Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Serious as a Heart Attack

It has been very quiet today for the day before you know what. We received the packet and my husband signed, notarized, and sent it back for the close tomorrow. It ain't over till it's over, though. I was hoping to share an amusing anecdote about the impending sale, but no can do. So, what the hey, I guess I'll be serious.

Today I was reading American history to my first grader. The chapter was about the first Thanksgiving. Since it is intended for the very young, it synopsized the Pilgrims voyage and first winter in America. As it was put so simply, I was struck by the tragic mistakes that they made.

The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock on December 20, 1620, and expected to start their colony. I don't know how they could have known, but how do you start a colony in the dead of winter with no food or shelter? They couldn't grow any food because, well, it's cold on the east coast in December (does anyone know if England's seasons are the same as ours?). These errors cost many their lives. I thought to myself, and said out loud, that they sure could have planned a bit better.

Do you think the Pilgrims just jumped in a boat and sailed over? I don't. I'm sure that an immense amount of planning went into the voyage by the most experienced people in their group. Unfortunately, there were too many unknown variables to them, and the results were tragic. This point is not to be overlooked when assessing mistakes that we have made in our own lives, especially as investors.

First, we need to take responsibility for all of our decisions. Second, we need to learn from the mistakes. The Pilgrims worked very hard the next year in order to store food for what they knew would be another difficult winter (they still didn't have enough!).

Then I read history to my third grader. As you may know, Paul Revere was a silversmith by trade. Prosperity was over and some of the Americans were beginning to protest England's taxation to pay for providing troops to America as protection against the Indians. Paul Revere had a large family to support and being a silversmith was no longer profitable, as silver was an expensive luxury. It may not surprise you to know that he segued into engraving copper plates to print pictures and political cartoons. But he also picked up another occupation to make ends meet. Do you remember what that was?

He learned dentistry because not many people knew how to affix a new tooth to where one had been extracted. Paul Revere realized when something wasn't working for him and shifted to another occupation, when it was necessary. He didn't particularly care for copper engraving and dentistry, so he only kept them up for as long as he had to. After all, he was a silversmith.

To be honest, I am the least likely history buff you will find. However, the stories that I read to my kids today seemed to speak to us as investors. I don't need to spell it out to you because I don't think any of you are stupid, but both hold lessons for us to learn. The Pilgrims, whose legacy is forever etched in the history of this great country, made mistakes that cost lives. Do they impress you more or less for this reason? They pulled it together enough to move forward and settle the colonies that eventually made the anchor of America. They could have easily boarded the next boat and retreated to the comfort of England or Holland, making the "new world" a "no world." But they wanted religious freedom and they sailed with an outlook of no return. Paul Revere shifted occupational gears when he realized that what he was doing wasn't working anymore. As entrepreneurs, we should be always willing to look to new (always moral) avenues of revenue.

If you have been caught in this current real estate market quagmire (whether as an investor or homeowner), don't give up. Don't look back. Don't constantly count your losses. If you're busy mourning what was, I guarantee that you will never have time or energy to find what is. Shift gears. Sell an asset. Buy one. Start a business. Don't just sit there. Do something! . . . . . .

and if that doesn't work, then do something else.