When You Tell Me Not to Be Scared

scaredThis isn’t about economics. This isn’t about politics. This is me letting you know what it feels like when you tell me not to be scared.

Last night, much of the world got a lesson in stock market futures. Now that I’ve had this personal finance thing under my belt for a while, I actually knew what that meant. Well, at least sort of. Maybe. The market was nervous. Investors were nervous. I was nervous.

I still am.

When you tell me not to be scared, I’m reminded of the fact that I am not an expert. I don’t have all the answers. I have weathered several notable downturns since I first started investing. In fact, as far as timing the market goes, I probably couldn’t do worse. I added to my Roth IRA two days ago. True story. You know what to do. I don’t. That’s what I hear you saying.

When you tell me not be scared, I get confused. I know that you’re trying to help me stay the course and keep emotions out of investing. But I can’t help but wonder why the rest of the market doesn’t do the same. It seems that we’re in this current financial mess–and it is a mess–because people got nervous yesterday. It seems to me that entire careers are fashioned out of being nervous. Who tells those people they are wrong?

When you tell me not to be scared, I realize we don’t have much in common. You’re telling me that our perspectives don’t align. And let’s be clear. They don’t, at least not in this moment. I can’t see it your way either right now. But you spoke first. And it sounds like you’re telling me the way I see it isn’t as valid. You’re telling me the way that I’m looking at things is all wrong.

When you tell me not to be scared, I wonder how many voices you are silencing. I wonder how many people feel like they can’t speak up because they’ve already been told not to. I wonder if this doesn’t go deeper than money and if maybe for once, we should try to make sure that everyone feels heard.

When you tell me not to be scared, I hope you’re right. I want to believe you. I want to do what my mind tells me is sensible. But the truth is, I can’t make heads or tales out of the stock market on a good day. And this is not a good day for the stock market.

When you tell me not to be scared, I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that this whirlwind of emotions isn’t right. This, too, shall pass. I went to bed early this morning thinking that these feelings would subside. Things always look better in the morning, I told myself. Then, I woke up. And I’m still scared. I want to be wrong. I need to be wrong. We all need this fear to be wrong.

When you tell me not to be scared, I hope you’re listening. Don’t shut yourself off. Don’t hole yourself up. Cross economic lines. Cross political lines. Think about the fact that so many people are leery at best and downright terrified at worst. What does that mean for them? What does that mean for you?

When you tell me not to be scared, you’re not telling me that we’re in this together.

You’re telling me that I’m going this alone.

That isn’t the message you mean.

At the end of the day, money matters so much. And people matter more. Regardless of how anyone balances their portfolio, of how anyone voted. I’m trying to do as you say.  I’m trying to take your advice. I’m trying to understand your perspective. Will you try to understand mine?

When You Tell Me Not to Be Scared

32 thoughts on “When You Tell Me Not to Be Scared

  1. Thank you for writing this, Penny!

    So many people try to take emotions completely out of financial decisions, ignoring the fact that humans are, at our core, very emotional and irrational.

    I am one of those people that tends not to worry about the stock market, even on bad days, and sometimes I don’t even know how. We’re still contributing, still working, so it’s not necessarily something I worry about. I feel fine almost chuckling at the ups and downs.

    In actual, draw-down retirement mode? Then I’m one of the most conservative ever in terms of withdrawal rate. I’m not sure how we’ll handle that – or even if we’ll handle that. We may “fail” at retirement for years until we feel safe enough to trust the markets / size of our stash. But I don’t want to be afraid in retirement…

  2. This is one of the few issues I always have to work around with my wife. Everyone handles fear differently. As the perspective of the person telling you not to be afraid, we view the rational understanding of what’s going on as a comfort. Its what brings us away from the fear. Rational is understanding in context of say the election historically who is president has impacted the economy very little. However as I’ve learned with my wife, some people don’t take comfort in the rational. They just want comfort through listening. Nothing wrong with that either, but every person reacts differently.

    1. I think I can be a pretty rational person. I didn’t sell (I also didn’t buy because I remember Brexit and because I only buy every two weeks when I get paid). But that doesn’t get rid of the fear for me.

      And I think that’s how I am about a lot of things, not just money. I can act fairly logically, but I still have to reckon with the feeling side of things.

      Awesome that you can offer that balance to your wife!

      1. Just to be clear, I don’t think its a case of someone being a rational person. My wife is certainly rational (and no she’s not standing over me with a rolling pin as I type this), it just doesn’t always bring comfort for some as with you. I believe Meiers Briggs and some of those other tests highlight whether your primary driver is emotion or logic. There are a lot of stop offs on that scale with many shades of gray.

        1. Bahaha! Thanks for the true LOL. Is that the trick? I need to get the rolling pin out to make my husband say nice things in comments?! Kidding!

          You’re so right about the many shades of gray!

