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Still Above Ground

Sundar Mohan Rao

I WAS WORRIED ABOUT what we’d be giving up when, a few years ago, we moved to a 55-plus community in Atlanta. We downsized from a large home to a small apartment, plus all our neighbors were considerably older. It was obvious we had to adjust and start enjoying our unfamiliar environment or we’d end up miserable.

My wife and I made a conscious decision to slow down, and make every effort to get to know other residents and their life stories. Within several weeks, we felt more comfortable living there.

One conversation during the first week transformed my thinking about retiree life. The man was much older, struggled with mobility and was constantly in pain. But he was always cheerful and would say “hello” whenever he saw me.

One morning, I ran into him in the corridor. I greeted him with, “Good morning. Have a great day.”

His reply, said with a smile: “Any day above ground is a great day.”

This simple statement had a profound impact on how I thought about life’s day-to-day struggles. A day could be bad for many reasons: a dead car battery, a traffic jam, a parking ticket, a client canceling a contract, office politics and more. But the important thing is, I’m still above ground, living and breathing, which isn’t always a given for a senior. I’m thankful for this fact, and it makes all other problems seem small, trivial and not worth worrying about.

We’re told to “count your blessings,” which helps us keep things in perspective when they don’t go well. This gratitude—especially the gratitude that we’re still above ground—can allow us to get some distance from life’s day-to-day hassles.

Such thoughts can also help with investing. Legendary investor Warren Buffett has said that it’s wise for investors “to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” Investment opportunities often arise when others are fearful and share prices are beaten down.

I think of the price I pay for a beaten-down stock as the “ground.” When the stock moves above the price I paid, I’m happy it’s “above ground.” If I buy a stock at $100 and it goes to $150, I’m certainly happy. What if it then drops to $125? I tend to be unhappy, and may be tempted to sell. But I try to avoid this temptation by telling myself I’m still “above ground” and I need to stay the course. It’s a way for me to get some distance from the stock market’s daily price gyrations.

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