I'll tell you a story. You tell me what you think.
It's about a young man who "gambled" a fortune and lost -- and in so doing, learned a valuable lesson. Naturally, there's a twist.
But is it true?
I'm not sure. It was first told by a guy named Napoleon Hill, a friend of Andrew Carnegie, who wrote a famous book called Think & Grow Rich. It's been passed down faithfully for more than 71 years.
I think you'll find that it offers some perspective in this baffling market -- plus, six words you don't want to say. Listen closely, and you may even discover a "million-dollar" takeaway.
In the gold-rush days ...
A young man and his uncle went west. The going was hard, but eventually they hit pay dirt. Quietly, they covered up their discovery, retraced their steps, and told a few friends and neighbors of the lucky strike.
Back home, they raised the money they needed to buy their gear, had it shipped, and followed it west -- to one of the richest "finds" in Colorado! Just a few carloads worth of ore would clear their debts. Then would come the big killing in profits.
"Down went the drills! Up went the hopes of Darby and Uncle! Then something horrible happened. The vein of gold ore disappeared! ... They drilled on, desperately trying to pick up the vein again, all to no avail."
Given the way the market has behaved this year, with the once-heady gains of the past decade wiped out, you probably feel their pain.
And we do, too
Heck, there was a time when everything we touched turned to gold. In April 2002, when I helped David and Tom Gardner launch their Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter, you could have plucked a ticker from the actives list at random and made serious money through the end of last year.
Yet, all four hit the wall and turned south, along with almost everything else out there. Suddenly, the mine has run dry.
At one point, the S&P 500 coughed up nearly 50%. And that's peanuts compared to the pain inflicted on folks who fell into the Sears Holdings
It would be easy to give up
After all, that's what our heroes did when their vein of gold ore dried up. They quit -- sold their tools to a junk man for a few hundred bucks and took the train back home. And that should have been it.
But the "junk man" had other ideas.
He hired an engineer to survey the abandoned mine. I'll spare you the technicals, but he calculated that the vein would pick up just three feet from where they had stopped drilling. That's exactly where it was found.
You can guess what happened next. The "junk man" took millions of dollars in ore from the abandoned mine.
"I stopped three feet from gold!"
Of course, those are the six words you never want to say. And why, when I recently spoke with David and Tom Gardner, they weren't telling their Stock Advisor subscribers to sell. In fact, like many of my favorite money managers, they're shopping for bargains.
Earlier, I said that in April 2002, you could have picked a stock almost at random and made money. That's obvious, in hindsight. But for the first six months, the S&P was down -- a full 30%. I sincerely feel for those who threw in the towel at the bottom.
Just call us "junk men"
Marty Whitman, Warren Buffett, John Bogle ... the investors I admire most agree: It's time to survey the gold mine that skittish investors have left for barren. That's why I'm turning to David and Tom Gardner. Like the engineer in our story, they have a proven method, the proper tools, and years of experience -- and they're digging in the right place.
So, before you give up on stocks, ask yourself this: Do you really want to risk saying, "I quit three feet from gold"? I don't. Especially when David and Tom are inviting investors to try Stock Advisor free for 30 days. You can get their latest picks, including their top five stocks for new money now. You can even read every single issue instantly online. If you don't like what you see, you don't pay.
Personally, I don't try to call market tops or bottoms, though I'll admit that the persistence of this sell-off has surprised me. But I have a funny feeling that patient, long-term investors will look back warmly on this market. We always do. To find out more about your special offer to try Stock Advisor free, click here now.
This article was originally published on Jan. 22, 2008. It has been updated.
Paul Elliott owns shares of Bank of America. Dell and Sears Holdings are Inside Value picks. Bank of America is an Income Investor recommendation. You can see all of David and Tom's Stock Advisor picks instantly with your free trial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that prefers Assateague to the Hamptons.