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Riding the Waves

Published by: Jeff Hall, CFP®,CIMA® Date: July 07, 2015

If you could do any one thing every day for the rest of your life, what would it be? Work? Golf? Play tennis? Fish? For me, I would surf! I know that may sound strange since the waves aren’t that good here on the lakes in East Tennessee. Nonetheless, given the opportunity I would surf everyday.

My first experience riding the waves was in Costa Rica almost 8 years ago. It was there, under the blue sky and enormous sun, that I discovered the lure of surfing and the ultimate challenge for my abilities—both mental and physical. Even though I was younger, healthy and relatively athletic, I quickly found that there were some things I could control and many more that I could not. I could choose my board and choose the wave but that was about all. I couldn’t choose the direction of the wave or the timing of the crest or the energy behind the wave. On more than one occasion I’ve exceeded my capabilities and had my life flash before my eyes. Whether riding or falling, every wave seems to have a lesson to be learned.

The ocean is a complex system of tides and undertows. The height of the tides and the fluctuation depends not only on the moon but also on the sun, and the wind, and the shape of the coastline. In addition, there are sharks to be aware of as we have been hearing much about lately. I have found that the world of finance is equally as complex and as difficult to navigate as surfing. It depends on at least as many variables (including a few sharks).

At some point, we all have to come to the conclusion that there are only so many things we can control with our personal finances and trying to go beyond that can get us into a heap of trouble. Ask anyone who made big bets on tech stocks (2000), real estate (2007), or gold (2012). Their lives probably flashed before their eyes, too. So how are we supposed to navigate these tricky currents? We need to understand what we have control of and what we do not.

We have the least control over politics, the economy, the financial markets, investment returns, tax policy and entitlements.

We have some control over our employment, our earnings potential, our life span and the length of our working career.

We have ample control over setting goals, keeping our emotions in check, our savings rate, our exposure to the stock market and the costs we pay.

Finally, we have total control over who we listen to. Remember, emotion sells. Whether politics, religion, or money, the bigger the controversy or the worse the news, the more enamored we are with the subject.

Ultimately, we need to set realistic goals, we need to have a plan and follow it and we need to learn from every wave.

Jeff Hall is a partner and Senior Financial Advisor with Rather & Kittrell. He is available at