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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Assessing the Alpha and the Beta of My Life

I'm a stockbroker- well really a financial planner who is a stockbroker.

What I really do, however, is manage risk.  The what-ifs of life- if you die prematurely, if you become disabled, if you lose your job, if you live to 100, if your kids get into Harvard, if your kids sleep on your couch, if your parents need your help as they age, if the market goes up, if the market goes down.

If you're a blog reader, you probably didn't pick up on my hyper analytical personality.  I'm a numbers gal.  With a sense of humor.  We do exist.

Anyhow, needless to say, this past month has just been a barrel of laughs.

Not.

Anyhow without getting technical or crossing the line into financial advice, two of the many factors of reviewing an investment portfolio and it's risk are alpha and beta.

Beta, is the easiest to understand.  In very layman's terms, beta is how risky something is compared to it's peer groups. 

For example, if you compared the risk factors of playing chess to sky diving, that's really not a fair comparison.  If you compared the risk factors of sky diving with hang gliding, that would be closer.  Which one is riskier? Make sense?

Alpha is how are you rewarded for taking that additional risk.  In other words, is it worth it?  Starting a business, for example, is extremely risky.  Most fail.  But those that survive tend to make the owners far wealthier than if they had been working for someone else. Bill Gates has done well.  Your buddy who thought it would be great to buy a bar because they like to drink... probably not. 

See how I explained those concepts without discussing finance?  That's for any supervisory person reading this...

This is how I've been trying to look at my life.

As I've blogged before, I'm a risk taker at heart. Absolutely.  At 18, I got on a plane to go live with a family I had never met in a country where I didn't speak the language.  I applied to a college that was way out of my scope of reality and got in.  I quit a fancy Fortune 500 job and moved to Vegas.  I accepted a job that was 100% commission when I was 25 years old.  My husband and I were married 2 months when we decided to have kids.

But I also assessed the risks of each- the Rotary Club had sponsored millions of students.  If I wanted to come home, I could.  My Plan B for college was a full scholarship to an honors program that was actually more difficult to get into than my preferred college.  I moved to Vegas with a job in a field for which I was well trained.  If the commission job didn't work out, I knew I could easily get a job.  The kid, well, my mother-in-law is great with them if I sucked as a mother.

And if it worked out, I would learn a second language, have an Ivy League degree, not have to deal with winter, have unlimited income potential, be my own boss and have an awesome kid.

Huge potential outcomes.  With risk. 

A high beta, but an unknown alpha.

Looking back, all of it was worth the risk.  Very high alpha outcome.

But things change when you have people who are dependent upon you in your life.  A few years into my career, I realized the role I really did play in my clients' lives.  An elderly client once introduced me to her girlfriends as her "friend and trusted adviser."  Wow.  That's important.  I should be careful.

And I have kids.  I was in a car accident when my son was 4 months old and I remember as the car came careening towards me "I can't die... I'm a mother."  I'm a VERY defensive driver.  I drive like an old lady.

And my husband is VERY cautious.  Very.  I say he's the squirrel and I'm the magic bean buyer.

But I'm really not like that any more.

My threshold for a high beta life, stopped. 

But then we sold our house.

Seriously.  That's a big deal.  We didn't have to move.  It was a want.  It was a "Hey, it's time for a change." 

It was me, the magic bean buyer, convincing my husband to jump off the cliff.  That everything was going to be okay.  The timing was perfect.  If we were going to jump, we needed to do it.  Right then.

The old me shining through.

And on paper, it looks so great.  Sold our house quickly.  Found the perfect house.  Got in before prices started to escalate.  Sold before prices in our neighborhood started to drop once everyone else started to list their house.

Awesome potential alpha.

But it DIDN'T really go like that.  There were problems with the appraisal on the sale.  We had to rush to move when everything did go through.  Then we had squatters.  Then it wasn't recorded correctly.  Our mail hasn't been forwarded consistently (I'm assuming we've had more than 5 pieces in 4 months).  We have a great place to live but we packed and stored the wrong stuff.  My daughter's school enrollment got screwed up (not just the class assignment).  She cried every day for 2 weeks because she missed her friends.  We've given the mortgage company 112 documents and still, one week out, don't have a final approval for our loan.  Our tax returns apparently didn't post correctly which could have completely screwed up our closing date.  And still could.

So this was supposed to be our last week sharecropping at my mother-in-laws and I'm still not sure when we are moving.

And there are three other people that are depending on me to make this work.  It was my idea.  And my mother-in-law is awesome but at some point, she would like her house back.

Assuming we eventually move into our new home, it will be hopefully worth it.  My son can walk to school.  My daughter's new school has completely changed her academic experience- she is thriving beyond anything I could have imagined.  And my new kitchen... sweet.

However, I would be LYING if I said I was fine.  Or good. 

I am a train wreck.  What the hell was I thinking?!?! 

I was complaining to my friend Julie today that I have not had a chance to truly enjoy any of it.  Every time I get excited it seems like something little or silly or serious sucks the fun right out of building a house. 

But then I have to step back and remember that it was a high beta choice to begin with.  Life is easier without change.  To play it safe.  To never make a jump or take a risk.

Which is why, when people die, they always regret what they didn't do-- rarely what they did.

So we jumped.  Or rather I pushed the entire Bean Team off the cliff.

And it has not been smooth.

And the reward is still theoretical at this point.

I am bouncing along in chaos.

The alpha unknown.

The most stable, wonderful part of my life- my family-- thrown into utter chaos because of my wanderlust.

Well, we are only moving a mile....

Was it the right choice?  Will it work out?

I don't know. 

I am hopeful.

Stay tuned.


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