Stuck in the Sand

Don Southworth

MY WIFE AND I recently took our first mini-vacation since 2019. We traveled to the Outer Banks in North Carolina for a long weekend to celebrate our anniversary. The weather was perfect, the crowds were small, the food was delectable and the morning sunrise was spectacular. But none of these memories has stuck with me like the one that wasn’t so delightful.

We spent a morning driving up the coast to enjoy the sights and sounds of the small villages and towns along the way, as well as the breathtaking vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. We were surprised when the two-lane road dead-ended on a beach. Four-wheel drive cars were invited to continue with hopes of seeing some of the wild horses who have roamed the beach for centuries. We own a four-wheel drive car, but I’d never driven on a beach before and my instincts were telling me, “Don’t do it.”

We went ahead anyway.

Within two minutes, we were stuck in the sand. Revving the engine and spinning the wheels made the situation worse, as did the non-loving words my wife and I exchanged. After finding no help in the owner’s manual, we got out to see what we could do. People driving by yelled, “Let the air out of the tires.” We got on our hands and knees to flatten out the sand around the wheels. We pushed special buttons in the car. Nothing worked. Eventually, someone stopped and offered to help push. I put the car in reverse and within minutes we were back on the road. The only wild horses we saw were on the postcards at the gift shop.

But the experience hasn’t left me, probably because I often get metaphorically stuck in the sand. I’m guessing you do, too. Sometimes, it’s been in my job, sometimes my marriage or important relationships. Sometimes, it’s been in my financial life. How many times have I thought I had everything I needed—a four-wheel drive car, stellar past performance and star ratings on my mutual funds, an autopilot saving and investing strategy—and yet still found myself stuck?

If only I could always remember and rely on the lessons our 15-minute beach adventure taught me. Listen to that warning voice in my head. Look at things from a different perspective. Even if stubborn or afraid, ask for help and accept it when offered. And then try a more promising direction.

If I had more creativity or ambition, I’d write a book on the stuck-in-the-sand investment strategy, about how to avoid or at least quickly escape self-inflicted financial wounds. Perhaps it would be a bestseller and we could afford a better four-wheel drive car. Or perhaps the act of writing the book would, at least, make the driver a little wiser.

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