What Is And Is Not A Risk

Proper risk assessment is important beyond investing.

The picture in the header of this post is from Canyonlands National Park just outside of Moab, UT. We went on a road trip up to Colorado to a couple of National Parks and Monuments and then to Moab to revisit Canyonlands and other sites in the area. We only did two real hikes, the rest were short walks, sometimes steep, to look at things like petroglyphs, Mesa Arch and so on.

Going to parks and monuments to see things can sometimes require scrambling up some rocks and so on. Presumably, someone who makes the effort to get to a place like Montrose, CO to check out Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is probably interested in seeing the sights. The picture below is the Corona Arch near Moab.

It's a three mile hike round trip but it is very flat and easy except at the very end. As you get close to the arch there is a 20 foot, almost vertical climb and while that sounds daunting, there is a wire "railing" and a few of dug out spots to put your feet in, it is essentially a staircase. Past that there is an eight foot ladder made of metal and bolted to the rock, so it is not rickety or unsteady.

On our way back we encountered a couple making their way down the wire "railing," they never attempted ladder and despite making it most of the way, they never saw the view of the arch. He was making his way down so slowly, it was as if it was more dangerous than walking across the ladders on Everest that people use to get over that seemingly infinite crevasse. The risk here was getting scraped up that was it, but they could not overcome their fear of these low risk climbs to see the arch. Mind you, we can presume they had interest in seeing the arch, they hiked more than 1.25 of the 1.5 miles to see it but froze. My intention is not to be cruel but for context, my wife has issues with heights and was able to go up and down this spot without breaking stride.

This is a pretty strong metaphor for many aspects of life. My hobby of volunteer firefighting requires the ability to quickly assess risks and then decide accordingly what to do. Investing requires the ability to assess risk, sometimes quickly and sometimes you have more time, and then decide accordingly. An example of when you need to quickly assess with regard to investing could be the two flash crashes (May 2010 and August 2015). There was clearly something wrong in both instances and the assessment required was to understand that markets don't drop like that when there's no news so all that was required was keeping your head. All the better for anyone who bought in the face of those, but simply not panicking whether it's a rock or a glitch lead to positive outcome, or at least not negative outcomes.

We all have fears or things that otherwise take us out of our comfort zone. We probably don't have control over what we're afraid of but we can have control over taking on those fears and trying to overcome them in situations that are not risky to the point of being reckless. Where jumping into the gorilla cage at the zoo is reckless (if not insane, this just happened last week BTW), risking scrapes on your knees and/or elbows at a Bureau of Land Management recreation area is well with in the realm of comfort zone challenges. Knowing the difference is important.

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