Published on 11/22/2014, updated on March 25, 2021 as I go through my 13th month of lockdown. I’m trying to build grit and perseverance as I care for my two children and wife.
Life is funny. I remember looking out my new living room window one morning and seeing the Farallon Islands for the first time. Even on a sunny day, they sometimes don’t appear given they are 30 miles away. But everything was crystal clear this morning and I could see the island’s entire silhouette.
I distinctly remember thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be crazy if someone swam from the Farallon Islands to the San Francisco shore and grabbed a cheeseburger for lunch at Outerlands Restaurant?
Then that afternoon I saw on the news a man had just finished swimming from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge in 14 hours! What’s more, I knew the guy from my previous career in finance. Small world!
I reached out to Joe to have him share his incredible accomplishment of swimming in frigid 53-55 degree waters for 14 hours straight, starting at midnight. I’m constantly looking for motivation, and I just cannot believe Joe was able to persevere for so long. After two hours of swimming in 78 degree Hawaiian water I’m done!
For those who have a propensity to quit way too soon, please have a read. There are just too many people who never achieve their full potential due to not sticking things out.
Interview With Joe Locke About Perseverance
Sam: What on Earth propelled you to take on such a task?
Joe: I started open water swimming after Pequot shut down (hedge fund). I started with smaller swims like Catalina and then the English Channel, but the Farallons was always the real challenge.
Sam: How many times did you try and fail? What kept you coming back for more? What type of perseverance did it take?
Joe: I tried altogether seven times – I just thought that if I had the right conditions and right course I could do it, and I love swimming out in the ocean so I didn’t mind trying it again and again. It’s taken me three years to do this swim and I basically had to learn how to do it because since only one other person has successfully completed it so long ago, it had to be re-learned. You make a lot of mistakes that way.
Sam: What was some of the preparation and training you did before you made your first attempt?
Joe: A lot of pool and bay training. Honestly, for my last attempt I was probably the least trained up. What matters far more than the swimmer is the conditions. I had perfect conditions for the last swim.
Sam: Out of 100%, what percent do you think is mental? What percent do you think is physical if there were only these two attributes?
Joe: Between the two, mental is far more important. People can always do so much more physically than they think. Don’t underestimate your physical perseverance. But don’t overestimate your mental perseverance.
Sam: How much of success do you believe is just sticking things out for a long enough time? Why do you think similar people fail, and some people succeed beyond their wildest dreams? How much does luck play a role in success?
Joe: Its always better to be lucky than anything else. For this, luck plays a huge role because nature is the biggest factor and is incredibly variable. After that, sticking things out is easily most important. There are lots of swimmers who are not particularly talented who completed huge swims because they are stubborn. There are lots of talented ex-NCAA swimmers who never leave the pool. Talent may be over-rated.
Sam: I’ve gone diving in a 13 millimeter wetsuit in Monterrey before and it is absolutely freezing after about 40 minutes. How cold was the average temperature when you swam, and how did you not start stiffening up WITHOUT a wetsuit (Joe was only in swim trunks the entire time)? I know after about 1 hour in 50-something degree water, I can no longer move.
Joe: The water was 53-57 on this last attempt. I have done others under 50. Its cold and not comfortable, even in the mid-50s, but that is so much more civilized than the low 50’s. The key is regular feeding and keeping the heart rate up. You can move a lot longer then than you think. Warming up after the swim is incredibly painful. While swimming you don’t hurt because the blood flows from extremities to the core. But when you are out and warming up and blood starts to circulate, your colder blood hitting the core it really really hurts.
Sam: Were there times during the swim when you just wanted to give up and quit? How did you motivate yourself to keep going?
Joe: Lots. The realization that I had great conditions and didn’t want to do this again soon and pay my boat captain again kept me going.
Sam: If the water was 80+ degrees, how many more miles do you think you could have swam?
Joe: Hard to say. Then it’s a totally different swim. Have actually never done a long distance warm water swim. I’m helping a friend though who is trying to swim the sea of Cortez though. Its definitely easier to swim longer in warmer water.
Sam: As an investment analyst are there any parallels to your swim and managing money? Why has the hedge fund industry underperformed so poorly, yet gets paid so well?
Joe: There are parallels with swim – tons of pain, no clear reward and lots of discomfort, all self-inflicted for gains that end up being abstract. Only a small portion of the HF industry gets paid well – tournament economics means most of us get screwed. The entire money management industry is overpaid for what it provides – the hedge fund segment is just part of that super market. John Bogle is right.
Perseverance Is Everything
Joe is being modest when he talks about having a tremendous amount of luck in his swim. Luck is him trying once and succeeding. But Joe succeeded only on his seventh try. I firmly believe that so much of success is putting yourself out there to eventually get lucky.
