David Maurice Sharp: “Change is always a scary thing”

Change is always a scary thing — but also inevitable. The pandemic accelerated the pace of change we are experiencing to an often excruciating level. I remind people that this can be a great time to focus on learning about new things. Also, most changes in our lives do not happen at a steady, progressive […]

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Change is always a scary thing — but also inevitable. The pandemic accelerated the pace of change we are experiencing to an often excruciating level. I remind people that this can be a great time to focus on learning about new things. Also, most changes in our lives do not happen at a steady, progressive rate. Rather, they happen more in fits and starts — jumps forward and then pullbacks. This moment of change happens to be drastic, but there will be a pullback before it starts to progress again. Trusting yourself to ride the waves can help to bring some level of comfort.

Asa part of my series about “Investing During The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Maurice Sharp.

David is the author of The Thriving Artist: Saving and Investing for Performers, Artists, and the Stage & Film Industries and has been named a ‘money hero’ for his work in financial literacy for artists by Money Magazine. David currently teaches at HB Studio in New York City and frequently does workshops for The Actors Fund, MusiCares Foundation, and The SAG-AFTRA Foundation. As a former performing artist, he danced for Mimi Garrard Dance Theatre, Lucinda Childs, Rachel Lampert and Anna Sokolow among others and currently is a consulting director for Prime Clerk, specializing in US and international corporate restructurings.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?

Iwas a professional modern dancer in New York for nearly 20 years. Since income from a dance career is sporadic — and often not especially lucrative — I often needed sources of supplemental income. I was coming to the end of a run performing in a dinner theater production of ‘Cabaret’ and thinking about what to do next. A friend suggested that I look into temping as it would allow me the flexibility I needed to continue performing while providing some extra income. The temp agency I was referred to assigned me to a proxy solicitation firm that specialized in corporate meetings, hostile takeovers and tender offers — of which I knew nothing, but assured them I could certainly learn about it. They were flexible enough with my schedule that I could continue taking classes, auditioning, performing and even touring, so I ended up staying for the remainder of my dance career. While there, I learned about investing in stocks and bonds and began investing and building a diversified financial safety net for myself. Realizing how beneficial this was to my freelance situation, I began sharing that information with fellow artists to help them out as well.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I often performed in a signature piece of Mimi Garrard’s called “Exchange,” which was based on the stock market and the often crazy capriciousness of it. Since I danced it frequently, I was usually tasked with both teaching the choreography to new dancers, but also with explaining to them the meanings of references to the financial markets. Our costumes were suits, ties and bowler hats, and since most of them would rarely have occasion to wear corporate attire, they would also line up before each performance to have me tie their ties. Working on the piece always reminded me that regardless of how disparate and foreign our worlds and experiences sometimes are, there is always a way to bridge them and learn from the differences — and to put them to good use.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In addition to arts-related organizations, I’m increasingly being asked to speak to education-related audiences. As teachers and other educators become more comfortable with financial literacy, it will hopefully lead to more inclusion in schools and universities, where it would be extremely beneficial for students from all backgrounds. The more that younger people are exposed to saving and investing the better off they will be — regardless of the vocation they end up pursuing.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father definitely played a significant role in my aspirations to understand finances and to find ways of being financially independent despite the chaotic lifestyle of being an artist. Both of my parents were raised on subsistence farms in rural Indiana so they never experienced real financial stability during their childhood. Dad put himself through college, educated himself about finances, and built a successful safety net for himself and his family. He never allowed my sisters and me to take that for granted, however, and insisted on us building our own financial well-being plan. The day that I graduated from New York University, he took me to dinner at the Plaza hotel in New York to celebrate. As we raised our glasses to toast my graduation he said, “Congratulations! Now you are on your own!” From then on it was up to me to ensure my financial stability, although I always knew that he would be there for me in an emergency.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Change is always a scary thing — but also inevitable. The pandemic accelerated the pace of change we are experiencing to an often excruciating level. I remind people that this can be a great time to focus on learning about new things. Also, most changes in our lives do not happen at a steady, progressive rate. Rather, they happen more in fits and starts — jumps forward and then pullbacks. This moment of change happens to be drastic, but there will be a pullback before it starts to progress again. Trusting yourself to ride the waves can help to bring some level of comfort.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know the stock market and the economy in general have become extremely volatile and uncertain. Many people “dollar cost average” and put aside a monthly sum into a long term savings plan for retirement, college, or a home purchase. If a loved one or a client came to you and said, “I have been saving and investing $500 every month in an S&P 500 index fund. Over the next few months until the dust settles, should I be doing something else with my money?”, what would you say to them?

Stay the course, but also look to other areas that may be advantageous to which you can start gaining exposure. History has shown us that consistently investing over time is better than trying to market time. A big advantage reaped from continued monthly investing in downtimes like these is that you purchase more shares because the prices are depressed. While it may take some time for the market to fully recover there is no reason to expect that it will not. I remind my artist students that in pursuing their craft, they devote time on a regular, daily basis to learning and improving their skills. This process involves moments of accelerated breakthroughs as well as periods when it seems no progress is being made. Building financial well-being is exactly the same. Consistency and steadfastness really do work to your advantage and propel you forward in both good times and not-so-good ones.

Eventually the economy will recover and rebound. Certain sectors, like travel and hospitality might be hurting for a while. But other sectors, like technology and healthcare, might do very well. If someone wanted to prepare today to take advantage of the future recovery, what would you suggest they do?

