With my stock portfolio off 42 percent from a year ago, at which time I “semi-retired” intending to, at least in part, live off my investments, I’ve had to rethink my situation and get a new plan. I’m sure that my frustration and anguish over the stock market crash are shared by most of our readers. It’s painful, to say the least, to see one’s financial security come tumbling down just when the fruits of a career of hard work and risk are about to be harvested.
However, we Americans are a hardy bunch and we’ll survive. Our forefathers were a rough-and-tumble lot who came to the New World to scrape out a life in a frontier wilderness that lacked the trappings of civilization. By comparison we’re much softer, but we come from good stock.
As I took stock of my situation I experienced an epiphany of sorts. What would I be worth if I lost the remaining 68% of my portfolio and went flat broke? Would I be of any value at all? The answer, of course, is yes, I would still have value. In fact, I would still be worth just as much as I am today except I wouldn’t have any money.
That led to some thinking about what makes a person’s life worthwhile. What is our source of significance? I thought about the people in my life who I consider having lived significant lives. I was surprised that there wasn’t a wealthy person in the bunch. I took my yellow pad in hand and listed a few of those who have impressed me with the lives they lived. What, if any, common character traits did they share?
Without exception, all the people on my list placed people above things. In fact, they spent their lives trying to make things better for other people. Some achieved financial security and some did not. But they never wavered in their active concern for others. So, placing relationships over material concerns is clearly what makes a life significant, at least in my view.
It helped to reaffirm the importance of relationships in the midst of my financial turmoil. I felt much better. It’s easy to declare disdain for material wealth when one is financially secure, but it’s more meaningful when the market is floundering and the immediate future uncertain. Not that I have given up pursuit of worldly treasure entirely. I’m still in the hunt.
My career has been very important to me and, for the most part, I have been incredibly lucky. For me, money is a means of keeping score over the successes and failures of my ventures rather than just a medium for acquiring more stuff. Consequently, the devastation in the stock market hit me in the score card. Losing, even temporary loss, is never easy but the current situation has been made less daunting by some hard thinking on the subject of my significance.
What does the financial future hold? In my view, the near term is not a pretty sight. I expect the recession will end by mid-2009, but recovering from the devastation will likely take several years, perhaps as many as five years. Economic growth is likely to be slower than in the periods following prior recessions due to the severity of the housing and credit debacles.
Nonetheless, I think the future is bright. Many, including me, believe that investing in the market now offers tremendous opportunity.
Joe D. Jones, CPA, Publisher emeritus. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .