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What I Learned From an Investing Sabbatical

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Over the past two years, my wife and I have made a series of life decisions that have prevented us from settling in any one location. The traveling we've done has been great, but it's no substitute for feeling rooted within one's community. We're currently on our third city in as many years.

Since this semi-nomadic lifestyle began, investing has come to occupy more and more of my time -- in fact, it's been one of the few constants. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but without a physical community to call myself a part of, the life I've been living hasn't yielded what I've hoped for.

So after a decade away from the game, I decided this spring it was time to start coaching high school football, a sport I played through college. Two-a-days started two weeks ago and -- coupled with a wedding and a couple of family reunions -- I figured now was the perfect time to take a mini-sabbatical from all things investing.

Over that time, I've realized a couple lessons that other over-stimulated, investing-focused individuals like myself might benefit from hearing out loud.

Among them:

  • It seems that every other financial headline foretells impending doom and gloom. In the real world, normal life continues on as usual -- without skipping a beat.
  • Most people don't care whether stocks went up or down today -- a very healthy attitude.
  • The market will keep humming whether you're there or not; and you have little sway over its movements.
  • Peter Lynch quit his mutual fund job because -- as he put it -- "I was seeing Sallie Mae in my dreams, and my wife, Carolyn, and I had our most romantic encounters as we met coming in and out of the driveway." Even one of the greatest investors of our time knew when his life was out of whack.
  • It's much easier to be a buy-to-hold investor when you live below your means and only occasionally check on how your portfolio is doing.

Invest? Why invest?
I would like to believe that, for myself, the chief reason to invest is to allow my family to live the lives we desire without having financial anxiety impinge on our ability to appreciate our varied experiences. And for those who want to accomplish the same thing, I can only hope the Fool's advice helps in that regard.

Notice, though, that you need a "life" which has "varied experiences" to make investing worth it. Making money and investing alone isn't enough to qualify for either of these.

In fact, an Australian nurse who caters to those on their deathbeds made a list of the five greatest regrets she most commonly heard:

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Notice that none of these deal with investing or even money. Clearly, if investing is to be a worthwhile pursuit, our lives need to be worthwhile as well.

In the end, I actually think Foolish colleague Jeff Fisher put it best when he said that finances are important, "only because you probably don't want your main focus during your time here to be money. You want your finances to be sensible, sustainable, provide for you and your family, and not worry you much (some worry is hard-wired in all of us). Period."

If you'd like access to a special free report to help you accomplish your own investing goals, I suggest checking out: "3 Dow Stocks Dividend Investors Need." The report will quickly highlight three well-known companies for the buy-to-hold investor's portfolio -- companies with the type of financial fortitude that will make it easy to focus on the more important parts of life. Get your copy of the report today, absolutely free!

Fool contributor Brian Stoffel coaches freshman football for Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Read/Post Comments (15) | Recommend This Article (42)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2012, at 12:31 PM, TMFMorgan wrote:

    Great stuff Brian.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2012, at 12:53 PM, TMFCheesehead wrote:

    Thanks Morgan! Read your Buy-and-Hold article just after writing this, and totally related to the "sanity" part in particular.


  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2012, at 2:22 PM, TMFDarwood11 wrote:

    Great article.

    I sometimes think that we are too much at the effect of the "information" around us. The perspective of that Australian nurse is typical of what I have been made aware of.

    It's important to retain a perspective of exactly why we each are reading the MF, subscribing to the services, or doing all the things we do to build our retirement nest egg. It's to live the life we have designed for ourselves.

    It's pointless to invest unless we know what our life's goals are and have achieved sufficient wisdom to distinguish them from all of the noise around us.

    I would never advocate that we not save or invest for our future. I would suggest that we put as much energy or more, into designing our lives, than we do into dealing with our investments.

    I'd also suggest we avoid debt as if it's a plague, if for no other reason than to avoid expending the energy required to clean it up. Much better to expend that energy living our lives and designing our future.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2012, at 10:18 PM, dstwhit wrote:

    Thanks, Brian--great article. It's a good reminder about that fact that investing really is a means, not an end--somehow it's easy to misprioritize. Like sports, keeping the score so readily makes it almost addictive.

    Do you have a source for the Australian nurse's list? I'd like to read more about her insights if they are published.

    This reminds me a bit of Clayton Christensen's powerful new book, "How Will You Measure Your Life?"

