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What Can You Control?

worrying about something that is outside of your control won't help you
❝Control what you can control. Don't lose sleep worrying about things that you don't have control over because, at the end of the day, you still won't have any control over them..❞ -Cam Newton

It's hot and humid as I rest my bike on the side of the house. It's 1993, and I just got back from riding my bike around the college campus that's across the street from my grandparents' place. As I go inside, my grandpa and grandma offer me some Kool-Aid while I sit at the kitchen table and talk to them.

As I sip my Kool-Aid, which arguably needs more sugar, I stare up at the door that leads to the basement. There's a heart-shaped sign hanging on the door that I haven't really paid much attention to before. But as I read the words, I'm struck by how simple and profound the message is.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

Dichotomy of Control

I now know this as the Serenity Prayer, which seems to have its roots in Stoicism. Stoic philosopher Epictetus is famous for saying, "Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us."

This so-called dichotomy of control simply states that some things are under control and some things aren't. We can further say that worrying about things over which we have no control is a waste of time and energy that we can't get back. If we don't have any control, then worrying about it won't help.

In the world of investing, an easy example is how well the stock market performs. We have no control over what the stock market does, neither in the short run or the long run. Thus, it makes little sense to worry about what the stock market is or is not doing.

But Derek, you might say, it's incredibly important what happens with the stock market. I would have to agree with you. But just because something is important doesn't mean it's in your control.

One might wonder what the point of investing is if we can't control the returns, and Derek is telling me not to worry about it.

My response would be to consider all the things you can control. For starters, you can control how much of your money you expose to the stock market. You have control over how much financial news you watch. You have control over how much stock market history you're familiar with, and you have control over your attitude about stock market returns.