I live in a highly urbanised area. Sometimes, as I’m driving down the street, I see someone running for the bus. It always makes me laugh. There they are, hurrying, looking over their shoulder, desperately trying to attract the attention of the driver, waving their hands at them and begging them to stop, even though they are yards away from the official bus-stop. What chance have they got? If someone else is at the stop and flags down the bus, then there is a chance that it will take the person standing and waiting so long to get on the bus, pay their fare and get settled, that the person running up behind them will have the luck to get to the bus before the doors close and it sets off. But what a way to organise your life!
Firstly, if you’re running for the bus, it’s probably true that you have no idea of the timetable. If you knew the time the bus was due, you could aim to get to the stop in plenty of time to catch it. If you’re running to get there, it means you’re so disorganised, you were still cleaning your teeth or putting on your make-up when you should have been leaving the house. Or, on the other hand, maybe you don’t know bus times. Why? Because you’re so disorganised you can’t find that out. Or you don’t care? You’re prepared to live life ‘on the edge’, never knowing what will happen next, never planning ahead. Fine, but that means you miss the bus. Live with it. Don’t embarrass yourself by being in the vicinity but not near enough to meet it at the stop and have to gird up your loins, swing your bags, and patter your little legs and get out of breath, hurrying as hard as you can but still running the risk of seeing the thing disappear up the road without you.
Second, it’s not that important. There will be another bus along in a minute and you can get that one. If you don’t believe that, then again, you haven’t bothered to check the timetable. Or, more likely, you’re the kind of person who can’t face getting sorted and arrive at the bus-stop in good time, but also can’t face the disappointment of seeing the bus go without you. Live with it. Life is full of disappointment. The trick is to find a way not to let it ruin your day, and still have enough energy left to do the things that are important. Not likely! The person who runs for the bus is likely to be the person who is late for work; who misses coffee with their colleagues; who fails to answer the phone on time; who upsets the firm’s most important client; and so on. Don’t believe me? Check it out. Ask around in the office and see who’s run for a bus recently. Then ask them what else is going wrong in their lives. Then take a seat. It’s going to be a while.
Is this important? Well, I had a good friend who spent years complaining he’d ‘missed the bus’. His story was that he had been advised to buy shares in Microsoft in 1987 and he hadn’t bothered. It cost him a lot of sleep since then. He kept dreaming of the millionaire he might have been. Well, it’s a sad tale, no? Well, no. The question I asked him was, ‘So what shares did you invest in?’ He looked at me as if I was mad. He had never bought any shares, in anyone, ever. So what did he know about share dealing? Nothing. So what could he tell me about the stock market? Nothing. What could he say about good picks this week, last week, last month, and next year? Nothing. Come off it! A person who knows so little was highly unlikely to have ever considered buying shares in a small, unknown company like Microsoft in the 1980s. He’s only living with regret because he has hindsight, but the truth is that not only did he miss the bus (maybe because he hadn’t checked the timetable) but he didn’t even know the number on the bus, the destination, the fare, the colour of the driver’s teeshirt, or even what day it was and where he should be going.
Let’s turn that into a recipe for success. If you want a successful stock pick, then do everything my friend didn’t. Check out the shares every day in the newspaper. Look for ones going up, note the ones going down. Play ‘fantasy investor’ before you ever commit money, and keep a note of your score. Then, when you feel a little confident, invest a little money and see if you can make more. Up the stakes slowly but steadily, take as much advice as you can, test every move in a small way before committing yourself further, and never over-stretch.
Be sure of one thing, another bus will be along in a moment. Yes, even now, the new Microsoft is out there, waiting for investors. The problem is that it will only attract the people who have done their homework and recognise a good bet when they see one. It won’t help if it’s stuck in the middle of another vacuous ‘dot com’ boom, or is being hyped by unscrupulous stockbrokers or journalists. In other words, there’s no free lunch. No one is going to have the ‘happy ending’ my friend felt he deserved ‘ investing in a stock market miracle, but having no knowledge or skills, no track record or commitment. The good times are reserved for those who are willing to put their time and effort in. Anything else is like a win on the Lottery, and we know how unlikely that is!