I want to talk to you about scary markets. For the sake of this particular subject, I want to be blunt and a little bit in your face. So for the next few minutes, please, just think of me less as your friend and more as your Scary Markets Drill Sergeant. O.K.? Great.
Category Archives: New York Times
In life, there are certain nonnegotiables we simply must have. Think food, water and shelter for starters. Nobody will ask, “Is it worth it to eat?” It’s just something you do to stay alive. But deciding what to eat? That’s a different question. Will I eat the bologna or prosciutto? Drink tap water or bottled? And anything discretionary — anything that has even the slightest element of choice in it — invariably deals with a question we find ourselves asking all the time. “Is it worth it?”
You probably know the refrains by now: Experiences trump stuff. Experiences tend to bring us happiness. More stuff tends to breed discontent. There’s a wealth of research to back up these ideas up. But the idea that you can leave a stable job, a 401(k), sell your house, retrofit your van and spend a couple of years living out of it by yourself, or with your spouse, or even with your kids, is something completely different. Not only is it different, it’s mind-blowing. This mind-blowing concept is not the choice of experience over stuff. It’s not even experience over stability. It’s experience over security. And that is a very fascinating development in our culture.
I talk to many people who have problems with spending. Sometimes it’s friends. Sometimes it’s co-workers. Sometimes it’s neighbors. And yes, sometimes I talk to myself about my own struggles. What I’ve discovered over the years is that most of our problems do not come down to income. Instead, we don’t notice enough. Spending mindlessly, without even thinking about it, has become a national bad habit. And we all know how hard it is to break habits. So we make the same mistakes over and over again.
Now that more financial professionals are going to have to act in their customer’s best interest, where can you actually find someone who will really, truly, for sure do that? It seems like a simple question, but it’s not. I’ve been around the financial planning industry for 20 years, and one of the hardest (and most common) questions I’m asked is, “How do I find an advisor who I can trust?”
I was driving with a friend recently and telling him about some projects that really excited me. I mentioned a new book I’m working on, an article I’m writing and this new hobby of adventure motorcycling in the desert. He interrupted me and said, “How do you stay so motivated and so excited about things?” It caught me off guard. I hadn’t really considered the “why” behind my list of activities. But as I thought about it, I realized that the one aspect each of these projects had to make me so motivated — the common thread — was the feeling of being in just a little over my head. In other words, doing things despite the fact that, as the marketing guru Seth Godin likes to say, “this might not work.”
“Carl,” my friend told me, in a heated moment of financial debate, “You need a new truck like you need a bullet in the head.” I fired something back about how off base she was, how it would be a sound purchase, and who was she to say anyway? We went back and forth. It was very unproductive, and we let our tempers get the better of us before we finally walked away to cool off.
It’s that time again, everybody. The one we’ve all been waiting for. No, I’m not talking about spring, March Madness or the start of Major League Baseball. It’s election season. Aren’t you excited? Every four years (or more often, for citizens who never miss a chance to cast a ballot), we partake in what seems like the cherished national pastime of “blame somebody else.” Whether it’s Democrats blaming Republicans, conservatives blaming liberals, Congress blaming the White House or citizens blaming politicians en masse, everybody at this special time seems to find someone else to blame for our many problems. Here’s my question: What good does it do to blame other people? The answer, of course, is nothing.
We all like to act as if we’re immune to the vitriol of haters. It’s almost cool to pretend that it doesn’t affect us, like we’re all bulletproof and have some kind of armor against it.
And while that might be a helpful coping mechanism, it’s not really true for most of us. The truth is that this stuff really hurts. What’s more, if you don’t deal with it in the proper way, it can have a major impact on your ability to do work that matters in the world.
It’s 6 a.m. in Park City, Utah. I’m in the shower. I go through all the typical shower rituals — I wash behind my ears, shave, etc. — until I’m ready to get out. I grab the handle for the water, pause, take a deep breath and then turn it. Not to off, but to all-the-way cold. And then I stand there shivering for two minutes. It’s the 23rd day in a row that I’ve done this. If you’re like most people — including myself, sometimes — you’re probably wondering why.