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The One Lesson to Make You Great at Investing -- and Life

By Brian Stoffel – Sep 16, 2020 at 6:16AM

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I thought I was late on Zoom. I was wrong.

One year ago, no one saw the coronavirus coming. Sure, there are people who will claim clairvoyance. The truth: They're delusional. Want proof? Ask them why they didn't put their entire portfolio into Zoom Video Communications (ZM 0.83%) back then. 

The uncomfortable truth is this: The future is unknowable. We must wrap our arms around this truth and wrestle with it -- both in investing and in life. When we do, we come to a surprising realization: It's never too late to change our minds.

This might be the single lesson I most wish I knew as a beginning investor. Let me walk you through a few real-life examples. 

Coffee cup sitting on napkin that reads It's never too late to begin

Image source: Getty Images

A Zoom bear turned bull

Our story starts in April 2019. After hearing a number of investors I highly respect talk about Zoom, I decided to kick the tires. When I did, I was impressed. How impressed? When I ran it through my investing framework, it scored very well. The company appeared to have a wide moat, lots of optionality, a solid financial position, and a happy workforce led by a visionary founder/CEO.

But I still decided against investing in the company. Why? Here's the nugget from that article:

Given that I'm willing to invest in just about anything growing this fast, what's my problem?

It turns out there is a line past which something is simply too expensive to buy. ... I think investors who like Zoom would be better off waiting for better value points.

How has that decision turned out? Here's what the stock did between when the article went live and this summer.

ZM Chart

ZM data by YCharts.

It was unequivocally the wrong call. 

Oftentimes, we like to lick our wounds over missed opportunities, both as investors and humans. In the finance world, we refer to this as the "anchoring bias." Back when I decided against investing in the company, shares traded for about $60. To an earlier version of my investing-self, buying in at $250 per share would have felt incredibly painful emotionally.

But this is where I try to diverge from the normal story line. Luckily, I've been doing this long enough (and have put investing results inside of a larger context of what's important in life) that anchoring isn't as much of a problem for me anymore.

So when I decided to run the company through my framework again and saw that COVID-19 had only made the once-strong company into a true force to be reckoned with, I was ready to buy shares. In fact, I openly admitted my earlier mistake and my intention to buy shares on Aug. 1.

What's happened since then?

ZM Chart

ZM data by YCharts

Let's put this in context. In general, investing is a pretty crazy thing. On average, the value of what we invest increases by about 10% every year. We don't have to do anything but let it sit there. Evolutionarily speaking, nothing like it has ever existed. 

So to see my "way too late" investment jump five-times that amount in just one month -- any sane individual wouldn't allow a shred of regret for getting in "late." I have no idea where the company's stock will head in the future, but I'm happy to own shares of an organization that's helping enable communication that wouldn't have been possible just over a decade ago.

The lessons go much deeper

But to be honest, I don't even care that much about the investing takeaway here. That's because the real-life takeaway is 20 times more important. It's just that the numbers behind investing make learning the lesson easier.

Here's how I put it on Twitter after Zoom announced its monster quarter on Aug. 31:

I recently read The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departed. It was written by Bronnie Ware, who worked for a number of years as a palliative-care nurse in Australia.

The top regrets:

  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'd stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I'd let myself be happier.

But this wasn't just about regrets. It was also about redemption. The book is chock-full of people with only a few months or weeks left to live who were able to transform their relationships -- with partners, friends, children...and themselves.

Truly, it was never too late to make those changes. Most of us reading this likely have much more time left than that. We should take that blessing seriously and remember that -- no matter our age -- it's never too late to change our minds or course correct. 

The act of admitting we might have been wrong is the tough part. Once we get over that hump, we'll look back and wonder what took us so long. 

No, this doesn't have much directly to do with investing. But investing itself can be a great vehicle for teaching these lessons...if we're willing to listen.

Brian Stoffel owns shares of Zoom Video Communications. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Zoom Video Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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