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Working on the Long Game

Written by Andrew Roth, Financial Advisor

I’m not a good golfer. I’m not saying this to be modest…I’m really lousy.

 My struggle with golf has had its evolutions. My parents enrolled me in golf camp as a child. There were phases at the driving range in my teens and good faith attempts by colleagues to get me into the sport. With every attempt I lost patience, got frustrated, or didn’t see the quick progress I anticipated. A decent handicap seemed like a far-off dream. I had a long way to go until I could hang with my friends, some of whom had grown up on the course. 

I’m currently attempting to get into the sport again. Maybe my 30s will be the decade I embrace the greatest game.

A thought recently crossed my mind in the middle of a driving range session... as I realized I was death-gripping the club, blisters were developing on my fingers, I was hitting balls off into the trees and feeling like I didn’t have a whole lot to show for it. The harder I swung, the more elusive that little ball became…

“Maybe this is how some people feel about investing?”

Lifelong investing is a lot like the sport of golf. It seems to come easier for some than others. It can be deeply emotional and psychological. Sometimes it takes years to see appreciable results. Sometimes the harder you try—whether it be with timing the markets, taking undue risk in search of return, or overthinking your options—the more you get in your own way. Frustration can be your biggest enemy. Sometimes the harder you swing, the more unpredictable the ball.

If there’s one thing I’ve realized about golf through my starts and stops—the more relaxed you are, the better you’ll play. This is also true about investing.

We’ve all met people who have stories about homerun investments or get-rich-quick schemes, but for most of us, returns are realized in the long term. There are also a lot of ups and downs along the way. Just like fixing a golf swing, there usually isn’t one easy solution. Success is realized by consistency, patience, and persistence. Lifelong wealth takes a lifetime to achieve.

Some days on the golf course are easier than others— some days are windy, some are rainy, some are oppressively hot. You may just lose a ball or two, or six. Some holes have sand traps, some have water hazards, and in certain climates you might even find some alligators! Each round involves many variables that could affect the score. In the world of investing there are a myriad of different factors that might affect short-term results. Just like the weather— most of these are out of our control. Taking a lesson from golfers, they’re usually not too picky about the weather. Most lifelong golfers also don’t throw their clubs in the lake because they get a double bogey or two. As investors we shouldn’t let the short-term outlook or performance affect our long-term plans either.

I often hear from golf advocates that it’s a game you can play your entire life. It’s something friends can do together well into retirement. One of the greatest things about golf is that it’s a facilitator. For some, golf is the vehicle that allows them to build relationships and connect with friends and family. The benefits extend well beyond the tiny pencils and score cards.

As financial planners, our responsibility exists beyond the portfolios you entrust us to manage and extends to the more complex human element. Just like golf, the objective isn’t simply the achievement of a certain score, but instead the integration of a lifetime’s work into the fulfillment of deeply personal goals. What’s the long-term plan? How can we work on the “long-game."

Everyone has different experiences with golf, just like we’ve all had different experiences with investing. Quick wins come easy for some. For others it feels like a grind. The important thing is that we continue to try. Don’t “force it” to your own detriment. Swinging harder isn’t necessarily better. Few of us will play on the PGA tour and few of us need 10% returns to achieve our goals. Warren Buffett and Jack Nicklaus are icons, but neither are benchmarks by which to measure our own success.

If it ever feels overwhelming, just remind yourself to relax, maybe loosen your grip, and take a deep breath. Look around and enjoy your surroundings. Finally, remember this shot will be one of thousands—so don’t get discouraged.

Have fun and swing away.

This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.