As long as I live, I’ll never forget Lake Chilly Water. Tucked away at Camp McCall in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this lake is the location of one my first experiences with overcoming adversity. It may sound like a small thing, but I can assure you that to a young boy, it was a big deal.
Every year, a group of young boys from our church would join hundreds of others in attending summer camp. It was everything you’d imagine– cabins with bunk beds, the mess hall, and all kinds of outdoor activities. Then there was the lake. Lake Chilly Water awaited every camper upon arrival because if you planned on doing any sort of water activity, you had to take the swim test.
If you’ve never been in a mountain lake, this may seem like no big deal. Let me assure you that mountain streams and lakes are different.
My first year at camp I failed the Level 3 swim test. This may sound like I had some success with Level 1 and 2, and I did pass those levels pretty easily because I could stand up in both of them. Level 3 is where selection happened. It was the level you needed to pass in order to grab a kayak, canoe, or swing from the big rope swing in the middle of the lake. In order to pass, you had to swim the entire length of the swim area–down and back without stopping.
My first attempt with Lake Chilly Water’s Level 3 didn’t go well. I dove in and began swimming like everything was normal. However, everything was not normal. My mind was screaming at me because my body felt like I had just dove into a bucket of ice water for a leisurely swim.
I did my best to fight through the physical challenges, and I made it to the halfway point. As I began the back half of the swim test, I was struggling to focus. I was so cold, and my mind was telling me to just pull the plug. Quit. Make the pain stop. And I did.
I still had an amazing time at camp that year. I found joy in many of the other activities, but a small part of me took that loss to heart. Every single time I got into a swimming pool or a lake that summer, I was practicing for another attempt at Lake Chilly Water. I worked on swimming as hard as I could. I swam holding my breath. I swam with different strokes. I visualized myself passing that swimming test and making it out to the swinging rope. No matter what, I told myself it would be different next time.
This memory made me think about how often I find myself giving financial advice to investors when we experience market volatility. For the last several years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations about the stock market and where I thought the market was headed. As a financial advisor, I enjoy these discussions because I’m always gaining insights into how others view investing and the current economic climate.
One thing I’ve learned is that few (if any) investors have trouble when we experience volatility to the upside. It’s only when a market shock hits and we begin speeding towards a potential bear market that our resolve is tested. It’s like being thrown into a freezing mountain lake. We experience physical stress, and our minds begin screaming at us to do something. Our focus only seems to be clear about one thing— Get out and make the pain stop.
In those moments, what you are experiencing is normal. In fact, one of the most famous studies in behavioral finance has quantified that we experience the pain of loss at least 2x more than we enjoy a similar gain. Most humans are simply wired to be bad an investing. It’s not our intellect that gets us. It’s our emotions.
This is why I believe it’s so important for everyone to create a financial plan that also includes a complete diagnosis of who you are as an investor. I recommend having a personal investment policy that truly reflects the real you as an investor. Discuss different scenarios with your financial planner and decide in advance how you intend to respond. Some of these conversations and simulations are more art than science. I’ll admit that. However, it’s still important that you a planned response in various stock market scenarios.
We have to work on building our muscle memory as investors because we cannot rely on our rationality to save us during times of market uncertainty.
Once you’ve created your financial plan, you have to work on refining your investment and planning policies as you move through different stages in life. These policies should act as your muscle memory when times get tough because it can be extremely difficult for investors to rely on rationality to be there during times of market uncertainty. Even the best wealth managers in the world work to eliminate emotions from their decision-making. Discipline, process, and automation are becoming the hallmarks of wealth management these days.
A final thought for investors, I think the most important thing you can do is to focus on what you are ultimately trying to accomplish. Despite what many financial articles say these days, “Getting Rich” is not a goal. It’s a theme at best. What is your end game? What’s your “WHY?”
- Are you seeking investment help so that you can provide your kids a college education?
- Are you working towards increasing your retirement income so that you can retire?
- Do you want to leave corporate world and focus on your passion?
- Are you wanting to create an investment strategy that will complement your retirement planning?
- What financial goals do you have that are unique to you?
None of us exist as an academic case study. People are much more than just a balance sheet or a retirement account. Life is much richer and more dynamic than that. Your financial plan should have a firm foundation when it comes to the fundamentals, but it also should reflect your personal values and beliefs. It should feel like it’s truly yours.
Remember my ordeal with Lake Chilly Water?
My specific aim was not only passing the Level 3 test. My aim was that rope swing in the middle of the lake. Every time I worked on my swimming; I had the clear idea of making it out to that dock one day. That was my singular focus.
Making it to the dock symbolized something to me. It meant I was strong enough to be trusted with new adventures. I was no longer a boy but a young man–a huge deal.
What does your investment plan symbolize to you?
I shouldn’t have to tell you that I aced that swimming test the next summer. What’s interesting is that I spent more time playing basketball than I did in the water that year. It’s weird how our goals and priorities may shift over time. That’s ok. What matters is that we always pursue them with tenacity, discipline, and excellence.
Want to get started on your plan? Schedule a quick call with me.