SCOTT REED: Comparisons good, but worry more about yourself

By Scott Reed

I recently picked up my oldest child from three weeks at camp in southwestern North Carolina, where she and my other child have been lucky enough to spend time. It’s where my father went as a boy and I spent 10 summers as a youth and young adult.
The Bell family that owns the girls’ and boys’ camps has run them for three generations, and they know how to run a high adventure, skills-based camp for young men and women. Camp Green Cove for girls and Mondamin for boys teach skills that transcend the sports taught there.
What is most interesting to me about these camps is they decided decades ago to de-emphasis competition in their activities. The Bell family thought an emphasis on beating someone else was detrimental to the learning process. They believed that each person should be focused on getting better at his or her sport each day. Just because you beat someone today does not mean you got better, and just because you may have lost today doesn’t mean that you are worse than you were yesterday.
What’s interesting about learning in a noncompetitive environment is you begin to see students helping students, as well as teachers helping students. There is no downside to sharing what you know. The goal of getting better every day lends itself to getting great over time.
It is very difficult to get better if you are never playing with people better than you. If you are rewarded for winning, it is hard to generate the desire to play with people that are better than you.
Camp Mondamin is known for teaching kids how to paddle whitewater. Its noncompetitive approach has produced dozens of whitewater slalom champions. World champions, national champions and Olympians have all come from this environment. The ones I know really had no idea how good they were until after they had become experts in their field.
It makes you wonder how this attitude could affect other parts of your life.
Investors are so focused on how well they did this quarter, last month or even daily. Many compare their portfolios to the entire equity market at three o’clock every day. It can get a little crazy at times. Yet these same investors say they are investing for the long term. They say they are investing for retirement or their children, but they get frustrated when they lose to the market on any given Tuesday. It can be counter-productive to managing a successful portfolio.
I’m not saying that investors should throw away all the benchmarks. Knowing how the Dow or the S&P did today is good information. I am simply saying that beating the Dow or the S&P on any given day is not very significant to achieving your long-term goals.
Beating your co-worker, your neighbor or your friend means very little unless you know exactly what you are comparing. If you don’t know their risk tolerances, their goals, their allocation, etc., then you really don’t know enough to have a meaningful comparison.
A lot of investors could take a lesson from the Bell family. Set your goals, develop a plan and get better at implementing your plan every day. Don’t worry about other people’s plans. Just worry about yours. By the time you need your money, you may have become an expert at reaching your goals.
Scott Reed is CEO of investment advisory firm Hardy Reed in Tupelo. Contact him at (662) 823-4722 or sreed@hardyreed.com.