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Financial Fitness Journey

By: Carol Cho, CLU®, ChFC®, BFA™

When I first started lifting weights and doing back squats, years before I ever thought I’d be a competitive powerlifter, I started with 10 pounds on each side of a 35-pound barbell. Today, I can back squat 230 pounds. As I reflect on my journey in powerlifting over the past eight years, I can’t help but draw parallels between the world of lifting and the world of investing. It’s a journey marked by growth, setbacks, and a realization that the key to success lies in focusing on mindset and the right activities.

In the early days, I approached lifting with the mindset of always doing a bit more than the last session. Success, to me, was measured solely by constant improvement, a linear progression upwards. If I didn’t surpass my previous record, it felt a bit disappointing.

Then, a shift happened when I started working with a trainer who had balanced heavy weights and reps, emphasizing sustainability over constantly pushing limits and risking injury. It didn’t push me to max out every session. I haven’t beaten my personal record, and I’m so okay with that. Why? Because my focus shifted. I realized that my ultimate goal isn’t about getting stronger and winning competition meets. If I think about why I lift, yes, I want to get stronger. But what I really want is health and vitality for the long haul.

The same applies to the world of finance. Just as nothing is worth risking financial demise, our strategy should prioritize sustainability, minimizing anxiety, reducing the risk of deviation from the plan, and allowing us to enjoy life today.

Contrary to popular belief, success in investing isn’t solely about outperforming the market or beating our peers. As Morgan Housel wisely puts it, ‘The most important investing question is not, ‘What are the highest returns I can earn?’ It’s ‘What are the best returns I can sustain for the longest period of time?’ 

When we fixate solely on the rate of return, we lose sight of the bigger picture. We focus on the wrong thing. It’s not about having more money for the sake of it. Yes, we all want to have more money. But it’s not the money we want. We pursue wealth because of what it allows us to do. It allows us to live a life rich with experiences with the people we love.

If all I ever focused on was getting stronger, I’d have opened myself up to doing workouts that might cause me physical or emotional harm from feeling like a failure. If all I ever focused on was getting stronger, I’d never feel stronger because the goalpost would always be moving forward.

Similarly, if all one ever focused on was having more money. It might cause one to make irrational financial decisions. Constantly comparing your returns with the market or peers can perpetuate feelings of inadequacy, with the goalpost again continually moving forward.

The pursuit of goals and aspirations should not come at the expense of our personal health or financial ruin. In essence, it’s about finding the right balance. Just as the right mix of weight and reps sustains my fitness journey, a well-thought-out investment strategy sustains one’s financial well-being. It’s not about the weight we lift or the money we accumulate; it’s the quality and longevity of the journey that truly matters!