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Investing 101

Accepting Criticism: The Key to Becoming a Better Investor

Editor’s Note: Today, we’re bringing back our friend and colleague Alexander Green of Liberty Through Wealth.

He’s here to tell us what investors can gain from learning how to accept constructive criticism.

Read on…

– Kaitlyn Hopkins, Assistant Managing Editor

Do you want to be a better student, a better athlete, a better employee (or manager), a better romantic partner and/or a better investor?

If this is a genuine goal and not just wishful thinking, you need to do something most people simply will not do: Learn to embrace, cherish and even seek out constructive criticism.

Psychologists tell us that human beings are programmed to accumulate pride and shun regret.

That’s a fancy way of saying we have a strong tendency to credit ourselves for the things that go right in our lives and to blame others – or circumstances – for what goes wrong.

The problem is that shuts us off from growth, both personal and professional.

I’m not talking about hostile, nonspecific criticism. Remarks like “You’re terrible” or “He’ll never amount to anything” aren’t offered in the spirit of improvement.

But specific, knowledgeable criticism, designed to make you – or your team – better and stronger is unalloyed gold.

It can save your health, your career, even your marriage. But only if you’re willing to accept it and hold yourself accountable.

Yes, criticism is not always easy to take – or tactfully delivered.

My wife, Karen, walked up at the end of a tennis lesson one day, just in time to hear the teaching pro tell me these words:

Look, you’ll never be a great player. But if you want to get better, you need to develop a stronger one-handed backhand by keeping your head down and pointing your left arm straight behind you.

I nodded and thanked him. But my wife was indignant.

“How dare he say that? You’ll never be a great player? What an insult!”

I told her – quite honestly – that it didn’t bother me. I’m a middle-aged, 4.0 tennis player with a decent forehand and serve, but a spotty backhand and an inconsistent net game.

The guy teaching me was a top coach for the University of Virginia’s men’s team, regularly ranked among the top teams in the nation.

I was lucky he even looked at my game. I had no illusions that I would ever be great the way his championship players were.

I wanted insightful criticism. He delivered it. I gained from it. There is no problem here.

In business and in life, bad habits, mistakes and missteps are inevitable. The question is, what can you learn from them?

Your objective should simply be to understand what happened and why so that you can prevent them from happening again.

This is particularly true in the investment arena.

In my previous life as a money manager, I discovered that investors are prone to making the same mistakes again and again.

The ones who panicked and ran to cash in one market sell-off would soon regret it but then do the same thing in the next one… and the one after that.

Because the news backdrop was different each time they viewed their actions as different each time. But it was really just the same mistakes – fear and panic – over and over.

How do you critique yourself and accept constructive criticism from others?

By adopting an attitude of “radical responsibility.”

Radical responsibility means taking complete ownership in every sphere of your life, from your personal relationships to your work life to your health and finances.

You must own your thoughts, your feelings and – most importantly – your behavior.

This is not a burden, incidentally. It’s empowering.

You have little control over other people, changing circumstances and bad breaks. But you do have control over your own actions and – to a lesser extent – the actions of those you supervise.

In my experience, business, investing and life get better only when you embrace and act on specific, well-intentioned criticism.

Good investing,


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