The Romantic Lie

Amar Pandit , CFA , CFP

In his book “Wanting”, Author Luke Burgis writes, “When people tell you what they want, they tell a version of the Romantic Lie. It goes something like this:

I just realized I want to run a marathon. (Like all my friends when they turn thirty-five.)”

Did you understand what a Romantic Lie is?

Luke adds “The Romantic Lie is self -delusion, the story people tell about why they make certain choices: because it fits their personal preferences, or because they see its objective qualities, or because they simply saw it and therefore wanted it.

They believe that there is a straight line between them and the things they want.

That’s a lie. The truth is that the line is always curved.


Julius Caesar was an excellent Romantic liar. After his victory at the battle of Zela, he declared, “Veni, vici, vedi” (I came, I saw , I conquered). This line then has been quoted thousands of times by people taking Caesar at his word: that he saw the place and decided to conquer it. However, the truth is far more complex.

First, Caesar revered Alexander the Great, who conquered nearly all of the known world in 3rd century BC. Second at the battle of Zela, Caesar’s rival, Pharnaces II had attacked Caesar first. Caesar didn’t just come, see and conquer. He had long desired to conquer like his model, Alexander, and he was responding to his rival, Pharnaces.”

Like Caesar, we all tell ourselves some version of the Romantic Lies. We will come to these later but a key takeaway from the above paragraphs is that there are always models of desire. The investing world is full of them (models of desire) right from Warren Buffett to Rakesh Jhunjhunwala to your genius neighbour or a friend who has made a quick buck.

They can also be people who say, “I keep all my money safely in the bank” or others who say, “I invest only in Real Estate because I can see it and feel it.” Of late, the models of desire for the digital natives are from the Crypto space. By the way, I am referring to models of desire related to investing here but we can come across other models of desire in every aspect of our life – whether in health, business, spiritual, relationships, happiness or profession.

We are tantalized by models who suggest a desire for things that we currently don’t have.

Everyone has. Even Billionaires have. And if you don’t figure who your model of desire is, you might be believing a Romantic Lie too.

Coming back to the Romantic Lies in the investing world, there are plenty of them. I will cover a few of them for your reflection.

  1. We have been told that the job of any self-respecting investor is to constantly be searching for the best investment. We so deeply believe this that we think that we have invented this one when the reality is that we have been constantly fed this one by the investment, insurance and securities industry.
  2. Another amazing Romantic Lie connected to the first one is that investing is all about choosing products. Thus, there is a mad obsession about choosing products. The reality is that trying to pick up the best investment before you have come up with your “why and process” of investing is like trying to decide whether to take a plane, train or car on a trip before you have decided where you want to go. We know how moronic this sounds and thus we will never decide the mode of transportation before figuring out the destination. However, we keep doing this all the time when it comes to our investments.
  3. We are told by the investment industry and their executives that our job is to beat some arbitrary index or find someone who can beat the index for us. I don’t know who invented this, but this is all over the place.
  4. Another one is the concept of Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH). I know this might sound too technical but let me simplify this. EMH is the hypothesis that stock prices reflect all available information and that beating the market is impossible. Reflect on how 3 and 4 are contradictory to each other. The reality is that there is more to markets than just information.

Finally, what do you think of the Romantic Lie(s)?

Do you have a model of desire?

If you don’t know yours, this would be a great idea to at least figure the answer out.

P.S. Write down the Romantic lies you have come across in investing and send a quick email to me. There is an interesting gift waiting for everyone who sends in a response.