Ironically, as much as people worry about and invest energy in their future wealth planning, they often fail to do the same when it comes to health planning—though you would think that would be the obvious priority! Enter Dr. Phil Pearlman, one of the most sought-out experts on the symbiotic relationship between pursuing success in wealth and health.
Phil earned his doctorate in clinical psychology, but he never practiced traditional psychology. Instead, he took his skills to the business world and focused on the stock market. Phil became involved with several startups and successful businesses as a behavioral economist, using the study of human behavior to drive financial decisions.
He was secure financially, but he struggled from a physical and mental health standpoint. Phil took a good, hard look at his life and acknowledged that he was overworked, overweight, drinking too much, and too stressed at work. He made the conscious decision to take back control of his life by taking care of himself.
Phil chronicled his personal journey in a weekly newsletter that attracted thousands of followers. His subscribers included a niche crowd: financial advisers. Working with Phil, many financial consultants have learned that in order to truly help their clients, they need to push them to make lifestyle changes so that they will live long enough to enjoy their hard-won financial freedom.
Phil continued helping individuals and companies make better health decisions, and he progressed to doing this work full-time. Many of us complain about being too busy to get healthy, but Phil is helping entrepreneurs and “regular people” do exactly that, and his clients have discovered a direct correlation between better health and better decision making at work.
Eating healthfully, exercising and getting a good night’s rest are things that most of us think about but find hard to implement. I enjoyed speaking to someone who has helped create positive health transformations in so many others.
Now join me in doing some push-ups…or at least one.
“My background in finance is a bit unusual. While for most people its economics, my background is psychology. Today, in both my personal and professional life, I focus on the convergence of health and wealth; but for many years, these things were completely separate for me.
“I was born outside of Baltimore in a town called Pikesville, a predominantly Jewish suburb in Baltimore County. I had a relatively quiet, normal childhood. I had a bar mitzvah, but my family was not very observant. Today, I am married and have two children; my wife is a noted psychologist.
“My paternal grandfather, whom I never met, was a Jew in the Russian Army. He escaped and made it to the US. My father, David, was a pharmacist, and he and his brother had a pharmacy on North Avenue in Baltimore City where they sold a lot of hair goods. They opened a beauty supply store next door, and it did so well that they ended up selling the pharmacy so they could expand the beauty supply store. My mother was the homemaker. I’m the youngest of four kids.
“There was a part of me that was very artistic and creative, and another part that was interested in business and numbers. I felt the conflict, and I didn’t come to peace with it for a very long time. Integrating these different parts of myself was hard. I went through periods when I was into being an artist and a writer, and other periods when I was into business. I was trying to figure out who I was. Looking back, I can see that this internal struggle has been a fundamental conflict in my life.
“The seeds of my destructive behaviors were planted in high school and sprouted in college, and it was amazing that I made it through, because I did not take care of myself. Today, I savor every moment and take very good care of myself. I’m a health nut and I also help other people. I have finally found myself, but it was not an easy road to get here.
“My first real job out of college was teaching special education in Orlando. It was fulfilling work, but the truth is that I was not in a good enough place mentally and emotionally to be doing that kind of work. In the three years that I worked there, I had a positive effect on a lot of kids, but I recognized that I could not stay in a position that required that kind of responsibility.
“When I was about 26, I moved back to the DC area. I decided I was going to be a child psychologist, and I got into a graduate program. I did better in these classes than I had in college because I was much more motivated. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on an integrative model in the treatment of narcissistic personality disorder. The greatest thing that I got out of the program was learning how to integrate different systems; that has helped me in everything that I’ve done since.
“I have always been entrepreneurial, and I was interested in business as well as psychology. I applied my study of human behavior to the finance world, specifically the stock market. Utilizing the study of human behavior as a tool to analyze the market and understand the psychology of human behavior when it comes to making trading decisions has long been a passion of mine.
“I was very fortunate that I got involved in the stock market in the late ’90s, when the market was going crazy (the Internet bubble), and that I got out in time to not get killed by the crash. It was actually quite interesting. I was studying mania and bipolar disorder at that time, and I remember thinking, ‘This is a mania! This is a bubble!’ My educational and professional lives were meshing.
“I did my internship in Rochester, and it was brutal. I never practiced clinical psychology after that, but I did apply what I had learned to finance. I connected with someone who was leaving the banking world to start a hedge fund, and I joined him as head trader. I helped build the investment and marketing models for the fund. We would tell potential investors, ‘Humans are not rational, and here’s how we are exploiting that in the market.’ It was a good pitch.
