A Sobering Reality Check and the Importance of Community
Every week on Of Dollars And Data I try to a provide a different perspective on a specific financial topic. One post might discuss whether you should take an annuity or a lump sum while another asks you to re-think your view of time. My work covers subjects like risk, reward, and, ultimately, how to plan for your future.
It is this assumption, the future, that is in nearly every post. As if it were real. As if it already exists. Retirement isn’t an abstraction. It is a concrete thing that you and I are slowly marching towards, right?
As an investor I think you have to tell yourself this. Otherwise, why would you invest at all? Why would you give up some consumption now if you don’t believe in a brighter future where you can have more consumption later? So you have to convince yourself that the future is real. That it’s as real as the present. That we are just waiting to catch up with it.
But then, I get days where I am brought back to reality. Days where I realize how fictitious my thinking really is.
Ten weeks ago on this blog I wrote about losing my grandfather. He was 81. He had his time. This week I lost my Uncle Randy to severe coronary artery disease. It was sudden and no one, including my uncle, knew he had this condition. He was 49. Two Maggiullis gone in the span of a few months.
If you look at the life tables from the Social Security administration, the probability that a 81 year-old man dies in a given year is about 7%. The probability that a 49 year-old man dies in a given year is 0.45% (45 bps). If you assume the two events are independent (they mostly are), the chance that you would lose a 81 year-old man and a 49 year-old man in the same year (if both men are picked at random) is 0.03% (3 bps). A 3 in 10,000 chance.
0.0003. As I stared blankly at my calculator screen, only one thought crossed my mind:
How do you plan for this?
I don’t mean in a financial sense. That’s the easy part.
I mean in an emotional sense. How do you plan for this? How do you plan for a future that no longer exists? No 4% rule. No glide path. No golden years. All the Monte Carlo simulations in the world can’t help me, nor my uncle’s wife, nor his seven year-old daughter.
In this tragedy I have come to realize that you can’t. You can’t plan for this. As the saying goes, “the future is promised to no one.” You hear it every time something tragic happens. You get this little reminder that, in this life, there are no absolutes.
Yet, that wisdom will slowly and surely fade. As life marches forward, you forget it. You go back to planning. Back to your imminent future. So, before you forget, please take this moment. Take this second right here and remember how precious life is. Your life. Your family’s life. Everyone’s life.
I wish I had a better answer, but I don’t.
The Community You Leave Behind
Every time someone dies, people reflect on who that person was and what they enjoyed during their life. Personally, I don’t think many of you would care to know that my Uncle Randy loved the Denver Broncos or that he always gave me the best Christmas gift—tax-free cash. But, in his death I learned something very powerful about my Uncle Randy and the value of online communities that is worth your time.
You may or may not have heard of Jim Rome. He is a sports personality with a talk show (The Jim Rome Show, aka “The Jungle”) that is listened to by millions of people across the United States. The biggest fans of the his show call themselves “The Clones.” I don’t know much about their community (“The Jungle”) or why they call themselves that, but my Uncle Randy was one of the clones.
And he wasn’t just any clone. He was one of the biggest clones. He was obsessed with the community. Other clones jokingly called him “The Stalker” because he came to basically every Jim Rome event. He was known in The Jungle as “Randall, WFI, in the OC” and had built up his reputation through decades of interacting with other clones online, first through email, then eventually through Twitter.
I used to think that my Uncle Randy was just a funny guy who was obsessed with Jim Rome, but in his death I learned he was much more than that to The Jungle. Following his passing on Tuesday, an outpouring of love spread across his Twitter page.
Hundreds of people tweeted at him talking about how my uncle was a “good person”, a “legend”, or a “kind, fun-loving soul.” Everyone emphasized his positivity and how he made everyone feel included in the community. I even counted 17 people that changed their Twitter avatars to be my uncle’s in remembrance. It’s nuts.
And that was just on Twitter. Jim Rome had an entire show dedicated to my Uncle Randy and had people call in to talk about him. I am still blown away by the love from the people in this community, many who never even met my uncle in real life. He would have been so happy to know how much he meant to them and to The Jungle.
They say that the most important part of personal relationships is how you make people feel. My uncle knew this well and illustrated it through an online community he helped build over decades. It came through in every interaction he had with others. It showed up in every email, every Tweet, and every Periscope session. I only hope that I can have a fraction of his impact in my online community (financial Twitter/FinTwit) in the future. Thank you for this lesson Uncle Randy. You will be missed dearly:
Please send your thoughts and prayers to the Maggiulli family during this tough time. Of Dollars And Data will not be posting the week of July 28 in memoriam to Uncle Randy. Thank you for reading.
This is post 135. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data