As I write this, Mother’s Day 2021 is a short distance away in my rearview mirror. I find myself contemplating a few of the lessons that we probably all got from mom at one point or another, and how many of them still apply today.
“What if Everyone Else Jumped Off A Bridge!?”
This is a classic Mom line. It was usually the retort to me wanting to do something “because everyone else was doing it. Mom knew the danger of following the herd though, as well as the value of thinking for oneself.
Throughout my adulthood, it has become abundantly clear that there are three populations within which someone is most likely to find this type of dangerous “herd mentality”. These are teenagers, politicians, and self-directed investors. Since I make every effort to avoid the first two groups, I will reserve my advice for the third. Just because it looks like “everyone” is investing in some new exciting (risky) product, don’t forget that you will be standing alone when it comes time to take a loss.
The World Isn’t Boring. You’re Boring.
I won’t lie. I could be a real stinker when I was small. One charming item in my bottomless toolkit of annoyance was the “I’m Bored” song. Yes. It was an actual song that I wrote at the age of 5 or 6. It had two verses and it was terribly repetitive. It was intentionally annoying. You see I would stand in the kitchen and sing the “I’m Bored” song over and over again, thus turning my problem (boredom) into my Mom’s problem (a headache). By the third round of the song, Mom would usually try recommending something productive I could do to cure my boredom. “Go clean your room.” was a common reply. Well, this didn’t sound like a good plan at all, so I kept singing. I don’t remember today what some of the other suggestions were, but I do remember how the concert usually ended and I assure you that I was no longer bored. I defy you to be bored while crying...it’s just about impossible.
Too often, I see people make terrible financial mistakes out of boredom or restlessness. For most successful investors, the secret is actually patience and the ability to remain calm and do nothing. The more desperately a person tries to take action in response to the sense that they need to “just do something,” the more likely their experience is to end in tears.
Toys Don’t Matter
My sister and I had a childhood pastime that involved cutting the advertisements out of the Sunday newspaper for all of the toys we wanted that week. We would often just talk with each other about how great it would be to have all of the newest and shiniest things. Now and then, when something really jumped off of the page, we might show the picture to Mom. In hindsight, the success rate for this tactic was terrible, as one of these advertised items might “come to life” twice a year (Christmas and my birthday). More often than not, Mom would explain that not only did we not actually “need” the toy (despite our insistence to the contrary), but also that we would be on to another one when the next Sunday paper came. She was right about that, but it actually didn’t take a week for us to move on. It was usually only a matter of minutes until we went outside to throw snowballs, play with the dog, or climb a tree. I remember very few of my childhood toys, but I have countless fond memories of playing in the backyard.
Today I come across people every day that think a new “toy” will make them happy. This might be the newest tablet computer or this year’s “must-have” fancy car. If they paid attention to mom, they might realize that happiness actually comes from memorable experiences with the people you love.
Happy belated Mother’s Day to the mom’s out there. To the rest of you...call your Mom. She’s probably worried sick about you!
Related: Who Do You Think You're Talking To?