The Navy Seal

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit.  It was an inspiring few days.  A couple of the highlights for me; the Greek Finance Minister, Sophia the robot, Constance Hunter, of course Will Smith and also Robert O’Neill, US Navy Seal. Let me tell you a bit about Robert O’Neill’s talk.  Not in a million years do I think I would make it through the Seal training, but so much of what he said resonated with me.  Getting through it is not impossible – people do get through.  It’s just hard on top of hard on top of hard, continuing for months on end.  The people that get through are strong, but not necessarily physically the strongest. What they have is a never quit attitude that is rare.  They wake up in the morning and focus on making their bed perfectly.  Next they brush their teeth, and then they focus on getting to lunch.  Once through that, they can put their mind to getting back into bed at the end of the day.  And then they wake up and do it all again the next day.  And the day after that.  Just one foot in front of the other.

"Don’t quit today, quit tomorrow."

It was really inspiring to listen to him break down something as massive as nine months of Navy Seal training into little steps.  That’s how we should view so many things in life.

One of his analogies that I really loved was about stress.  He always imagines stress as a bag of bricks by his bed.  He can choose to get up in the morning and throw it over his shoulder and lug it around all day.  Or he can leave it right there.  But he has a choice.  We all have a choice.

There were a lot of takeaways for investors, although his talk was nothing to do with investing.


One thing I do, constantly, is counsel my clients around what it will feel like when the markets fall.  I never know when that will be, but I know it will happen.  And I don’t want them to be surprised, because surprise turns to panic.  So I tell my clients that during the falls they will feel scared.  Fear will kick in.  But bravery, as Robert said, is not the absence of fear, it’s the ability to recognize the fear, but not act upon it.

He said “No one ever accomplished anything positive by panicking.  Panicking is contagious.  It can get us all killed”.

Ok, panicking in a stock market crash will not get you killed.  But oh how true it is that it will not accomplish anything positive.  In fact, it could blow up your entire financial plan and end up being the worst financial decision of your life.

Robert talked about his operations, about how he was trained to never assume something will be a certain way.  This really applies to stock markets.  Us humans suffer from some terrible biases.  One being ‘recency bias’, which is our tendency to use our recent experience as a baseline for what will happen in the future.  This can be really dangerous when it comes to investing, as many found out over the last couple of weeks when the status quo suddenly changed overnight.  Some strategies that bet on the continuation of low or no volatility have literally blown up.  Understanding history is a really important part of being a good investor.  But just because something has never happened before absolutely does not mean that it can’t or won’t.

Robert told us how they planned and planned and planned for every mission they did.  But, he said ‘there is never a perfect plan’.  He talked about the Bin Laden raid – he claims to be the man who pulled the trigger that day (although some have disputed his claims).  It was the biggest mission of his life – one from which he never thought he would return.  The planning was meticulous.  But on the day, one of their helicopters crashed in the garden of the compound in which Bin Laden was hiding out.  Who could ever have planned for that?

When it comes to financial planning, the same point holds true.  There can never be a perfect plan.  Because you can never know what the future holds.  The process of planning is incredibly valuable, but the day you write a financial plan, it’s wrong.  It’s wrong because you have to make a whole bunch of assumptions and guesses about the future, none of which will turn out to be true.  But it’s not the plan that is valuable.  As Rob said, it’s the preparation along with the constant reassessment.

So there are my takeaways from listening to a Navy Seal.  I loved the stories of bravery, grit, determination.  But all the time he was talking, I was thinking about how it all applied to investing and the stock market!  I am not sure what that says about me…