For the last few years, I have been somewhat hindered by stiffness and soreness in the big toe joint of my right foot. I thought it was gout, a condition I had heard could not be cured but rather managed and tolerated. I am somewhat active and I especially like to walk nine holes of golf for exercise and recreation. My golf outings were typically followed by limping and then sitting with an ice pack to alleviate the pain. I didn’t think there was anything more that I could do and I didn’t bother to ask. I set my expectations based on very limited information.
To make matters a little worse, I tended to favor the joint with each step I took and because my toe would not bend at the joint, my foot would roll to the outside edge every time I pushed off on it and put pressure on the outer half of my foot. This caused some straining and pain in a tendon on the side of my foot. This made golf and just walking even more difficult. I tried icing, stretching, and everything else I could think of to bring relief from the pain. I had very little luck and grew very frustrated.
After 2 plus years of pain and countless hours googling information about these maladies, I finally decided to go see a podiatrist (yeah, I don’t know why I waited so long either).
The doctor asked a few questions, took a couple of x-rays, and within half an hour came back and said that it wasn’t caused by gout. I had Hallux Rigidus, a buildup of bone in the joint that kept the joint from bending. It is a form of arthritis that can be corrected with surgery. Typical recovery from the surgery would require 3-4 weeks in a walking boot and then stretching and walking to regain flexibility and strength. I told him to “sign me up.” I expected to be fully active and pain-free in 2-3 months. He never actually said it would happen like this. In fact, he probably told me it would take longer but I wasn’t listening (somewhere my wife is nodding in agreement). I just built my own expectations off what I wanted to happen and hearing what I wanted to hear.
The surgery itself went well. The boot came off after about 3 weeks and I was off to the races, albeit slowly. After about 4 more weeks, there was still quite a bit of pain and swelling and tightness. After another month I tried walking nine holes and there was still pain. I grew frustrated and at times, downright angry. I felt I was getting a result unlike others with the same malady. Again, instead of consulting my doctor, I took to Google, looking for snippets of info that would tell me what was going wrong and why. The results of these searches varied greatly and I was more confused and frustrated than ever before.
So, guess what I did finally. I went back to my doctor. He reviewed MY situation, MY procedure, MY results, and what I should expect for MY recovery. In short, I listened to him and learned what would likely happen; not just what I wanted to happen. Turns out there are many factors in determining the amount of time to fully recover and the more I understood these and the possible scenarios, the better I felt. My recovery began to unfold just as the doctor had said and my new expectations were being met.
Financial planning and investing is just like this. How successful we are most often comes down to how well we understand how our investments may perform. Sometimes, investors go into an investment plan with a preconceived notion of how it will all play out. When things do not go as expected, uncertainty and doubt creep in and they begin to question whether they are on the right path. Instead of seeking information from a trusted source who is familiar with their situation, they go to a search engine or a website. They may even turn to a friend who, while very trustworthy, does not know enough about their situation, their investments, or their goals. So, they now have a ton of information yet not all of it applies to their situation. Before long, anxiety or panic can set in and the investor bails out of the plan at what is often the worst possible time.
My point is that most, if not all, of your success in financial planning and investing will be determined by how well you and your advisor communicate and the expectations he or she helps you set. Sure, it’s disappointing when our portfolios go through periods of correction. Most of us have been through several. Even if we haven’t if we know that there will be such periods and we have confidence that our plan is not in jeopardy, we are less likely to become concerned, anxious, or to make poor decisions. Often, this anxiety can be cured by a simple phone call with your advisor. During difficult periods we try and be more proactive in reaching out for this very reason. We recognize the anxiety and have the confidence that comes with experience in dealing with these periods. Sometimes a more thorough review may be necessary, but the important factor is to develop a relationship with an advisor that you trust who clearly sets appropriate expectations, has appropriately diagnosed your financial situation, and is in the position to guide you through the process. Helping you through these periods may be the most valuable thing an advisor can do so lean on their expertise.