Break from the crowd or the pile-up

When I was a kid, I used to do a lot of bicycle road racing.

That was before Lance Armstrong even straddled a bike. He’s a year younger than me, but I guess I missed my opportunity to fly down to Texas, get him out of bed as a 14 year old, and beat him silly up the nearest mountain. But I’ll be honest. By the time he was 14, I had been racing for two years, and he hadn’t discovered his freaky gift. So that would have been it: my single window.

To say that I didn’t have Armstrong-esque talent would be an understatement. But I used to visualize beating tougher riders through bizarre circumstances. I visualized success before visualization became popular:

A dog would run in front of the lead pack of ten riders in a 100km race. The lead rider hit the dog, and we’d go down like dominos. I, like Rocky Balboa, looked across at the Apollo Creed’s laying across the road. The finish line would be just 500 meters in front. Who could get back on their bike first? Yes, it was me—not yet nursing my concussion, but pressing on the pedals while screaming, beautiful women urged me to victory.

No, that wasn’t just something I made up now. I made that up in 1985. And if I couldn’t honestly visualize beating stronger opponents, I’d concoct a story like this, and daydream in class while on my way to earning high school report cards that looked like old Russian hockey jerseys: CCCP, CCCP. The “P” stood for “please”. I’ll pass your sorry dreaming ass if you “please” never enrol in one of my classes again. Fair enough.

I’m probably too old to have those kinds of daydreams today (at least that’s what I’m admitting) but last month, one of those old fantasies came to life.

I entered a 10K running race in Singapore. It was about 32 degrees, and we faced 10,000 meters of asphalt and path, with about 1000 other runners, in 100% humidity. Settling into a decent pace, I found myself among the top 25 runners after the second kilometre. There was no real hope of winning.

Then the guy directly in front of me cut off the path and onto a lower trail heading counter-clockwise around a lake. There were a few other guys who did the same thing before him. And there were a few guys, behind me, who got tired of staring at my skinny wet ass, and swerved right as well.

Now, I’m not the most astute guy when my lungs are burning, my eyes are bleeding and I’m wishing I was listening to a time-share salesman instead of torturing myself. But I knew that those others guys were heading the wrong way.

Long story short. I ran alone for most of the race, before getting caught in the final 500 meters. I figured I was going to be 10th, or 15th. But later, I found that I had been leading the race, up until the final half kilometre. I wasn’t among the fastest runners there, but I took home the hardware for second place: about $600 worth of prizes.

Perhaps we always need to be optimistic about our odds of success. Perhaps Captain Kirk was right when he used to say that there’s no such thing as a “no win situation”.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, related to investing, as well. You get it, right?

Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas. My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions.

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6 Responses

  1. DIY Investor says:

    Awesome! The only way I could come in 2nd would be if everyone except one person took the wrong route. It looks like you almost won it! And…great time!

  2. @DIY Investor

    Thanks Robert,

    Writing that post made me think of Napolean Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" concept, as well as the need to do what's right, as an investor, while avoiding the herd. I sure was happy to win the prizes!

  3. 101 Centavos says:

    Great story, Andrew. Those wrong-way Willies must have thought they were on hash run. If 90 percent of life is just showing up, maybe some of the balance must be following the right directions.

  4. @101 Centavos

    Thanks Andrew,

    I did start to doubt myself when I was running alone. But that reminds me of investing in gold. We rationalize reasons to do it, but we shouldn't follow the crowd. I look at the early 1980s when Gold really rocked, and people followed it, simply because it was "leading" Today, it's leading again. But I'm going to stay on the path.

  5. Staying the path, this is exactly what I am doing with my stock picking investments even if i get ridiculed for my diversification 🙂

    Great race Andrew, I don't know how you were able to step on that asphalt with 100% humidity and 30 degree + temps! that by itself is half of the courage required to start down the path….

  6. @BeatingTheIndex

    Thanks Mich,

    It's part of living in Singapore. The temperature is the same all year long! That's why I prefer running in the jungle–which is what I was able to enjoy today.

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