The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.
– from Gerontion by T.S. Eliot
I don’t make New Years Resolutions because they imply that I’m somehow doing something wrong or poorly. I am, of course, doing things wrong like everyone else – but with a Jewish wife and an Irish Catholic mother, I’m not exactly lacking for guilt and criticism in my life as it is. I’m certainly not looking to heap more on myself every January.
But while I don’t start off the year vowing against certain behaviors, I do set goals for myself. I’ll save you the trouble of the working out this particular dialectic – goals and resolutions are indeed the same thing, just phrased differently. But one carries a positive connotation and has, embedded within itself, the seed of promise. That’s how I prefer to think about the near future and what I can possibly do to shape it.
My three goals for 2014:
Over 95% of my firm’s financial planning clients are on course for their long-term retirement and funding goals as of the end of 2013. This is how we gauge investment success in my practice and, by this primary measure, we are pleased. But success in one period does not correlate with success in all future periods and any myriad of potential obstacles can blow a once-steady portfolio off course with little or no warning.
Our job in this context, then, is to always be asking questions and seeking answers to them when possible. Are we prepared? Is our strategy both flexible and durable enough, come what may? Are our internal investing rules and principles sturdy enough to disallow reactionary behavior? My goal in this regard is to maintain vigilance and to make sure that my team and I are constantly thinking about the “What if?” and the “What else?”
Whether you run a practice or you’ve launched a firm of your own, there is a tendency to think that you are the only one who can get things done, make wise decisions and oversee every detail. Unfortunately, this is an arrogant mindset and it leads to a level of distraction that does nothing for one’s career, customer base or quality of life. No one wins. Over the last year, I’ve been blessed to have had a team that teaches me this lesson every day.
No one can be an expert in every facet of their business, no one should have their hand in more than three or four tasks at once, and we are foolish to underestimate the benefits of delegation – even if it means giving up a degree of control. I have my strengths and I want to focus on them while acknowledging the strengths of those around me. My goal for 2014 is to place even more responsibility into the hands of my trusted colleagues, to bring in even more expertise and human capital for the benefit of our clientele.
I’m a voracious reader and I try to make notes of a lot of what I consume so as to reinforce the lessons held within. This is extremely time-intensive and requires a great deal of concentration – but it’s one of the most worthwhile things I commit myself to. The question for me this coming year concerns not the quantity of reading I’ll be doing each day but the quality. Because of my role as money manager and market pundit, the news and opinions of the moment are an inescapable fact of life. Remaining informed, more informed than my competitors, is the boulder I begin nudging up the hill each day at sunrise, watching helplessly as it rolls back down at dusk. Every morning there is a new rock awaiting me – hundreds of facts and figures and forecasts and forewarnings – and from the moment my eyes are open my shoulder is pressed against it, the new day’s ascent already underway.
In contradistinction to the plight of Sisyphus, however, this is a way of life I’ve chosen for myself and regular readers know that I go about it with verve. And while I’ve learned a lot through this process, the most critical and overarching realization I’ve come to is that, in the end, very little of it truly matters. You can fit the profundity of the average day’s worth of “news” into a thimble and still have room.
I’ve also come to discover that having a rich and broad understanding of the way the world works supplemented with a steady stream of market and economic developments is more powerful than being armed with the specific mastery of any one corner of the financial universe. My friend Carl Richards (Behavior Gap) has adopted the motto “Invest and Ignore” and, while extreme, is probably a step in the right direction. My goal is to drastically reduce the amount of blogs and publications I’m following on a daily basis and to spend a lot more time reading books. I think my knowledge base would be greatly improved by finding a more equitable balance between today’s news and the wisdom of the ages.
Charlie Munger incorporates his knowledge of history, literature, philosophy, biology, physics and sociology into his investing process and, as a result, has become one of the greatest of all time. He calls his approach the “latticework of mental models” and I love the metaphor. The greatest investors all understood – whether innately or through deliberate practice – the nature of their fellow man. This is what I’d like to devote my studies to in 2014, more books and less articles will be the way I get there.
These are my top three goals for 2014 and I think all of them will have salutary benefits that extend far beyond the bounds of my vocation.
What are your goals for the coming year?