What To Do In Uncertain Times – A Lesson From The Silver Screen

Lately, the stock market’s been the most turbulent in recent memory. For many investors, especially those with stock-heavy accounts, the market’s movements have felt like being on a seesaw with a bigger kid on the other side – they’re being tossed around with seemingly very little control over their own circumstances. Without a doubt, this can be a very frustrating feeling and my conversations with folks seem to always come back to the same question, “With all the uncertainty in the markets these days, what should I do now?”

A couple of recent trips to the movie theater gave me the chance to see two blockbusters, The Revenant and The Martian, and it also gave me some insight. Both films are critically acclaimed, and while that might be where you’d think the similarities end, they also had something much bigger in common; the main characters in each movie were left in incredibly difficult situations that epitomized uncertainty.

The Revenant‘s main character, Hugh Glass, was a frontiersman and fur trapper from the 1820’s. While on an expedition, Glass is mauled by a bear and eventually left for dead by his own fur trapping team. Throughout the movie, he meets seemingly unending trials in an effort to reach the safety of his home camp.

The Martian features Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney, who’s presumed dead and left behind on Mars after his team of explorers encounters a space storm. Watney has a very limited amount of rations and even fewer options when it comes to his own survival.

SPOILER ALERT:  Both men survived despite the odds being stacked against them.

So what do the characters from these movies have to do with the stock market? Turns out, quite a bit when it comes to advice for investors and here are a few lessons that you can apply to your portfolio.

  1. Look at your situation as it –is-, not as you –wish-it was.  I’m guessing Glass and Watney didn’t want to be mauled by a bear or be left on Mars. Wishing things were different though, didn’t change anything for the men. Assessing their situations realistically was the only way to improve the situations. As an investor, you didn’t sell off all of your stock at the market’s peak and bail out, and neither did anyone else. Any number of things could have derailed the plans you had for your life and could have altered your financial picture. As a friend of mine often says though, “So what, now what?” Take a good, long look in the mirror, accept things as they are and get to work to make them better.
  2. Stop focusing on the problem and focus on the solution! It’s hard to imagine a tougher set of circumstances than being left for dead after an attack by a 400 pound animal or fighting to survive -100 degree temperatures on Mars. In both circumstances, the men involved didn’t waste time thinking about what had happened to them. Instead, they set their sights on the goal and didn’t waver. For them, failure was not an option. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some variation of the phrase, “If the market ever gets back to where it was, I’ll do differently next time.”  After the recent market volatility, an emotional reaction would be to change strategies…Don’t take the bait. If your goals haven’t changed, your strategy shouldn’t either.
  3. Ask for help. At one point in The Revenent, a starving Hugh Glass had to take refuge with a person driven to near madness from hunger and isolation. In The Martian, Mark Watney had to rely on the same NASA team that mistakenly left him for dead, to come back and save him. When it comes to your finances, there’s plenty of help available. Using a professional advisory team can provide a second opinion on how you might best reach your goals and have the life you’ve always wanted.

Uncertain times test everyone. They require patience, perseverance and focus. If the first part of 2016 has been a frustrating time for you – take heart – you’re not the only one.  Using the three simple principles above, inspired by some of Hollywood’s recent blockbusters, you can thrive despite the uncertainty.

***Any opinions are those of Chip Munn and not necessarily those of Raymond James and investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected


About Chip Munn

Managing Partner, SWS Senior Wealth Advisor, RJFS Chip is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Clemson University, where he earned a degree in education and was selected as an Academic All American by USA Today. He began his career in finance as a financial consultant with Wheat First Union in 1998. He specializes in retirement and education planning and the transfer of wealth among generations. Chip lives in Florence with his family. Follow Chip on LinkedIn.

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