“I did the best I could with what I had. ”~ Joe Louis, boxer
I came across this quote in a book, The Point Is, Making Sense of Birth, Death, and Everything in Between, by Lee Eisenberg, and it struck me that Joe’s outlook is a great workable philosophy on how to live a good life, and, on a less grand scale, how to invest wisely. It says the same to me as another quote by one of my first mentors in the financial services industry over 25 years ago, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
How many of us can honestly say that we always do the best we can with what we have? We may strive to do the best in each different area of our lives, but the modern-day pace of our society forces us to compromise on time, attention, level of detail, or some combination thereof.
We may strive to invest well but we are overwhelmed by the 24/7 news cycle, confused by the prognostications by so-called experts, limited by our self-imposed constraint of feeling like we have to do everything ourselves, or held back by the lack of knowledge or time availability of our financial advisor.
Let’s look at Joe’s philosophy by breaking it down into two key tenets: “I did the best”; and “With what I had.”
I Did the Best
What does it mean to do our best?
We often compare our efforts with those of a professional and berate ourselves when we come up short. For example, let’s say we are painting a landscape, using Van Gogh as our inspiration, and we just can’t seem to represent the light the way that we can see it in our minds. We may get frustrated and give up or keep working on the painting until we wreck it by overdoing. Most of us, unless we were raised by extremely enlightened parents and teachers, would then cast the blame on our inadequacy rather than congratulating ourselves for taking the risk to attempt the painting in the first place.
At the other end of the spectrum, some of us do the least we can to get by. Suffering either from a lack of motivation or a lack of belief in our ability to achieve, we simply avoid putting ourselves out there at all. As a consequence, we live a less-rich life than we possibly could.
In the realm of investing, some people try to do it all on their own because they’ve been raised with the misguided notion that they should be self-sufficient in all respects. The growth in the “do-it-yourself” investing movement propagated by the media and banks with their direct investing accounts also sets many people up for failure.
On the other hand, many people work with a financial advisor who does not keep current with new investment research, and who continues to recommend investments based on outdated ideas simply because he or she is too busy. Perhaps the financial advisor doesn’t make timely recommendations for portfolio changes, and the client continues working with him or her because they think it’s challenging to switch advisors.
Neither of these approaches to investing is, “doing one’s best,” and both are potentially harmful to one’s long-term financial well being.
With What I Had
This is an often over-looked part of the equation. We don’t usually stop to assess what tools are or are not at our command when comparing our efforts with what we think is possible. The example that comes to mind is parenting. Perhaps you, or someone close to you, has gone through therapy, and when you and the therapist are trying to unwind the knots in which you find yourself as an adult, the blame often is cast back to the time when you were a child. It’s easy, at first, to blame your dysfunction on your parents for being not loving, or too loving, not engaged, or too controlling. However, when you move beyond this initial phase, you realize
the blame game never solves anything, because unless your parents were truly monsters, they were likely just doing the best they could with what they had. They were likely parenting the way they were parented, and the self-help movement hadn’t yet caught on.
This fact doesn’t negate your responsibility to learn more, grow more, and heal yourself in order to be a better parent than perhaps your parents were, but it does necessitate a forgiveness and understanding of your parents.
The same is true with investing. It’s not your responsibility to learn everything about investing, to keep current with new academic findings, to study portfolio theory and correlation and hedging, etc. However, it is your duty to yourself and your family, to work with what you have, and to honestly assess whether you should be managing your own portfolio based on an hour or two of reading/news watching a week or whether your current financial advisor is providing you with the service and dedication to expertise that you deserve.
At the end of the day, whether or not you reach your financial goals rests squarely on your shoulders, so it behooves you to learn enough, or to listen to your intuition enough, to know whether you and/or your financial advisor are doing the best with what you have. Further, it’s important to assess whether your financial advisor has enough to properly serve you – enough knowledge, enough experience, enough humility, enough caring and enough time.
Are you doing the best with what you have? Only you can answer that question. If you feel that you aren’t, only you can change it. But you don’t have to do it alone. Part of wisdom is knowing when you don’t know and engaging a professional to assist you.
DISCLAIMER: Northern Lights Capital is a tradename of Aligned Capital Partners Inc. (ACPI). Arpad Komjathy is an agent of ACPI and he is registered to advise clients resident in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.
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