Geography is where something is located; topography is what it’s like when you get there. Rarely does something turn out the way we envision. Humans generally default at more optimistic assumptions. We believe our portfolio will grow, our marriage will work and our children will obey. But once we get to where we’re going, the ground can be very different from the map.
In my new book, You Should Only Have to Get Rich Once, we recall a story told by author Gordon Livingston, MD. Dr. Livingston recalls an experience he had while a soldier at Fort Bragg. During a training exercise, he was looking at his map and looking at the ground. The two didn’t agree. To this his superior explained, “If the ground doesn’t agree with the map, the map is wrong.”
How many times have you held on to the theory of what something was supposed to be while totally ignoring how it actually was? We’ve all done it.
I meet with clients who tell me they stayed in losing positions for years because the theory was “the market always comes back.” Unfortunately, their former advisor forgot to figure whether the client had the time or runway to wait for this “comeback.” Financial plans must be made based on reality and reality alone. Theories, while academically stimulating, only serve to cloud expectations. Topography is our friend.