Adversity Is the Pain You Don’t See Coming

Psychology

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day without a cloud in the sky, and I took full advantage by going on a walk downtown and over the river to my favorite hill to sit and enjoy the view of the skyline. The scene was a welcome break from the stress that filled my life recently, as family issues were weighing heavily on my mind. But eventually an urgent text beckoned me, so I grabbed one of the many nearby scooters that fill urban settings these days. And off I went, the sun on my back and wind in my face, zipping through the bustling streets on my way home.

Familiar surroundings and pressing anxiety make for interesting bedfellows. On the one hand, I was in my comfort zone on a picturesque day. And on the other, my mind was racing to where I was needed most and the scooter kept a similar pace. A passing jogger here. A left turn there. And then boom. Maybe it was a bump in the road or a hair trigger accelerator — I honestly don’t remember. But the end result was a collision with an immovable concrete wall at an alarmingly high speed.

That was the last time I walked without crutches.

The good news is that the issue that caused me to let my guard down is now resolved and there appears to be no major damage to my knee. But the remaining minor fracture is just pernicious enough that I’ve been effectively unable to put any weight on it for three weeks with likely several more to go. So one stressful situation was simply replaced with a new one, and it has been an interesting mental journey.

While the family stuff was certainly difficult, the recognition that it was out of my control at least supplied some level of solace. For the knee injury, not so much. Stuck in a chair with no ability to do much physically other than just wait for time to work its healing magic, I’ve spent way too much time re-living the collision over and over while always coming to the same conclusion. My own actions are at least partially responsible for what happened. And as I also thanked my wife for the hundredth time for stepping up to help with menial household tasks when my own knee fails, that innate guilt — fair or not — started to take root and depress my entire mood. The physical injury may sting at times, but I know it’s only temporary. The mental one is honestly more complicated.

For a while I assumed that with more time off my feet I’d just pour that into working on a few new Portfolio Charts ideas, but in practice I’ve found that difficult. When you’re in a mood, it’s just really hard to feel inspired or to sustain any creative energy. But eventually I realized I’m definitely not alone. In the words of Michael Stipe, everybody hurts sometimes. And recognizing the audience, I also figured I can use this opportunity to offer a word of encouragement to those who are healthy physically but hurting financially because of their own regretful choices.

I’ve known plenty of people over the years who have made poor investing decisions. Most are highly intelligent and definitely knew what they were doing. In fact, a few made serious money right up to the point where they lost everything. Maybe they were a little too comfortable, distracted by life events, or random circumstance simply caught them off guard and rendered them unable to react quickly enough to avoid disaster. When the concrete wall of reality hits and the financial scooter stops, in the end it honestly doesn’t matter. The damage, pain, and regret are sometimes all that remains.

Maybe you’re researching new portfolio ideas because that’s exactly what happened to you. Don’t waste time beating yourself up! Reframe your past financial regrets as learning opportunities rather than immutable character flaws, and some life lessons really do make us stronger. The key is moving forward with hard-earned wisdom rather than simply repeating the same risky behaviors.

Or maybe you’re cruising along over familiar roads on a sunny day without a care in the world. That sense of control can often be deceptive, and before you know it you’re traveling at increasingly reckless speeds while diverting your attention to other more pressing concerns. As confident as you feel, just remember that it’s always possible that your own wall is just around the corner. So take it from me — the best time to plan for risk management is before you need it.

Adversity is a fact of life, and the real challenges are not what we can see coming from a mile away but the surprises that wipe you out at your highest level of confidence with no warning. So when you have an opportunity to think about investing beyond far-off goals and near-term optimizations, survey the situation and honestly reevaluate your approach. If you think you have it all figured out, there’s a good chance you’re camped at the peak of Mount Stupid and are simply blind to the very real risks. But deep down, I’m confident that you have a sense that there are always a few things that are much better to explore before times get tough rather than after everything falls apart. For example:

  • Do you have enough liquid cash to deal with an emergency?
  • Would a different choice help you power through a major drawdown without panic?
  • Do you have a savings strategy to meet your goal even when markets don’t cooperate?
  • Are there straightforward portfolio changes that will make your withdrawal rates safer?
  • Could a portfolio that grows and protects your money on autopilot be a better choice?

Make a list. Research your options, and pick a wise course of action. Be smart about it, and no matter whether you’re cruising on a sunny day or picking up the pieces after a fall, the day will only get better.

On this Thanksgiving, I’ll be spending a lot of time on the sofa instead of the stairs. But as the pain wanes and my mood finally lifts, I’m thankful for my accident as an opportunity to help others avoid their own physical or financial injuries. I learned the hard way so you don’t have to, so please don’t let my experience go to waste! Be careful out there. And no matter whether you’re riding a scooter or managing your life savings, don’t be cocky, anxious, or complacent. A little self-awareness goes a long way.

Adversity ultimately happens to us all, but the right mindset will prepare you to thrive where others falter and learn when others lose hope. Cultivate that constructive attitude, and no matter what happens there will be nothing stopping you from your goal.


If you’re thankful for Portfolio Charts, a simple coffee goes a long way.