When I first began writing finance articles at Seeking Alpha, I was immediately drawn to a contributor named Rocco Pendola. Aside from the fact that he has the right taste in music (like me, he’s a Springsteen guy), I quickly became aware of the fact that no one was able to generate tons of tons of comments on their articles quite like Rocco could. He was Seeking Alpha’s “it” writer, and whatever he chose to write about, a crowd soon gathered.
Fortunately for me, when I first started writing, Rocco reached out to me and regularly offered advice on how to deal with the tumultuous waves of “being out there” as they presented themselves. As someone new to the game, I was caught off guard by how negative a reading audience could be when you think you’re writing about the benign topic of large-cap defensive investments that pay dividends. Sure, if you’re burning your draft card for the Vietnam War outside the White House, you have the baked-in expectation that you’re going to get some pushback. But when you’re trying to develop your craft about something you perceive as an innocent topic (Will Johnson & Johnson raise its dividend by 7% or 11% next year!), it rocks you a bit at first when everything you write leads to at least three or four intensely negative e-mails from people that seem pretty dead-set on attacking you as a person.
One of these days, I’ll open up some of my old e-mails, redact the names of the hate-mail writers for their sake, and share with you some of the things I’ve read throughout the years. Some of the things indicate that the reader engages in weirdly creepy background research—I once wrote something Exxon that a reader didn’t like, and the e-mail concluded with “I see you didn’t make Dean’s List this semester at Washington & Lee! Maybe you should spend some more time with your studies!” The reason I didn’t make Dean’s List is because I was in law school (not undergrad anymore) at the time I wrote the article, but still: it’s weird dealing with the lengths people go to make their criticism personal. Some of the stuff is of the more “stop writing” “go jump off a building” and so on variety, and once you’ve been at it long enough (for me, it took six months), you can get a laugh out of those and move on fairly quickly.
But as much as I’ve had to deal with it, nothing comes close to the amount of vitriol that Rocco Pendola has regularly faced over the course of his writing career. He has a bigger audience than I do, he tends to write about a more emotional subject than I do (disruptive companies shaking things up with a technological bent), and he doesn’t mince words with his writings. That is a trifecta formula for a whole lot of hate e-mail.
And you know what I’ve seen? Rocco is an absolute bulldog at trudging ahead and putting one step in front of the other. Sometimes, he responds with sharp wit and hurls his own fireball at those casting negative vibrations his way. Other times, he ignores his critics (this is much easier said than done—when people attack your personal integrity, your kneejerk impulse is to defend yourself, and letting it go is not as easy to do in practice as it sounds when discussing abstract advice). And better yet, sometimes Rocco laughs it off—providing a great example of what it means to take your work seriously but not yourself too seriously.
The effects of compounding are a frequent topic I discuss on this site. If you invest this much money for so long, it becomes like a snowball rolling down a hill and eventually turns into something substantial. But compounding is not limited to money alone—it works with careers as well. If you get cussed at, mocked, or ridiculed, it’s very easy to give up and say “screw it, I’m out.” That’s why, when you think back to the finance writers you were reading five years ago, very few of them are left standing today. Yet, if you look at what Rocco does (every day, he develops his craft a little bit more, giving his opinion regardless of whether it draws criticism or not), you can see how he keeps compounding his way to better results. First, you see him starting writing for The Street. Then, you see him on your television discussing the future for Apple stock. Then, you hear him on Fox Sports Radio. Next week, you’ll be hearing him blog through “Rocco Riffs” on The Street. When you keep doing your thing long enough, and pound through the adversity, you find yourself starting to accumulate accomplishments.
A lot of you reading this have to do thankless. And by that I mean, the only feedback you ever receive is of the negative variety. Don’t let that get you down! It can’t be tempting to quit, but don’t go there. Don’t let the negativity of others slow you down on your path as you try to get to where you wanna go, because that is the only way you can let them in. On an outtake for his freshman album Cold Spring Harbor, Billy Joel said, “All you wanna do is love and be loved in return.” On the business side of the equation, too many of us aren’t in work where you get that love in return.
That’s where your inner code comes in. That’s where your inner strength comes into play. Read through some of Rocco’s old archives on Seeking Alpha, and see how absolutely irrationally angry some of his readers get simply because he has a point of view that they don’t agree with. Well, guess what, Rocco kept writing, and his persistence is paying off—he’s in a better place today than he was two years ago, and four years before that. When you wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to show up today, I’m going to get my job done, and get it done well”, you’ve already won. By deciding you’re not going to let someone interfere with you and your goals, you’ve killed the cancer before it gets a chance to grow.
Be more like Rocco. He shows up everyday, has the internal code to know what he is doing is great, and gives us that gentle reminder of what it’s like to see that scrappy American spirit in action. I hope all of you handle daily adversity as well as he does.