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The Optimist

The Optimist

| April 17, 2020

For many of us, the novelty of staying home has long since worn off and we are growing weary.  We just want our normal lives back.  But I would offer that we can never go back to “normal” and why would we want to?  I believe we are either moving forward or backwards and this global timeout has pushed every one of us outside of our comfort zones.  We each cope with challenges in different ways, but we should look at this as an opportunity for growth, and growth always begins with understanding.

Just when I thought I’ve heard every angle about the pandemic, it turns out that even our very own planet is impacted by our staying home.  Seismologists have been listening to the Earth for years, to help understand sound waves and hopefully predict earthquakes.  Sensors placed near large metropolitan areas have long struggled to interpret data due to the extra “hum” associated with traffic, construction, and industrial machinery.  Well that has certainly quieted down a bit!  Quite literally, the Earth is vibrating less!

Times like these don’t come along often, and when they do, we never forget them.  This is clearly a “VUCA” moment if ever there was one.  VUCA is a term shared by a colleague of mine, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.  Unfortunately, the present day finds all of these at extreme levels.  Let’s take a closer look.

Volatility – we see it in the markets, the economy, our jobs, our family dynamics, our spending habits, our moods and mindsets.  The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other in most areas of our lives.  It is human nature to mistake this new direction as a fixed and permanent trend, but like most things, it will be temporary, and will likely swing back.  Eventually we will contain and control this virus, and our current restrictions will relax as we seek to find our “new normal.”

Uncertainty – how will this impact my wealth and retirement plans?  The uncertainty that we are now experiencing can lead to irrational behavior—fight or flight.  Our instinct towards self-preservation causes us to make decisions that are uncharacteristic such as hoarding or selling assets during a market pull back.  It is difficult to make good decisions without all the facts but having a sound plan in place can be comforting.  Maybe this extra time could be used to update or create our wealth plans?

Complexity – how much do we really know about this tiny organism that has literally brought the world to its knees?  I recently read that well over 100 million physicians, scientists, nurses, technologists, and engineers are simultaneously attacking this pandemic—in unison as one singular, focused response.  Never in the history of the human race have we undertaken anything on a scale such as this, which instills great confidence in our ability to persevere and develop solutions.

Ambiguity – we can all endure anything if we know it’s going to end, and if we know when.  But what if we don’t know?  In his book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins tells the story of Admiral James Stockdale who was the highest-ranking POW at the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam war.  He was once asked who of all the captives were least likely to survive?  His answer was “Oh, that’s easy.  It was the optimists!”  This seems counterintuitive.  He went on to explain that he was not an “optimist,” however, he never wavered in his faith that he would prevail in the end.    The optimists thought that they would be released by Christmas, and when that didn’t happen, by Easter, and then Thanksgiving.  As our release date continues to extend, I hope we never waver in our faith that we will prevail in the end—whenever that may be.  We can’t know exactly when the switch will be flipped, letting us all crawl out of our homes and return to the world.  But fretting about it will not change this date, and it will certainly not help solve the problem.  So maybe we should turn this experience into something great and be thankful for those who are on the front lines offering a steady hand to those truly in need.

My very best to you and your families,

Mark Reinert