when I had a liberal arts education, read lots of novels and fiction and nonfiction alike, and I thought, I need to catch up all this finance stuff I need to figure out. And I read all these books, but it's not really applicable to what I'm doing. This is like the most shakespearean ego quote, because, truthfully, when you get into finance, there is so much ego involved and so much pride that it's straight out of Shakespeare and there's the collapse. And you have these figures, whether it's star managers or founders of companies, there's just a litany of people who. You see that the ego is the trap.


That's the enemy. In fact, that was a book a couple of years ago that Ryan Holiday, who runs the daily Stoic and has written a lot of stoic philosophy. He has a book called Ego is the enemy, and one of his quotes from the book is your potential, the absolute best you're capable of. That's the metric to measure yourself against your standards. Winning is not enough.


People can get lucky and win. People can be jerks and win. Anyone can win, but not everyone is the best possible version of themselves. And I think that's just. It's a hard thing in finance because it's quantifiable.


You can point and say, I'm winning because I'm up. I'm up or I'm down. I have a percentage that's better than your percentage, but that's not the conversation. Right. And I love that it says your standards to be the best version of yourself, to live up to your own standards, or to set your own personal goals against yourself.


Sometimes I think, is the way to go. Because you're right. Anybody can win. And if you focused on the winning and losing, you miss out on the process and the growth that might go along with it. Very true.


Embracing the journey, not the destination. Even things like we talk all the time. One of the most powerful things that we use as a visual for clients is that the calend chart or the periodic table of investments, which is a quilt of all the different investments you can own, plotted by their performance over the years. So the ones at the top of the best performers, ones at the bottom of the worst, and defining winning by what's on top. You're having to change your stripes almost every year.


How exhausting. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. If you say what's going to be, especially the last couple of years, I mean, cash has been at the bottom for any number of years, and suddenly it's kind of perched at the top for a couple of years. And it is exhausting.


It's taxing. And that definition of success, I think you really do have to embrace the, you know, I can't help but think, I'm sorry. Going back to this quote again by Sam Bakeman Fried. I would love to see my dad's reaction to a quote like this. I think I've shared before when I think about lifetime learning in books.


My dad would read a book a week, a book every couple of days. He's read hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books, and all growing up, every single night for a period of time, he would sit with his book. He'd read his book. But next to him at all times was a Webster dictionary. At any time, he came across a word that he didn't fully understand in the context, or he wondered, what is the deeper meaning of this?


And he would look up the word, the actual definition, the synonyms that he would study the words within the books. And I think when I was younger, I always thought that was a little strange. But as an adult, I so appreciate that desire to continue learning and to expand your knowledge base, not just what's in the book, but just with language. That's really cool. It's almost like an active versus passive.


Like there's passive reading where you're just kind of taking the pages. And I always have a pencil with me. So a lot of my books are. The spines are misshapen because I'm shoving pencils in to mark my. I always.


I was taught early on to have a pencil with you so that you're kind of underlining the things and taking an active role but that's even more extreme where you're just literally stopping, engaging with the language that much deeper. That's really cool. So the Ryan holiday quote, like, you can get lucky and be passive and win in certain circumstances. The challenge is, what are you getting out of it? Is there any yield to this?


Are you learning a new word? Are you learning a new phrase? Is it becoming something useful to you and others in the course of it? And do you value that, too? Because if you get lucky and win, how much work was put into the process?


How much personal fulfillment did you receive from it? I think the things that really give energy are things that you do grow in the process. You learn throughout the process. There's kind of a personal fulfillment. And so I do like the idea of being very clear on your values, your standards, and the things that you want to accomplish personally when it comes to sort of the winning game.


But also, if we kind of go back to ego, the self awareness a little bit, like, okay, I might not be the best in this area. How do I learn? How do I grow? Who else is going to help me on this journey so that we can win together as a team or we can set some of those common goals? I think that's really important, too.


