I arrived back home to Puerto Rico late last night after traveling back from our Total Access event in Las Vegas.
It was probably around 11:15 pm when I climbed into bed. And, within minutes, just as the sound of the waves outside was carrying me off to sleep, the whole house started violently shaking.
It turned out to be a magnitude 6.0 earthquake, about 20 miles off the west coast of the island.
I lived in Chile for seven years before this– one of the world’s earthquake capitals– so I’m no stranger to seismic activity.
But earthquakes are EXTREMELY rare in Puerto Rico… as in, they almost NEVER happen. People simply do not expect them.
Hurricanes, tropical storms, etc., sure, those are common occurrences here.
And you might remember that Puerto Rico was almost wiped out from 2017’s Hurricane Maria. It devastated the island and much of the Eastern Caribbean, and two years later they still haven’t recovered.
Today there’s supposed to be some Tropical Storm coming through, which, by comparison to Hurricane Maria, is barely a bit of drizzle.
But the government here is on pins and needles, and so anxious to show that they’re ready for anything that they closed schools, many government offices, and even called up the National Guard…
I can’t help but feel bad for them. They’re so scarred from Hurricane Maria two years ago that they overreact in desperation at the first warning sign of a storm.
And then, in an instant, something completely unexpected happened: Puerto Rico was hit with a 6.0 earthquake, and the government has no idea how to react.
I need to caveat all this by saying I really love Puerto Rico. Moving here last year was a great decision. And though I’ve long praised the island’s unparalleled tax incentives, what keeps me living here is the lifestyle.
The people are great. I have wonderful friends here– both local and expats. The foreigners who are moving down here are highly talented, productive, like-minded individuals. It’s a ton of fun living on the beach.
Overall, aside from the musical abortion known as Reggaeton, this place is really incredible.
But having said all that, Puerto Rico is EXTREMELY fragile.
Decades of corruption, bureaucracy, and mismanagement have completely bankrupted this island. The government defaulted on its debt. The power company defaulted on its debts. And there’s practically no money in the budget for many basic services.
The end result is a terribly weak, fragile electrical infrastructure. If a butterfly flaps its wings in India, Puerto Rico loses power.
The roads are in terrible condition, with pot holes the size of bomb craters.
The economy is in shambles; Puerto Rico has been in a 10+ year DEPRESSION with a double-digit unemployment rate.
And most importantly, Puerto Rico has lost more than 10% of its population over the past decade as its most productive residents emigrate to the US mainland in search of better opportunities.
So as I frequently tell people, Hurricane Maria didn’t destroy Puerto Rico. The island was already so weak that Maria simply finished it off.
Very little has changed over the past two years, and to this day Puerto Rico is still extremely fragile.
In his excellent book Antifragile, author Nassim Taleb examines this concept and opens with a great metaphor: you’ve probably received a package in the mail at some point in your life marked, “FRAGILE: handle with care.”
But have you ever received anything that says “Please abuse and mishandle” ? No. The opposite of positive is negative. The opposite of plus is minus.
But what’s the opposite of fragile? We don’t really even have a word for it. Taleb had to invent it. And he calls it antifragile.
To be fragile is to be foolish enough to ignore risks entirely, or to be consumed with the risks that you know about in an effort to survive and prevent unmitigated disaster.
Taleb talks about “fragilistas,” conventional thinkers who focus only on what they see, and believe that what they can’t see does not exist.
That’s Puerto Rico. The government has become obsessed with tracking storms and overreacting every time there’s a brisk wind in the air.
But they’re totally unprepared for unforeseen risks– “Black Swan events” like last night’s earthquake. And they have neither the systems in place, nor the financial resources, to deal with the Black Swans.
To be antifragile means having the strength, wisdom, systems, and resources to be able to not only survive, but prosper in emergencies, uncertainty, and turbulence.
As Taleb succinctly explains it, “I want to be happily in a world I don’t understand.”
This is the fundamental concept of the ‘Plan B’ that we discuss so much: to prosper, regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen next… to adapt and overcome in a world that often doesn’t make sense.
It’s nearly impossible to do this if someone is financially stretched, living beyond their means with very little savings. Or if they’re overexposed to any single investment or asset class. Or have all of their assets and livelihood tied up in a single country.
Or if they’re not taking care of their mental and physical health. Or don’t invest any time to develop new professional skills. Etc.
The concept is worth taking some time to have an honest discussion with yourself: how antifragile are you?