My interest in investing is partly founded upon my fascination with human behavior. Financial markets are veritable treasure troves for those who share this fascination. In them, one can see ordinary people taken to the height of jubilation and then bear witness as they are dragged down to the depths of despair. The cause of this emotional about-face? A wandering curve set against an unassuming white background.
In financial markets, a lifetime of emotions can pass in days. Fortunes are created and squandered. Reputations forged and destroyed. Lives changed and lost.
Those investors who stand immune from the emotional effects of that wandering curve can count themselves as either hardened to the point of transcendence or simply psychopathic. The rest of us confront these effects as best we can.
This confrontation is not at all straightforward; rather, it is emotionally and physically exhausting. And yet, despite this promise of abuse, droves of people always return to the circus that is the financial markets.
Frequently, they are drawn by the markets’ most obvious, if unspoken, allure: the prospect of receiving something for nothing – of investing a little and receiving a lot. It is a notion that ought to be confined to casinos. But, like mice to grain, it follows money without fail.
Those who enter the markets following this intoxicating promise and escape still clinging to it are few and far between. They are the lucky few and are, not surprisingly, often very loud. They write books that echo the same promise (“Earn Money in the Markets Guaranteed!” “Simple Investing Secrets That Will Make You A Millionaire!”). These fortunate few will likely make far more money from their books than they ever did by following the strategies they promote.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that the best investors are the quietest. Perhaps it is because they understand that genuine, long-term, market-beating success is so fragile that their own voices might shatter it.
If they did speak, they might tell us that this notion of getting something for nothing is a false deity and that most of those who worship it will pay for their faith with the most valuable of currencies: happiness.
“True investing success,” they might say, “is bought and paid for by countless hours of research, intermittent days of despondent doubt, and years of practicing the simple virtue that most investors seem to forget about: patience.”
Many others try so hard to beat the market by trying to outrun it or out maneuver it. Ironically, in so doing, they will likely forever remain slightly behind it. And at every turn, they will find themselves slipping farther and farther behind.
Everyone else just seems to be along for the ride – a methodology which is, for a great many people, decidedly the best.
Some men and women accord the market with genius. They see it as a wizened and all knowing mathematician – an individual who divines greater truths from facts and figures and then expresses them with eloquent and simple proofs. He is never wrong.
I find the market to be an old man. A man whose mind has been relieved of the tiresome burden of memory. His life is a long walk – a walk toward home. His instinct ensures that he will remain on a true course, but it does not prevent him from stumbling or falling, or from taking a turn that will lengthen his plodding trek. Onlookers see him lumber by and grant him little thought save for one: “I am not him, nor will I ever be him.”
But they are him. All of them are. He is the sum of their attitudes and reasoning made manifest. His frequent stumbles are their moments of panic. His few instances of surefootedness are their moments of clarity. His occasional episodes of running are their moments of exuberance.
His walk resembles a wandering curve.