Life lessons from the stock market
It was a brilliant day in Carlsbad, California, about a 30 minute drive north of San Diego. A day that is typical of California, a place where gods and goddesses like George Clooney and Natilie Portman live. It is also a place where democrats have an upper hand. What else can one wish for?
We had driven there to visit Legoland. It was the day that turned out to be my very first ride on a roller coaster. It was a thrill to experience. There were moments during the ride when I had my heart in my throat. A slow ride up to the crest, a moment of stillness to let me ponder and prepare for what is about to happen, and then a sudden plunge to the trough.
All in all, my first experience was pleasant enough that I remember it 25 years later. What is more is that I took the ride willingly.
Some rides are our choice, but not always. Life gives us roller coaster rides without asking all the time. As stoics tell us, the occurrences of these rides in life are beyond our control. These rides are stoic challenges; random tests from stoic gods of our resilience. The one thing I have in my control is how I react.
And so the serenity prayer also tells me — grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can (my reaction), and the wisdom to know the difference.
Wise words, if I can only remember to practice them in the moments of need. But back to taking roller coaster rides by choice.
There is another roller coaster ride I have taken willingly, and a ride that I continue to take.
At the beginning of the Covid I got a rude reminder of it, and then again, it happened recently. It is the ride of the stock market. The Ups and Downs of the S&P 500.
This ride started the day I decided to take real money, with the click of a button, purchased some stocks. I didn’t quite know what I was doing but in retrospect, I now realize how transformative that moment was.
With one click, I converted something tangible into something virtual. I converted real money that I can use at the grocery store around the corner for something that exists in the ether. With one click, I got initiated into a different world. A world of virtual reality (VR) long before VR became a reality.
Not only did I enter VR, I handed myself to the whims of others. Watching S&P 500 drop by 35% at the beginning of Covid in March 2020, all that was in my control was to take it as a stoic challenge and not to react and click the sell button.
At the beginning I also did not quite comprehend that stocks are like a pond in which water level goes up and down and carries all boats with it, and further, how that pond got created out of nowhere in the first place. You may think that I am a bit low on comprehension, but I can challenge you into an old fashioned duel that is also the case for the majority of my fellow humans who have traded real money for virtual for the promise for a better future.
Life in our times is full of things that are too big for us to understand and have the feel of magic. Take the internet. Although you are reading this in the comfort of your home, it is a safe bet that you have no idea how these words flashed on your screen. A click on the keyboard? Well yes, but the answer goes a bit deeper than that. Enjoy the reading anyway. Understanding is not a prerequisite for enjoying something. It might even ruin the pleasure.
How was the pool created in which I now float, and occasionally, feel like someone left the plug open and I am going to drown in the whirlpool?
It all started on the day the Initial Public Offering (IPO) was issued and the bell on the floor of the stock market rang. That moment was equivalent to the moment of the big bang and the beginning of the universe. That IPO was the beginning of the pond that is the stock of a company. That is the pond in which our boats now float.
Someone wanted the money to grow their potential, convert their vision into reality, and created the virtual reality of stocks.
The people with vision offered the virtual world of stocks in return for real money, and poof, the transformation happens. Now I am a proud owner of virtual money that goes up and down at the whims of others, or as the economist might say, at the vagaries of an invisible hand.
Going back to the universe, this transformation is like E= MC2. Buying stocks is like converting matter into energy and selling stocks like converting energy back into the matter. In between these points, energy floats through the ether, reaches new highs and lows, and manages to strain my emotions.
In hopes of a better future, I will stay in the pond, and learn how to be stoic and remind myself that although the water level is not in my control, I can manage my reaction and be a better investor.
Will I take the roller coaster ride in Carlsbad again? Perhaps, but now I need to check with my cardiologist. Aging hearts (or perhaps more accurately, aging farts) can fail.