“There are all kinds of inefficiencies in how people behave when it comes to two things: money and food. We get very emotional about anything related to survival. And when we get emotional, we can overreact or underreact, or act in ways that are not in our best interests. For example, people have a tendency to underreact to new information. So if a company has a big beat in their earnings and the stock goes up slightly and holds that increase, we know it’s going to go up more, because it went up but not fully. That’s called the Standard Unexpected Earnings (SUE) model.
“We started with a few million in the fund, and by the time I left we were at almost 100 million. I got married shortly after I started working there, and I stayed for about five years. Then I went on to another hedge fund, which I ran for six years.
“Working full-time in the stock market for over a decade was very stressful, and I was not doing well personally. It took a toll on me. I was drinking too much, not sleeping well, and gaining too much weight. I was also experiencing a lot of the typical symptoms of ADHD: self-medicating, lots of fidgeting, distractibility.
“I don’t look so good in my driver’s license photo from that time. Even though it’s been several decades since the picture was taken, the DMV hasn’t updated it, and it’s a good reminder to me of how far I’ve come.
“Like I said, I’ve always been interested in the fusion of social media, social behaviors and finance. Everything I’ve done in my career has brought together the worlds of human behavior and finance.
“I met Howard Lindzon, who was starting an interesting company called StockTwits, which is still around. I decided to join him and help build the company. StockTwits is a social media platform designed for sharing ideas between investors, traders and entrepreneurs; today it has over five million users. I helped build the online financial community through marketing and curating content.
“The work was creative and allowed me to use psychology, but it was also stressful. We had a blog network and a TV network, and we had many influential people on that network. Looking back, we were really ahead of the times. The best part of the job was the people. I developed several close relationships there.
“I was at StockTwits for five years, until I saw what I thought was a unique opportunity at Yahoo Finance. I left StockTwits on good terms. In fact, I still own shares of the company and Howard and I did several podcast episodes together recently.
“At the time, Yahoo had just purchased the blogging site Tumblr for $1.1 billion. A friend of mine was the editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. I said to him, ‘Listen, you can build a massive financial network on Tumblr. You have such amazing reach now.’ And he said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ So I did. We had people like Carl Icahn involved, but it didn’t go anywhere because Yahoo was a total mess during that period. They squandered Tumblr. This was around 2013, when Yahoo started going downhill, and I was there for all of it.
“I was recruited by a bank in Arkansas that needed someone to bring their digital marketing up to the 21st century. I accepted the offer, but at that point, I was moving further and further away from myself. Joining Yahoo had not been a great move, and the move to the bank was worse. It was a great bank and there were great people there, especially the leadership, but for me, running marketing in a bank was moving further away from who I was at my core. I was there for about four or five years, but it simply was not a good fit. I was living in Montebello and working remotely, but it also involved a lot of travel, and that was brutal. The travel definitely contributed to an uptick in my destructive behavior and a decline in my overall health.
“I was making good money from my personal investments. One example is that I invested in Twitter very early on. So I didn’t need the money from my job at the bank, but I received shares and there was the potential of a large payout, so I stayed there for a while.
“I hated traveling, though, and when I saw an opportunity to join a fund called Osprey Funds, I took it. Osprey runs a crypto fund as well as traditional funds. They are one of only three companies that have publicly traded kickers in crypto, as they have an Osprey Bitcoin trust that trades (OBTC). That means that you can buy Bitcoin as part of your portfolio.
“I was also involved in the more traditional fund as the chief behavioral officer (CBO). This is a relatively new position that’s becoming more important in the financial industry. The basic idea is that people are involved with markets, and markets are volatile and people are emotional. So it’s difficult to navigate these markets, both from a corporate point of view and the client’s point of view. My job was to explain what was happening in the market on a human level.
“For example, Bitcoin is a resilient asset. It bounces back no matter how hard it gets crushed. Resilience is a positive trait, and I pointed that out. We’re seeing that now, actually. Bitcoin got crushed in 2022 and now we’re seeing it bounce back.
“I have always been studying human behavior and how it translates in the financial market. But there was one human’s behavior that was seemingly out of my control: my own. As I mentioned, I was pretty much financially set, but personally, I was a mess. That is, until a bit more than five years ago.
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