  3. When I woke up on 24th June to the news that we’d voted out of the EU as a country, I felt sick and angry. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true. I recognise those feelings today, not only in America, but across the world,and I know how it feels.

    In my experience, the passage of time does ease your concerns and you do see glimmers of hope. That might be because you’re straining your eyes to see them, but I am sure they are there. I don’t know if that is much solace today.

    It takes a stronger person to admit their fears and summon courage to face them than it does to pretend everything is fine.

    1. There will always be good in my country and good in the world. I get nervous, though, when people want to tell others very loudly that their feelings aren’t justified or valid. I appreciate your perspective, Sarah.

  4. Don’t you worry girl, you CAN be scared. All day long and twice on Sunday. Just be sure to direct your fear in the correct place. The market goes up and down – this we know. We have been training for this by reading the words of the stock market greats…if those words don’t give you solace then continue to be scared. No one can quiet your emotion but you….and your true friends will comfort you.

    My fear today has nothing to do with the market – I’ve already lost everything once before so I know what it takes for ME to rebuild. I am hoping people are right in saying this won’t take long. I’m hoping, specifically, for those near to retirement. Sometimes that is the fear we struggle with – can I rebuild? Am I strong enough? Do I have enough time? My answers are yes. Others answers are no.

    Now, i don’t like to write about politics but I feel compelled to do so (delete if needed – no hard feelings). Today I am scared more for our country as a union than anything else. A man with no control over his words and the pain and confusion that they have caused for many will soon move into the White House. He will meet with leaders of other countries. He will have input on foreign matters. The rest of the world is watching us with eyes wide open. Will we unite to support him or will we stand divided? Will he learn to stick to the script or continue to fly off the cuff? He has 2 months to figure it out. Words can start wars. These are the things that weigh on me this morning and I hope in 4 years I can look back and laugh. For now, today is a somber one.

    1. What scares me most of all is the silencing of voices. Telling people that their feelings are invalid is deeply problematic. In finance, in politics, in life.

      We have to keep giving others a chance to speak.

      1. I absolutely agree!! I was reading some of the Twitter posts last night and it was alarming at best! I am interested to see what today will bring. Now that people have slept on it. When the markets open. When the news begins. I was so excited to get past the election to stop hearing about it but it seems we will be hearing and talking about this for a long time to come. Speak louder than those who silence. Keep your voice active for those who are afraid to. Use whatever platform you have. 776k followers or not. 😉

        1. Ha! Yes. I will keep talking. And listening. My goal for today and for always is to listen more than I talk. And sometimes I’m really guilty of wanting to talk a lot.

  5. TJ says:

    A timely post.

    I can definitely say that I’ve never intended “Don’t Be Afraid” to mean “Your fear isn’t rational or valid”, but it definitely makes sense why it could be interpreted in that way.

    The question becomes: How do we comfort people who are afraid? What can we say? What can we do?

    I hate the feeling of helplessness, so when I see someone struggling, the natural reaction is to want to comfort. The logical part of my brain says “Well, I’m not afraid, here’s why I’m not afraid, and it’s why I don’t think you should be afraid either”. But that’s obviously not what the other person who is struggling wants to hear. It’s not what i want to hear when I’m struggling. So, how much of that fear-subsiding talk is for our own benefit, so that we don’t let ourselves also end up in a state of fear?

    1. OK – now I can give this the full answer it deserves. I understand that some people say not to be scared out of a place of concern. I also know that I specifically am really good at awkward-ing up life and people sometimes don’t know what to say to me. Turnabout is fair play, right?! Kidding!

      But the older I get the more I’m realizing that sometimes people want to be heard more than comforted. Or that being heard is more comforting.

      Regardless, thank you for always reaching out and making the PF community such an incredible place. We’re so much better for having you, TJ!

      1. TJ says:

        Oh Penny. King of awkward right here….

        There are definitely times that I am not sure what value I’m adding.

        I don’t really let too many things ruffle my feathers, but it’s very difficult for me to stay silent when people make generalizations about groups of people. Because I believe people deserve the respect of being interpreted as individuals first. Individuals that obviously have unique stories. Unique stories that cause different rationale in any decision making process. And if someone’s going to tell me that Several Million people who voted one way or the other all did so because they all share a specific highly undesirable (im)moral trait, I start to get sad. And I don’t want to be sad. So I reject that rationale. Half of the country surely cannot be hate-driven fear-mongrels. But that’s the message I see on my social media feeds. in the past 20-ish hours Sigh.

        1. You add so much value. Truly.

          I refuse to paint with broad strokes. I wish we could all learn to do the same. This election showed all the ways in which people can feel disenfranchised or invalidated. And that’s across all the demographics. I’m still trying to listen more than anything.