Look for the changes in both the economy and society that will either be forced to happen abruptly or be accelerated due to the unprecedented events of this time. Artists, in particular, are trained to be facile and adaptive so are well-positioned to explore these potential future trends. Be attuned to what is happening around you, consider potential paths going forward, and think about ways to position yourself to take advantage of them.

Are there sectors that provide exciting and lucrative investment opportunities today, specifically because of the volatility and uncertainty?

There are numerous industries that were negatively impacted during this time and therefore have seen their stock prices fall. Entertainment was particularly hard hit, but I am confident that we will continue to have things like movies, live theater events and casinos in our future. Looking at some promising companies there, while still risky, can offer some intriguing possibilities. Industries that are tangential to them can also be worth a look, such as restaurants and catering. Real estate has also taken a hit and will most likely require some changes in future. Will we need as much office space now that companies realize that many employees can work from home? What about retail shopping now that online was the only possibility for a while? If there is a reduction in demand for real estate as it was being used prior to the pandemic, what will it be used for going forward?

Are there alternative investments that you think more people should look more deeply at?

With artists and other freelancers, I always emphasize establishing a core portfolio first. Once that is in place, you can consider adding other assets that may encompass more risk, but offer greater potential return. One area to examine under the current circumstances is the effect on global trade and supply chains. They have been trending to more narrow channels, but may now need to become more diversified for safety. What countries or areas of the world are best poised to take advantage of that? Are there companies that may be worth investing in or would obtaining broader exposure through a targeted exchange-traded fund (ETF) be more desirable? Energy supply is another area that is seeing heightened interest. The trend from fossil fuels toward renewable ones has been slow, but with the pandemic is gaining momentum. Social unrest is also accelerating the desire for socially responsible investing. Are there particular companies or industries poised to benefit the most from that? Again, an ETF or mutual fund that emphasizes socially responsible investing may help target a potential upswing while diversifying risk.

If a person in their thirties and forties came to you today and said that they have $10,000 that they want to put away today for a long term investment what would you advise them to do with it?

Artists and freelancers are so varied in their lives and needs that the answer would need to be specific to that individual. I always encourage them to first ask themselves some questions: (1) How much risk are you comfortable taking at this moment in your life? (2) Are you looking to build resources that could currently be tapped, for later in life, or a combination of the two? (3) Are you looking to provide a potential income stream for those times when you aren’t working as much, an investment that will grow solely through capital appreciation, or both? Once those questions have been answered, it is easier to hone in on the best investment for that particular individual at that particular time. Artists rarely fit into any of the typical patterns that can be applied to more conventional workers — they need to have a more unique and customized approach.

Ok, thank you! Here is a more general finance question. You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

  1. Become attuned to your spending habits so that you can find ways to save even small amounts of money, which over time can be significant. Recently, one of my bank accounts began charging a monthly fee of about $5 — which seems small looking at it on the monthly level, but equates to $60 over the course of a year. By making a simple adjustment to my account, I was able to have the fee waived and could put that money to better use.
  2. Pay yourself a paycheck. This is particularly beneficial for artists and other freelancers who have uneven ‘feast or famine’ incomes. Calculate the amount you need to cover expenses in a typical month and consistently pay yourself that amount. This will allow you to save excess earnings in high-income months to help offset shortfalls in lower-income months. Time after time, I have students tell me that once they implemented this strategy, they were amazed by how much it accelerated their savings — and provided much-needed peace of mind.
  3. Allocate your cash emergency reserve funds into separate sub-categories. You don’t need to do this literally — simply keep track of the allocations in a spreadsheet or notebook. Denote how much of your cash reserves are earmarked for things like rent or mortgage payments, for bills, for education, etc. This will help you to avoid looking at the funds as just a big pot of cash — which could be more tempting to dig into — and make you more cognizant of what the funds are intended for.
  4. Think of your investments as your employees. They will work for you 24/7, you don’t have to listen to them complain, you don’t have to give them perks, or worry about them not showing up. By thinking of assets as your own band of workers, it helps to eliminate some of the fear that can be associated with investing.
  5. Build assets outside of retirement accounts as well. This is especially true for artists and other freelancers. Conventional workers often emphasize investing in tax-protected retirement accounts because they are relying on consistent salaries for their current living expenses. Due to the unpredictable nature of freelance income, having assets outside of retirement accounts working for you can provide a much needed source of income to tap during periods of time — like now with this crises — when limited work is available.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Color outside the lines.” I have been fortunate to have some pretty unconventional experiences in my life. Often, when I discuss having worked part-time on Wall Street while concurrently having a dance career, I’m asked how I convinced the firm to allow that. My response is always that it never occurred to me to question whether it could be done or not — I knew I could do it. The bigger mistake to avoid, for me, has always been to not pursue something because it doesn’t fit into a pattern or design that is already well-known. Looking for opportunities outside the box often are the most disconcerting, but also often provide the biggest rewards.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe that artists and other freelancers have many skills that make them uniquely adept at navigating and benefiting from investing. Since most financial literacy and advice is not geared towards the lifestyle they have, it is often difficult for them to find the bridge into that world. I always tell them, “learn as you go, use your creativity to adapt, follow your curiosity, invest with heart and find the fun in it!”

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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