Last Saturday marked the passing of Sir Roger Bannister, a physician best known for the athletic accomplishment he achieved at Oxford University in 1954, when at the age of 25 the young medical student became the first person to run a mile in under 4 minutes.
I'll get back to Bannister and the message of his achievement shortly, but first I'd like to highlight the rather impressive financial achievement of one of the commenters on an article I wrote this week, as I believe we can learn one and the same lesson from each. Here is XactGuess, joining a discussion on the challenges millennials face in getting ahead:
"Bought my home when I was 28 and recently paid it off at 48. While most of my friends where partying, buying new cars, taking lavish vacations...I was studying nights, buying used cars while making them last 10 years, and taking simple free or low cost vacations. Saved and invested as much as I could, while paying my own way through college and never once collecting a dime from any govt program...despite being laid off 4 times and starting out on my own at 17 with nothing. I've done every job imaginable as part time work to help pay college. I've spent a great deal of time learning about financial planning, economics, finance, science & history...anything to make myself better both in life and work. Your personal standard of living is based on your goals and how well you achieve them."
I'm sure most readers will agree that XactGuess has accomplished a lot in a short time, that it took discipline and that his savings feat was the more impressive because of the adversity he faced along the way. Besides relating his experience, he also states that he undertook these efforts on the basis of his "goals."
And this is precisely the point that those lamenting the impossibility of achieving success under today's seemingly tougher circumstances need to hear. Back to Bannister: A key thing to note about his achievement is that, in his time, a 4-minute mile was thought humanly impossible (I'm sure not a few readers thought it impossible to have one's home paid off by age 48 as well).
Since 1954, humanity has improved on Bannister's record by 17 seconds, and even some high school athletes have achieved a 4-minute mile. But prior to Bannister's achievement, the prevailing view was that it could not be done. Even though the previous record holder (Swedish runner Gunder Hägg, in 1945) finished the mile in 4:01.3 minutes, in over a century of running competitions no one could cross 4 minutes. Bannister himself thought about quitting the sport after a poor performance at the 1952 Olympics. But he decided he would give it another go, this time setting a goal of completing a mile in under 4 minutes, which would require shaving 7.8 seconds off his previous record.
Now here's the most relevant part of the story: The very next month after that historic spring day in Oxford, Australian runner John Landy broke Bannister's record. Seemingly one runner after another finished a mile in less than 4 minutes, and many new records were set in subsequent years.
How did a record that could not be touched for a century suddenly become routine? Because people now knew it could be done.
For better or worse, we look to our peers in setting our own pace. That's why XactGuess's comment was so valuable; I hope those readers despairing of financial progress will take it to heart. We can also learn the value of setting explicit goals in forging our financial futures. But the most important implication of the Bannister story is that if the environment in which we are immersed impacts our beliefs and behavior, then we ought to choose one with high standards.
Please share your thoughts on this issue in our comments section. Meanwhile, below please find links to other advisor-related content on today's Seeking Alpha.
- Yuval Taylor considers different approaches to bear-market investing.
- BlackRock advises on how to be a "super saver" for retirement.
- John M. Mason: Where does China fit into the president's tariff strategy?
- Jeff Miller's Stock Exchange panel discusses how to handle a losing streak.
- For more content geared to FAs, visit the Financial Advisor Center.