What next? (The Financial Athlete #51)

In the Fall of 2003 I took a memorable short vacation to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The hotel’s concierge arranged for a tour guide to drive us on a day trip to the tropical rain forest of El Yunque National Forest and the famous Luquillo Beach. The guide was a rather large man, amicable and loved to chat beyond the usual prearranged monologue of historical facts. After an interesting conversation, he bellowed a question I hate to hear from strangers, especially when asked within 5 minutes of meeting them: “What do you do?” You get all sorts of undesirable reactions from looks of envy to requests for stock tips if you reply, “I’m an investor,” so normally I don’t. But this tour guide had a way with people to get them to open up and I was no exception. He was neither curious or envious with my profession, but he did have a story to tell.

He pinched his chin and began, “Not too long ago I took a business executive in his 60’s on a tour of the island with his wife. He told me he was stressed from work and wishes everyday he could retire. Being a bit nosy, I said to him, ‘You’re a business executive. Don’t you have enough to retire?’ The executive replied honestly, ‘No. my net worth is only $3 million. I need at least $5 million to retire comfortably to maintain my lifestyle.’ The calm voice of the tour guide suddenly became emotionally charged, one hand of his danced around and for our safety the other held onto the steering wheel. “Only $3 million! I couldn’t believe my ears! And to think in Puerto Rico many are struggling to make a few bucks.”

I nodded my head in agreement. “What did you say to him?”

The guide preached, “SIMPLIFY! SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE.” He then paused as though I should digest this message before continuing, “But this was not an option for my ambitious and unhappy friend to consider. He would rather go on with his stressful life to make a couple million more. And if his net worth were to expand to $5 million, no doubt he will probably then say to himself, ‘Oh, $5 million is not enough. I need $10 million before I retire to maintain my lifestyle.'”

“How should a discontented, rich man live a simple life? Should he sit on a hammock at the beach all day?” I said with a smile.

The tour guide had a ready reply. His fingers touched his chest over the heart and said, “Go inward. Become a sage.”


Many of us have fixed ideas of who we are, mostly defined by what we do. This is not altogether a misguided notion. What we do largely shapes us into who we are. The problem lies in defining ourselves too narrowly. Outside the confines of what we do, many of us feel like the proverbial fish out of water.

When the inevitable time comes for an elite athlete to retire he struggles to adjust to life outside of the competitive sport he dearly loves. For him retiring must feel like Cinderella hearing the clock strike midnight while dancing with the prince at the formal ball. Usually it is not long before news breaks of his coming out of retirement to play the sport he elevated to a new level. His return is initially welcomed by fans who are later disappointed to witness their hero’s performance descend from superhuman to mere average for a professional athlete. He may rekindle some moments of his glorious past, as his diminished physical ability may be somewhat compensated by greater knowledge of the game than his younger peers possess and by an undiminished love and deeper appreciation for the game.

Although an athlete eventually will come to reconcile his new role outside of competitive sports, he doesn’t have to settle for a sedentary lifestyle. He should remain active throughout his life. Physically active old-timers like Jack Lalaine are my biggest role models in sports. In the investing world, I feel the same way about decades long investors like Warren Buffet and T. Boone Pickens. At age 80 T. Boone Pickens aims to transform the energy landscape in America.

These elderly folks are sages in their own right, showing rather than telling us to keep active and do what you love for your whole life.

(Photo above: a hammock at a beach in Bora, Bora in Tahiti)


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