The other takeaway is that talent can only take you so far. I’ve met Joe plenty of times and he’s not particularly tall (around 5′ 9″) compared to Michael Phelps (6’4″), nor is he extremely ripped or fast. But Joe’s got sheer will. I like that he says “talent may be over-rated” and that “some ex-NCAA swimmers never leave the pool.” What a great analogy for pushing us beyond what we think is possible.
So many people complain how my net worth or savings projections are unrealistic. Yet, how many of these people have really tried pushing themselves to save as much as possible and build multiple income streams until they pass out at their desk every night due to exhaustion? How many people get up at 4:30am to work for several hours on their passion project before going to work for another 9-12 hours? How many people have actually tried to push their savings percentage to the max until they are literally just drinking water and eating crackers in order to achieve their goal?
My feeling is that naysayers already mentally tell themselves “no” before they even start. You’ve got to have the right money mindset to build wealth just like Joe had the right competitive mindset to swim for as long as it took to get to the other side.
Whenever I see someone over 60 years old working a minimum wage job, I get pumped to work harder. And now whenever the Farallon Islands appear outside my window, I’ll remember Joe’s incredible accomplishment in order to eat better, train harder, and persevere.
Related: The Secret To Your Success: 10 Years Of Unwavering Commitment
Readers, have you ever done something crazy and incredible like swim in freezing darkness for 30 miles like Joe? What are some of the things that help you persevere when times are tough? Do you think people are their own worst enemy sometimes? Do you have the perseverance to succeed?
Mr Zombie says
Amazing. I love stuff like this.
I find it easier to focus on a more “tangible” goal like this. You either pass or fail at a challenge like this. You pass or fail an exam. It with financial goals, say FI, it is much easier to change the goal posts or lose motivation.
This spring I managed to train for a 1000 mile bike ride and study and pass an actuarial exam. Not hooray me, but why aren’t I keeping up that intensity now? Time to focus.
Mike H says
That is a totally impressive feat. I’ve done some long endurance hikes (35 miles in a day on the East Coast with 8000′ of elevation gain and descent, and I was cooked at the end) but nothing of this level.
The most recent challenge I did was a 60 day period of juice fasting and taking no solid foods (including no milk, protein shakes or anything like that)- basically I went from nearly 190 lbs down to under 150 lbs, all on a 6’2″ frame. I lost mostly fat and a little bit of muscle that I put on shortly after finishing. Today I’m a muscular and solid 160 lbs. This challenge took a lot of mental toughness, as it was just a matter of carrying on each day for two months. But it wasn’t particularly physically demanding, it just took courage and discipline. Actually, this has given me a lot of motivation to do much tougher things with my life and continue to challenge myself physically, mentally and spiritually.
No question about sharks? That would be on my mind the entire swim!
Zambian Lady says
I have quit on some thing and sometimes I wonder where I would have been if I had persevered in spite of challenges. I have learnt to stick to things, at least keep trying until I realize there is nothing more I can do. Congrats to Joe with the swimming – my record non-stop swimming is about 2 meters. You should have seen my pride on breaking that record!
El Guapo says
Great article Sam.
I enjoy endurance activities like cycling and backpacking. This past August I even did a 200+ mile bikepacking adventure.
A lot of people don’t realize that they can do hard things. That is why it is so important to teach young people that they are capable of accomplishing difficult things. I have been involved as a Boy Scout leader for several years and it has been interesting to see how boys react in different ways to challenges.
One example: we did a 10 mile commemorative hike along one of the historic trails here in NM. On the planned night, it was raining and about 33 degrees. Many of the boys didn’t even show up, but everyone who showed up finished it. I would venture to guess that all of the boys could have finished it, but they didn’t have the mental toughness (or parental push) to follow through with showing up. It was only cold if you stopped moving.
Hopefully learning things like that at a youthful age will help them realize that they can do difficult things in life like go to grad school, prioritize long term financial goals, and follow through with commitments.
Doing this swim is testing your limits. I have some students who are preparing for the Los Angeles Marathon. For some, it is their second or third time. They learn so much from the preparation. Although their time has some importance, it is outweighed by just finishing. I think it is a metaphor for life particularly for at risk kids. This is their first major accomplishment.
As an SF resident, I can’t even comprehend how mentally strong Joe must be. What he accomplished is absolutely mind boggling. I’ve been to the Farallon islands on a tourist boat before and that is SO FAR AWAY! Holy cow. Crazy. When I went out there the sea was really choppy too and super windy. So I can see why he says that having the right conditions were an important part of being able to do that swim.
I can’t even imagine being in the water in SF without a wetsuit. I see people in the Bay swimming from time to time, but I could barely keep my feet ankle deep in the water the other day when I was at the beach!
Congrats Joe on accomplishing your dream!!! You have unbelievable perseverance and are an inspiration to us all.
