Start of New York City Marathon. Photo: Eric Martin. Source: Wikimedia..
I remember the first time I saw the New York City Marathon. Runners start on Staten Island and pour across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, through the other four Boroughs of New York City, and finish in Central Park. It’s a fast course. The top time is sometimes a world record, and there have been some dramatic final moments. In 2005, the winner out-sprinted the second place finisher at the end to win by less than two seconds. Now it’s the largest marathon in the world, with over 50,000 competitors and almost 2 million spectators.
I’ve never run a marathon, but I do like to get out and go for a jog. I enjoy the fresh air, the exercise, and the sense of accomplishment when I complete a route. Running is a mental challenge as much it’s a physical one. You can stop running at any time along the route; you push yourself to keep going. From the outside, running seems boring – the same monotonous pounding, mile after mile. But from the runner’s perspective, it’s a constant exercise in evaluating resources, route, and strategy.
Photo: Jim Henderson. Source: Wikipedia
A marathon is a great example of a “long game.” The average person can’t just decide to run one tomorrow. It takes months of training, and the elite runners take years and even decades to get to the podium, managing their diet, sleep, injuries, and every other aspect of their lives. In a long game you pay a price today to make tomorrow a little easier. It requires you do something hard rather than easy, something where the benefits accrue gradually rather than quickly. The choices in a long game don’t look dramatic from the outside: leaving a party early to get some sleep, investing time and energy in a family relationship, reading the substance of a report rather than breezing through the executive summary.
Investing is a long game. You don’t see much benefit right away. But the advantages accrue over time. Fidelity recently reported that over 160,000 savers in their 401(k) programs have over a million dollars in their accounts. The Federal Government noted that it has more than 20,000 millionaires in its thrift plan. They didn’t get there overnight. Most of these millionaires have been saving for over 30 years and have the majority of their funds in stocks. Instead of getting spooked by the downturns of 1998, 2001 and 2008, they continued to set money aside, taking advantage of their employer’s matching funds when those are available.
The first step in a long game is often the hardest, choosing a visibly negative experience to see benefits down the line. In relationships, it’s having a difficult conversation, so you can be on the same page later. In education, it may mean reading a book (remember those?) rather than watching something more entertaining. As we get older, our physical performance suffers as our bodies wear down. But with things that compound – knowledge, relationships, and finances – the benefits of a long game become more visible.
It all comes down to choices.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”