The other night the electricity went out at our house. I looked over at our neighbor's house and when I saw the lights weren't on there either, I breathed an immense sigh of relief, audible enough that my dozing wife asked, "What's worth phewing about?"
I told her I was thrilled to see that we weren't the only people with our lights out. "Misery loves company," she concluded. No, I said, it's just that when it comes to electricity, other than switching the fuse box on or off, I don't know jack and we would have to call someone for help.
She didn't laugh, she didn't disagree, she just accepted it matter-of-factly.
I wish more people could admit to the same thing about the stock market. When something goes wrong with your portfolio, and it's going wrong with everyone else's portfolio at the same time, it might pay to think that you can't fix it yourself. It might pay to recognize that things do go wrong in the market, just like they do with electricity. There are outages, and perfection is more of a dream than a reality. In fact, portfolios and the stocks in them break down far more often than electricity does. We all think there's something we can do about them, but in the end we can't do much more than turn them on or off.
I got to thinking about this analysis because we are now in the second half of another year that, like last year, isn't working out for many of you. You think you can fix it yourself, but it's more than likely that you or your "house" isn't the problem.
We got so caught up in the do-it-yourself power and autonomy that we genuinely believed some people always get it right. We never thought the lights would go out and we wouldn't know what to do.
Let me ask you a question, though. When the lights go out, do you give up? Do you decide that they are never going back on? Do you move? Do you buy a house where the electricity won't go down, as if there were one? Or do you wait, stay patient and bet that the electricity will get fixed? You don't know
, of course, it's going to get fixed, and some things are going to spoil in the interim, but you don't want to panic out. That makes no sense at all.
Of course, there exist two other possibilities. One is that it is just your house and you have an electrical problem. Maybe you are really handy and can fix it yourself. That's terrific. Maybe you can go to
(or, in this case, a site like
) and figure out a way to fix the problem with their help. We know people do this because you can't get on the lot and the electric aisle is usually pretty crowded. Or you can admit that you don't know enough and go to a professional and pay more money than you would at Home Depot -- maybe considerably more -- to get the problem fixed. One is more satisfying but not for everyone. The other is expensive but requires much less effort on your part.
Or, there could be another way to look at it. The electricity is simply not coming back on, no matter how much the
tries to generate juice. I don't want to take that bet. That's why I stay, like right now, with the lights flickering, betting that they will come back on and I'll be in a good position to benefit when they do.
James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made. While he cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to send comments on his column to