A client taught me what we control in an out-of-control world
If I told you that the most important lesson I’ve learned during this cataclysmic year is gratitude, you would probably think either that I was naive enough to change my name to Pollyanna or that I was living in a clinical state of denial. Believe me, I would understand either reaction. For many of us, both professionally and personally, it seems as if we can’t catch a break or even catch our breath — especially now, when on top of everything else, we are down to the last days of a bitterly contentious presidential election.
But then I look at one of my clients and I’m reminded of what really matters.
“Anika,” as I’ll call her, grew up in a privileged family in one of the republics of the former Soviet Union. Her parents were successful professionally and socially. She attended the best schools and had all the advantages her society could provide. She had everything — until she didn’t.
In 1991, her family witnessed the wealth they had accumulated over a lifetime melt away practically overnight due to the hyperinflation and economic upheaval surrounding the breakup of the former USSR. The money in their accounts became almost worthless. She once told me of how her father had saved for a new Mercedes Benz and was about to complete the purchase using Soviet rubles. But when everything came crashing down during those fateful days in August, the money that could have paid for a luxury vehicle was suddenly barely enough to buy a loaf of bread.
Thinking about my client and the many barriers she has overcome reminds me of the importance of taking to heart the advice we so often give our clients: concentrate on what you can control.
With her parents’ help, Anika managed to secure a student visa that allowed her to emigrate to the United States. Once here, she began to rebuild. Over the next 10 years, she completed a college degree and entered the workforce. She applied for U.S. citizenship and began formulating plans to launch her own accounting business.
Today, Anika is the CEO of a hugely successful accounting firm, is happily married and is well on her way to building a secure financial foundation for herself and her children. I am honored to be her financial advisor and close friend. In many ways, I have learned more from her than I will ever be able to teach her.
Power of choice
Perhaps most important, Anika’s story reminds me that, despite all the challenges we face currently, in this nation we have the freedom to maximize opportunities with hard work, dedication and determination. We have efficient markets that reward patient, disciplined investors. We have reliable access to the technology we need to adapt to changing conditions.
Thinking about my client and the many barriers she has overcome also reminds me of the importance of taking to heart the advice we so often give our clients: concentrate on what you can control. Anika had no ability to influence the political situation in her country of origin. She had no control over the monetary, economic or financial policies of her government — policies that pillaged her family’s hard-earned wealth.
But she did have the ability to make a change for the better, to come to a place where opportunities still beckoned. She had the ability to focus on her education and the long-term goals that education made possible. By concentrating on what she could control, Anika ultimately overcame the obstacles placed in her path by forces beyond her control.
Similarly, we have no control over the course of the pandemic. Most of us have little leverage over government responses or policies. We cannot control the markets and we cannot — singlehandedly, at least — bring peace and harmony to society.
But we can control our reactions to events. We can continue to guide and encourage our clients to maintain focus on their long-term goals and to practice disciplined asset allocation and rebalancing. We can continue to employ the evidence-based principles and practices that have been proven effective by financial science. We can persist in providing reliable, factual advice and guidance. We can continue to show up, every day, for our clients, our associates, and our communities.
My guess is that each one of you has at least one client who inspires you to look beyond the current hedge of complications and refocus on the big picture. All of us are in this business because we believe in our clients, because serving them is what gets us out of bed in the morning and keeps us at work after many others have called it a day.
That’s why it’s so important to remember the most important choice of all: exercising a choice over the things we can control — and helping our clients to do the same.