Life Lessons from the Stock Market

Looking at a chart of the market is like looking at a chart of what it means to be human

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Whether you’re invested in the stock market or not, it’s likely that you’ve at least been following (if not obsessing over) its ups and downs over the last several weeks. The market has experienced unprecedented volatility, with the broader indexes swinging wildly each day. It’s hard to look at the charts and not feel a bit unsettled, whether you’re directly impacted or just concerned about what it means for the overall health of the economy.

Although I try not to think about it too much, I couldn’t help but notice that the market tends to show a pattern. Across any time period, you will see stretches of stability marked by episodic ups and downs. Over longer periods of time, for example a decade or more, you will see an unmistakable growth trend. Here’s a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the last hundred years.

It occurred to me that this is life. This is what it looks like to be human. This is what someone on a path of self-mastery experiences. Each of us experiences setbacks daily. Some minor, some severe. But over time, if you are committed to your own mastery, you will experience growth.

So what can we learn from the stock market? I think there are three primary lessons.

  1. Focus on growth. Any financial advisor worth his or her salt, will advise you to have a diversified portfolio, but to focus predominantly on equities. The only way to grow your portfolio is to take on risk. This doesn’t mean being reckless. But it does mean to have a long-term, growth orientation. The same is true with self-mastery. In my book, I draw the distinction between playing not to lose and playing to win (which I borrow from Larry Wilson’s wonderful book Play to Win). To play to win, you must take on the subconscious, safety-based beliefs that run you and choose to author a code that is purposefully designed for you to thrive.
  2. Don’t panic. Like the stock market, you are going to have setbacks on your path of self-mastery. They are inevitable and predictable. They will happen daily. You might allow yourself to be triggered by something your child did. You might be unkind. You will almost certainly lose control of your emotions. The key is to not over-react and misinterpret them. They shouldn’t be feared or seen as failures. Setbacks are wonderful. They should be celebrated. They are an opportunity to practice self-awareness and to learn. Last week, I suggested that you take stock of how you live at the end of each day; that you assess how your day unfolded against your intended outcomes. This practice offers a daily opportunity to reframe your inevitable downturns as valuable lessons.
  3. Invest when everyone else is scared. In every market downturn over the past century, the investors who succeeded were those who didn’t lose their nerve and stuck with their commitment to growth. The same is true for personal mastery, particularly right now. We are in a crisis—one that is unprecedented and truly global in nature. Right now is not the time to lose your nerve and neglect yourself. Now is the time, when you are perhaps most fearful, to focus on your own mastery. To be uncomfortable. To take some personal risk.

What can you do right now to focus on your growth? What would it look like to take some risk and double down on your commitment to personal mastery? What are the long-term implications for you, your family, and your community? I’d encourage you to draw a chart of your personal mastery and project it into the future. Where do you want to be in ten, twenty, or thirty years? The commitment you make today will make all the difference going forward.

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