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In For A Bumpy Boat Ride

I think I’m done with traveling for a while.  After our extended RV trip up to New England, my brother decided to get married in the Philippines of all places.  Okay, so he married a Filipino (my wonderful sister-in-law Mishelle!), but it still made for quite the ordeal to get there.

I flew to Chicago, where a three hour layover en route to Tokyo turned into nine hours due to “mechanical maintenance”.  That caused us to miss our flight from Tokyo to Manila, so we spent the night in Japan.  After arriving a day late in Manila, we scrambled to find a plane to the island of Davao, Philippines the following day.  When you factor in crossing the International Date Line, I left my home at 4:30 in the morning on Tuesday morning and arrived in Davao on Friday!

At this point the traveling was almost done but actually got fun.  The last leg of the long journey was a private ferry ride to Samal Island where the wedding was being held at a small resort.  The minute we stepped onto the boat we felt totally relaxed.  The water there is crystal clear and glowed an amazing green against the white sand on the bottom of the sea.  The sun was bright and the gentle breeze made the low 80s feel just about perfect.  Mountains silhouetted the landscape and all seemed right in the world.

The wedding was great and we got to enjoy the island for a few days before it was time to head back home.  And we were all looking forward to that ferry ride again that transported us to paradise earlier.

But the ride couldn’t have been more different.  The sun was now shrouded behind a gray sky.  The water looked murky, and the mountains were hidden in clouds.  And that oh-so-gentle breeze was replaced by a whipping wind.  Even with wind guards hoisted alongside the ferry, the wind was so strong that conversation was next to impossible and we were constantly sprayed by the sea as we traveled back to the mainland.

Was this really the same boat ride as before?  While the boat was exactly the same, it was a totally different experience.

It struck me later how much this is like investing in the stock market.  2017 seemed like the ride to paradise.  The markets went straight up, the sun was out, and there wasn’t a care in the world.  This year has been a totally different ride – choppy waters, headwinds, and a bit of uncertainty whether we’ll even make it to the destination in one piece!

And yet, it’s the same boat ride.  There’s only one boat that will take us to the destination (retirement, etc.) and that is the stock market.  We know that it comes with risks and with lots of volatility, and those things are precisely what we enjoy when prices are rising.  They risks of sailing we don’t mind (we tell ourselves) as they afford us the pleasure of the cruise.  But the past few months make us wonder if there is a better or easier way to go about this.

Yes, there are certainly different vessels to choose from, each with more or less horsepower and subject to more or less volatility.  But there’s no way to avoid cycles, or to avoid the storms.

Jesus talked about building a house on the rocks instead of the sand so that it would stand up when the storms come, not if the storms come.  The point isn’t to avoid the storms, but to make sure you are situated in a way to withstand them.  Trying to avoid the storms often causes more damage than the storms themselves.

So long as you’ve done prudent planning, and your investments line up with your overall financial plan, the best thing to do is often to weather the storm, and remember that storms don’t last forever.  They are only temporary and the sun will shine again.