  6. Oh, you’re not alone, Penny. As much as I try to stifle it, as much as I’ve been told I shouldn’t be, I am scared. I couldn’t shake it last night and it was still there when I woke up this morning. I’m doing my best to get my mind to a more positive place…

  7. Today is a very hard day. Just telling my boys 9 and 7) the news this morning was brutal. They took it fine but wonder how their minds might race. Mr and Mrs PIE will have to be careful what we say in front of them for sure.

    1. I can only imagine. Planning my lessons for today was tricky. I tried to create a place where all of my students could talk without gloating or dispair. Because I want them to be heard, and I want them to be proud of how they listened to each other.

  8. I asked a British co-worker if this is what his family was feeling the morning after the Brexit vote and he replied, “Well, having experienced both now, this is worse.”

    Like Sarah described I feel more sick and angry than anything. After seeing Hillary’s speech and Obama’s speech, I have some hope that things aren’t going to go straight down the toilet, but like you, I’m pretty damn worried about it.

    All that aside, I’m just shocked that Americans can support such a blatant racist, mysoginist, religious freedom suppressing bigot. It reminds me of a lot of the attitudes I grew up around in KY, and am glad to have gotten away from. Clearly I didn’t get away from it, as the red on the maps is just about everywhere.

    I don’t have any good encouragement for you to feel better about it, because I haven’t figured that out yet. I tried Christmas music, classical music, and am now trying some Pickin’ On bluegrass covers of non-bluegrass songs. It’s sort of helping.

    Maybe find your own “music” or what it is for you to get back to positive. I don’t think it’s a feeling I’m going to shake in a day or two though.

    1. My students are helping. Listening is helping. I’m trying not to say much yet, but I really want to make it a point to try to hear as many people as I can. I feel that part of the problem in the past and part of the problem in the future is the fact that we don’t always make people feel heard.

  9. It’s like when people say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
    I’m not. They’re my feelings and they’re valid. Now let’s talk about what we can do about them.
    I am holding out hope that our country is truly great and that we are strong, thoughtful, caring, and creative. That we are loving and open-minded, and that we are more than the total of our politicians. They are few and we are many.

    1. I love our country. That said, we definitely have much room for growth. But the best thing you can do for something (or someone!) that you love is to challenge them continually to be better. I hope everyone is ready to spend more time listening and to help everyone be heard!

  10. I stand with you. And with my nephew who is scared. And my brother in law who is scared. And my girls who were scared to see my crying this morning. And I echo to everyone on both sides of any lines that we need to be kind. We need to be the light in the world. When hate is given permission to be loud, we need to be kind. We don’t have to be loudly kind… but we can be kind. And if enough of us are kind, the hate will stop being so loud and we can stop listening to it. And that’s where we’ll discover each other for real. Everyone has value.

  11. There are two sides of your post that I want to comment on. I haven’t been doing as much of that lately, but I need to get back in the community.

    First, the stock market. I would tell you to not be afraid and to stick to the plan, but I would also explain my reasoning. A few years back, the market changed. Yes, the bulk of participants holding accounts are people and yes they are emotional by nature. The difference is that the bulk of transactions taking place on any given day are not done by people. They are computer programs. Those programs are designed to create an emotional reaction so that they can buy your shares at a better price. It doesn’t care about next week or next month or ten years down the road. Your time frame is much longer than theirs. So stick to the plan and don’t be afraid.

    Second is the political and emotional ordeals of the past 24 hours. My wife and I were going through this earlier this evening. She’s scared. Scared for herself and scared for our children. She wanted to vent and be emotional and to be heard. I was trying to rationalize everything and formulate a plan for what we could do to fix things. I should have just listened. We need more listening I think.

    It’s a struggle. Today, it was a lot more so.

    1. So glad you’re back, Chuck! I did stick to my plan. And I hope I always will. But I can’t lie. I think the market will always make me nervous or caution or fearful. As we know now, yesterday turned out so differently than the futures predicted. So I’ll keep sticking with adding my little amount every pay day.

      As far as things outside of money (and money matters, too!), I am trying to listen more than I talk. And it’s really challenging, because I can be a talker. I’m trying to let people know that I hear them, and I’m trying to learn more about everyone’s ideas and concerns. It’s tough, but this is an amazing community to be apart of!

  12. You should be scared, Penny. The stock market has been trending higher for over 200 years now. But what has fueled this trend over the past 30 years? Has it been advances in technology and organization (i.e., productivity)? That is surely part of it. But does it have to do more with deficit spending? Nineteen trillion dollars in debt buys a lot of stuff and creates a lot of profit. And if the stock market is more propelled by debt than productivity at this point, what happens when our ability to take on even more debt stops? Mrs. Groovy and I aren’t taking any chances. We’re buying a couple acres of land, building a little house, and going partially solar. This way, if the proverbial poop hits the proverbial fan, we’ll be mostly self-sufficient. Sorry to sound so dire, but I don’t see how being this much in debt ends well.

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