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2012, at 11:31 AM, mikecart1 wrote:

    Investing is far better than the alternative - spending. There are 3 things you can do in life with money and they are not accurately weights most of the time. In order: (1) Investing, (2) Saving, (3) Spending. Saving and Spending are as far apart from each other as Investing and Saving are. If you are Saving, you are not Investing by a long shot.

    Sometimes the best move in a poker game is to not play your hand and fold before investing anything. Sometimes in life, the best move to play in the market is to not invest and to wait and build up cash reserves.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2012, at 12:08 PM, jmlerche wrote:

    Great article - sometimes I find myself building watch lists and then reading about and analyzing those lists for hours. I do enjoy it but miss out on so much of everything else called life. I finally realized that to me the stock market is the equivalent of my other friends’ fantasy football leagues and can sometimes just be a habitual distraction. This realization has caused me to be more selective in the stocks I follow and the time spent on them. Some new goals have been to spend time outside while it's daylight and only crack the books after everyone is in bed :) Your observations are right on.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2012, at 3:57 PM, hbofbyu wrote:

    As Jerry Seinfeld said, EVERYTHING in life is just about killing time. I don't believe there is any way to live life without regrets and I don't put much stock in the deathbed anecdotes.

    I have a lot of happy-go-lucky friends who wish they would have been more disciplined, saved more money, had invested more time in their careers and work so they could have provided more opportunity for their children. There is no perfect way through life.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2012, at 5:04 PM, Borbality wrote:

    hbofbyu makes a good point as well. After seeing my parents plan poorly and suffer greatly for it, I might be living a little more disciplined than many my age.

    However, many my age still live with their parents, don't have a job and are going to have a hard time providing for themselves let alone anyone else when they hit their 40s and 50s.

    Not all of us are guaranteed financial success.

    That said, I agree my whole motivation for investing and frugality in general (and working 50-60 hours per week in front of a damn computer) is to retire early and enjoy life without worry. It's not a given, but I'll take my chances.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2012, at 10:55 PM, TempoAllegro wrote:

    To say that investing and money has nothing to do with the list is not exactly correct, in my opinion.

    Numbers 1, (being true to yourself), 5 (letting yourself be happier), and later in life, number 2 (not working so hard) are all influenced by a positive investing result. Or can you imagine doing these things without having invested successfully?

    There is a Chinese saying that goes something like this: "You can't do everything with money, but without money, you can do nothing."

    I believe it takes going through a time of having nothing, or close to it, to really appreciate that statement! Yet I agree we must keep in mind that in the end, we are doing this for our families and to improve the quality of our lives.

  • Report this Comment On August 22, 2012, at 2:11 PM, TMFCheesehead wrote:


    I think you're missing the bigger picture of the article.


    We'll have to agree to disagree. I'd rather be happy-go-lucky and in a bind than miserable and rich. But that's just me...


    I'd argue that your points are true for some people, but only because they choose to let their possessions dictate their behavior, instead of visa versa.


    In general, I think what's a root might just be a fundamental difference in personal philosophy than anything else--which is fine. This is just how I experienced my own life approach interacting with investing.

    Brian Stoffel

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2012, at 11:31 AM, XMFDRadovsky wrote:


    A really good article, and I have to totally agree with you. It's too easy to get caught up in the daily "Why the Dow Went Berserk" headlines and miss out on life.


  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2012, at 4:41 PM, Allwin2 wrote:

    Thanks for an very well written & informative article which provides great insight and much food for digestion, rumination and assimilation!

    Can you provide the reference or further information on the source of he information related to " In fact, an Australian nurse who caters to those on their deathbeds made a list of the five greatest regrets she most commonly heard:"

    What is the source or reference, I would like to follow up? There are many realizations and confessions at the end of one's period on earth. The wise try to learn from the mistakes of others...after all it's the Foolish thing to do.

    Looking forward to your reply with interest.

    Thanks and best wishes


  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2012, at 5:35 PM, whyaduck1128 wrote:

    "Money may not be the most important thing on Earth, but the most important thing on Earth won't go out with you if you don't have any."--Harlan Ellison

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2012, at 12:01 AM, TMFCheesehead wrote:


    I believe the list is actually the starting point for a short book the nurse is writing. Here's a link for a little background.

    Brian Stoffel

  • Report this Comment On September 04, 2012, at 1:18 PM, boogerface02211 wrote:

    Splendid article! It's a relief to see that not everyone is clueless.

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