Yeah, I'll be honest, this is a challenging conversation based on my background and how I kind of grew up in the industry. The financial industry largely teaches you to make yourself indispensable, to be the person. There's a lot of lone wolf mentality that exists in finance. That's why you see star advisors, you see star investors, that type of thing. It's very difficult to break out of the ego trap.


And it's something I've definitely had to work on over the years is know, delegation and how to incorporate a larger team. I think you and I have been very intentional in building out this team and saying, the irony of our firm is that the less it's about Morton and Brown, the better that it has to be about other people being highly competent professionals. But it's challenging. And one of the ways we've done that is by having outside voices at the table. And we'd like to think that's a role that we play with clients, is sitting across the table from them and helping to keep at bay some of those ego instincts.


And ego is not always a bad thing. I mean, there's healthy ego and sense of self, but making sure it doesn't creep into financial decision making. And I love that old saying, the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know. And I think that can actually be a freeing feeling because I think embracing that and acknowledging you don't know all the things. So let's bring in other people that may know something more and different than I know.


And I think that you can give yourself permission to say it's okay that I don't know it. I'm going to surround myself with people that are on the same path or on a similar path of let's learn this together, let's support one another. I do think that third Party voice at the table is so helpful for conversations when you're trying to navigate new things. That's one of the reasons why we do the podcast and videos and everything else is this is us thinking out loud and learning stuff. We're trying to turn it around.


My wife Gina had a great kind of line. I think it was last year we were talking about budgeting and just the ways that we spend money on ourselves, right? Like, what are the things that we would spend on ourselves? And she encountered, I don't know if it's rameet Seti or somebody she heard say, I manage my expenses, but I have no book budget. Books are always on the like.


We can always spend on that and just that idea. And I've taken that to heart. There's a couple of new books coming out recently. Like Morgan Housel has a new book coming out. I think Shane Parrish from Farnham street has a new book coming out.


And I've just gone to Amazon said, let's get them in here just to keep feeding that. And those are two people particularly who they're on the journey and kind of latching onto that is helpful and in our own way, I'd like to think that we do that for the community that we serve. I think it's also interesting to recognize, too, once again, going back to FTX, if you stay in your own mind for too long and you kind of get sudden, I have all the answers. At some point something punches you in the face and maybe I shouldn't use that. It's all great until you get punched in the face.


As Mike Tyson, to paraphrase, that's the first time Katie's quoted Mike Tyson on the podcast. That's great. I'm going to get some marvelous Marvin Hagler quotes in there to stick with a boxing theme. But you do, all of a sudden something happens and you're like, oh my, something comes crashing down. So funny story.


Last night I was playing ping pong with my son Caleb here. We go again. And he's pretty good. He mixes in like, different spins and different things. He's constantly trying new serves.


I said to him, I said, I think I'm going to start working some spin into my game. And he's like, you don't know how to do spin, mom. I'm like, I can figure it out. I can learn it. And he's like, well, I think you need to know.


So he and I both play tennis. He's like, I think you need to know spin better in tennis beforehand. And I'm like, I use spin. He's like, no, don't. Really.


I'm like, buddy, I have a spin serve. He's like, yeah, but you didn't learn that till your said, all right, I can still learn stuff. I'm allowed to still learn stuff. And I said, I'd like to embrace lifetime learning. And hopefully I'm still learning new things in my fifty s, sixty s, seventy s and even eighty s.


And he's like, oh, gosh, no. I said, okay. Do you think you know everything you need to know, Caleb? He's like, well, yeah. I'm like, you're 14, buddy.


I kind of get where that statement is coming from. But eventually I said, all right, just wait. Something will wake you up and you'll realize you don't know everything yet. And you'll hopefully embrace the lifetime learning. Because if you think you're there eventually, something will tell you you're not.


Now, I can say this because I'm pretty confident that our teenage kids don't listen to the podcast. My 13 year old, we use a phrase often about her perspective on the world, which is frequently wrong. Never in doubt.


