Day 82: Staying Grounded in the Middle of the Turmoil

I got a little bit of a shock today when I checked my phone and saw that the stock market had gone down 3%.  And not for the first time in recent days:  I saw a similar drop last week.  The question that I (and probably millions of other people) couldn’t help but ask is, what does this mean for the market going forward? The second question I asked myself:  How well prepared will I be for whatever happens?

Despite today’s surprise, in my relatively brief investing career of 3 1/2 years, I have yet to experience a whole lot of stock market drama (‘yet’ being the most important word in this sentence).  After all, I got in during the middle of the longest bull market in history.  However, I did live through the 2008 Financial Crisis, not as an investor, but as a human being.

If you are reading this in 2018, in all likelihood you lived through it too, so you know: it was scary!   As the crisis unfolded in the news during the late summer and fall of 2008,  I contemplated what seemed like the very real possibility that the world as we knew it could fall apart.  Banks were failing, the stock market was crashing, millions of homes were being foreclosed on.

One day, in a moment of inspiration, I wrote my own personal statement in response.  Naturally, it was a rap poem.  Here it is:

In the middle of the turmoil I remain reflective
Can’t be too protective keeping the same perspective
Ear to the ground I hear every sound as I play detective
Centered I stay connected, because
In those moments when the strain gets hectic
It may just prompt you now to raise the question
Of why you’re life is taking such a strange direction
Where’s the perfection in all the pain and rejection?
But paranoia is a fatal weapon
Better to lose your mind inside the bass expression
And let the rhythm take away your tension
Music: God’s greatest invention

As it happens, I few years later I incorporated this verse into a longer verse I called “God’s Greatest Invention” and then put on Soundcloud.  Have a listen:

So today, as I saw the market numbers, this rap was somewhere in the back of my mind.  It turns out that in the month of October, the market has gone down 9%.  That’s enough to give some people the jitters, though the drop still falls within what is known as correction territory, which is a market drop that people notice but not quite enough to be called a bear market.

Every investor is supposed to know that by putting their money in the ring, they are in for a potentially wild ride.  When I first started investing, I repeatedly read that I should prepare myself for the possibility that my portfolio could lose 50% of it value (or obviously more, but 50% drove the point home).  The mental preparation for stock market investing, even the diversified index fund investing that I subscribe to, includes ingraining the notion that greed can rule the day one day, fear the next.   The numbers can swing up and down like the mood of a manic-depressive: hyper with exuberance, or downin the dumps sleeping under the bleachers.

To me, these things are a reminder of the importance of staying centered, of keeping your emotions in check, and not letting your lizard brain take over and make you do something stupid (Jason Zweig wrote a great book about this appropriately titled “Your Money & Your Brain”).

Because some day, you might need that skill.  You might be tested, and you may need to call upon more-than-average amounts of patience, courage, and strength of character to stay grounded.

I think it’s better to be mentally prepared for this possibility.  Don’t you?

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