Done by Forty says
“Joe is being modest when he talks about having a tremendous amount of luck in his swim. Luck is him trying once and succeeding. But Joe succeeded only on his seventh try. I firmly believe that so much of success is putting yourself out there to eventually get lucky.”
Hell yes. I have never thought about the confluence of effort and luck quite in this way. I’ve heard things like “you make your own luck” or “the harder you work, the luckier you get”, but they’ve never made intuitive sense to me the way that you put it. If luck is rare, you have to try a lot of times (maybe constantly) so that you are actually present when the rare-but-lucky circumstance comes around.
What good is the perfect storm if you’re not there to take advantage of it?
Financial Samurai says
Correct! Eventually we’ll get lucky. Just gotta last long enough.
Sam, good story. Have been here for long but first time posting. Believer in using endurance events to build grit and grind out financial freedom. Did my one and only ironman triathlon before entering college, learned so much from that experience and have heavily leaned on that over the last five years when doing a investment banking corporate finance job in a bulge bracket to earn my way to financial freedom.
Now that I’m heading on 30, I’ve saved and invested over a buck or so, and still have got another buck to go before I can call it a day. When things get tough I always think about the ironman journey, and suddenly those things don’t look that tough anymore. Sometimes I guess people fear the thought of doing something than actually doing it. When you overthink, sometimes a potentially tough situation gets even tougher. It’s easier to just go ahead and do it. This is evident especially in my job, when you sometimes feel overwhelmed, but once you stop thinking and start ticking off the to-do list, tough situations get easier.
Financial Samurai says
Fantastic you did an IronMan! How about just a marathon now? I’ve done neither :)
Have you found compensation to be rebounding now that it’s a bull market?
Getting to the 2nd buck could much easier, or a disaster b/c it’s easy to get bold with more money. Be careful! I had a couple blowups myself due to the feeling of invincibility during the last 2007 bull market. Your job will pay you plenty enough to get to the 2nd buck w/out taking too much risk imo.
Inspirational story. Thanks for sharing.
Sam, I’m so glad you share things like this with us.
I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around how people can achieve these physical feats, which is probably why I’m not achieving anything spectacular myself. I am definitely my own worst enemy, and have a huge way to go to develop that sort of mental strength.
I did spend a fair amount of time yesterday reflecting on my potential, what I really want to achieve, and how the heck I’m going to commit to it! I have the nice big mortgage for my new house as a little motivation, but man I need to start working harder, and really persisting! These are the sorts of things I need to hear to remind me of what it takes to achieve what you really want. Thanks again Sam.
Financial Samurai says
Jason, I can’t believe Joe’s feat either. It seems to be so many rungs farther than what even an accomplished swimmer can achieve.
Looking forward to seeing what you can do!
Kudos to Joe. What an impressive feat! I agree with you perseverance, sheer will to outwork others, and continued effort is paramount in achieving anything worthwhile. However, I don’t see any shame in being flexible and quitting so someone can work harder the next time either. I see too many cases where quitting instead of continuing to be stubborn and charging ahead would’ve been beneficial. Some people hold onto a stock too long, people not listening to their bodies in order to complete&win a boxing match/triathlon/marathon/long swim only to end up with permanent health damage, countries getting in wars too long, companies not discontinuing an obvious failed product, etc. At times, quitting and then coming up with a better plan to mount another valiant effort and attempt should also be an option.
Financial Samurai says
Agree. Joe “quit” six times before he succeed on his 7th.
Constance Burris says
Great and inspirational post.
I am trying to be a writer, but I have almost no talent. However, I work at it every day. Slowly, but surely I’ll get better. F#%# talent.
Financial Samurai says
Don’t worry Constance! I have no writing talent either, but good things happen if you stick things out long enough!
Old School says
What a great story. I’m an ex-swimmer and have never tried any long distance stuff, but I always enjoy reading about others amazing feats in the water. I am also a high school swim teacher so maybe I will share this story with my students when they complain about having to swim for forty five minutes :)
Financial Samurai says
You better! I’m counting on it. 45 minutes is like a walk in the park on a sunny 74 degree day!
Awesome read…endurance sports have been a part of my life for over 30 years. Alot of parallels with savings and building wealth. Both involve alot of consistency and perseverance..that day after day focus. fortunately i’ve had a consistent savings plan over about the same period and now have the option of retiring in my early 50s.
Financial Samurai says
Cool. What type of endurance training are you doing?
What an interesting, and very impressive, story. Congratulations, Joe. I am sure you have inspired many in a multitude of ways.
Hi Sam, long time lurker first time poster.
Always find your posts inspiring and motivating. Thanks very much.
Will keep chipping away until I am exhausted working! :-)
Would love to buy you a beer when you are down in Melbourne.
Financial Samurai says
You’re welcome Ash! I’m trying to find some inspiration and motivation myself, so I’m happy to share.
Will definitely hit you up for a beer if I’m down in Melbourne. So hot during January’s Aussie Open though!