The confidence and expertise levels are so disparate right now. But welcome to the teenage years. I guess to be clear, my son is amazing. And I know your daughter's amazing, too. Yes.


This is not bashing on the kids. Do we need to add that to the disclaimer language at the end of the podcast? Any family dynamics commented on her purely for information purposes, not considered advice. It is just fascinating, though, how the confidence can show up and to be aware of that, I think you talk about the proverbial punch in the face, right? The figurative punch in the face.


Like when things kind of reality hit. That's really been the last two years. As investors, it was really hard to do wrong. In 2021, everything was just number go up. It doesn't matter what it is.


And the last couple of years, it's like, oh, maybe we can't do anything we want and expect the positive outcome because everything's just fine. It's become more nuanced, and I think that's always a great place to have conversations with people. I don't know who said it, but something along the lines of don't let a good crisis go to waste. I think it's a great time to be talking to our clients about not everything's always perfect, and in fact, it's rarely priced to perfection. Let's talk about the constructive things that you can do to still say ego.


I'm not in control, and there are things that I can do proactively to improve my stance, even if things aren't going exactly right, even if I'm not winning per se, or just not where I thought I was going to be. Yes, stock trading is a great example over the last few years where so much went up. You remember back in 2021, there was just nonstop advertisements, talk everything else about Robin Hood trading and individual style and kind of gamifying it. The word gamify, I think, is really cool. Coming back to the crypto thing, like, who were the spokespeople for FTX?


They had commercials running with Tom Brady, the winningest winner who ever winned. That's his Persona, and he was the pitch person for that. And they had other athletes. They were on sports stadiums. Like the analogy between investing is a game be associated with winners.


By the way, be careful what your definition of winning is. And I think athletes struggle with that because you win at the gamified portion of life where there's a scoreboard, there's a championship, all those things. And then suddenly you retire and step away and you realize life is not gamified. That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works.


There are much bigger stakes. And I think that's the challenge or the difference between trying to go out there and win and get something quick and then translating that to what am I putting at stake? Or those lines get blurred. I think too much if you go all in on. Let me get this quick fix here.


I did that on Monday. Oh. When we sat down to do our planning conversation, I looked down kind of the agenda and the things we were going to talk about and went back into my notes and wrote, above all of it, dream big. Like, don't get caught up in the day to day, month to month, year to year definition of winning. You got to think bigger than that and make sure that that's out there, because you're right.


The stakes are much bigger than what the ego thinks is important right now. The ego wants to be a winner, wants to be on top, wants to be better, the best, and winning. But I think the better thing to focus on is your potential. And if you talk about the advisory relationship and defining financial success, the person sitting across the table from you should be the one who's looking at your potential and helping your money fund the best version of yourself. And I think sometimes we have to divert that somebody will come in and say, let's talk about performance.


Yes, let's talk about performance, but in context of what is it doing to help you be the best version of yourself. The extreme case is lottery winners. Great. You won millions of dollars in the lottery, but there was no effort, there was no learning, there was nothing that went into that. And we know the track record of lottery winners when that happens.


Now, our clients are not lottery winners, but there's pitfalls along the way where ego pops up and we have to come back to talking about not just who you are right now, but your potential. It's a challenge for us as a profession to do that, because sometimes we want to talk about winning and being the best all the time. But it's a challenge for us as a profession to again address the human side of things and make sure it's forefront in the conversation. If you have questions about how being up or down in the markets, how comparison either with where your performance is or relative to others or anything else, just those things where you feel ego creeping into the conversation, reach out to us. We love having these conversations about how the advisory relationship can help to navigate some of the ups and downs, emotionally and personally, of the investing experience.


Thanks for tuning in to this episode of simply why a podcast about money and purpose. We hope you enjoyed getting to know us, how we approach leading a financial advisory practice, and the work we do every day to help families and couples make important financial decisions. Morton Brown, Family wealth is an SEC registered investment advisor. This podcast is designed for educational and informational purposes and not intended as investment advice. More information can be found at


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