Seeing all the recent headlines about the sudden downturn in the stock market has transported me back to February of 2009, when I was close to despair. It’s striking how different I feel now.
In February 2009, the stock market was down around 50% from its high, and everyone seemed to feel like the sky was falling. I was familiar with this state of panic because my relationship to the financial markets was that I didn’t trust them.
They were always going up and down in ways no one could predict, and I couldn’t trust those folks who said that they could anticipate what was going to happen. So when the market went down, I went down with it—sinking into a depression, knowing there was nothing I could do. What a difference nine years make. I haven’t changed because the stock market rebounded. I changed because I learned that there was a different way to think about investing. I was right not to trust those people who thought they could predict what was going to happen in the markets, but I was wrong in thinking that there was nothing to do. I’ve learned that I can have a great investment experience if I just accept a few simple truths.
I have to understand the uncertainty of the market. The stock market, as measured by the S&P 500 Index, has returned about 10% per year over the last 90 years1, but there are very few individual years in which it has ever actually returned that amount. In fact, how many of those 90 years do you think the S&P 500 was up more than 20% or down more than 20% for that year? The answer is 40. Astounding, right? I wish somebody had explained that to me decades ago. Then I would have known to look at stock market returns in terms of decades—not years, months, days, or hours. I would understand that so many of those articles and cable news pieces are just noise, designed to keep an audience obsessed and unsettled.
In order to be a long-term investor, you have to have a long time horizon. This can be hard to remember when you’re being assaulted by noise, but if you can stay strong, the results are stunning. By results, I don’t mean the investment returns, which hopefully are good. The return I’m talking about is how I feel every day. I worry less—not just about the future, but also about the present. Of course, I know that there are no guarantees when it comes to investing, but I feel like I’m going to be okay. I have a plan.
There’s no way I could’ve done this without a financial advisor. I needed someone who could not just talk me through what my asset allocation should be, but also help me work through how I felt about investing and what exactly I could do to change my perspective.
I was a mess nine years ago. Now, my outlook is totally different. The markets haven’t changed; they still go up and down. The difference is, I don’t anymore.