Here's the only excuse I would accept from an investor: Aliens from Alpha Centauri landed on earth and gave a huge technological secret to the rival of the company whose stock you own. OK, when that happens, you are excused. Short of that, everything else is your own responsibility.
Priorities and Homework
Excuses are just a sign of how lazy we all are (me too), including boredom and procrastination (guilty). If we are going to be investors, then we must do all the heavy lifting that's called work. If it were easy and painless, then everyone would be a fabulous and wealthy investor. But it's not, so you have to outwork and outhustle the next guy. Recall that Michael Jordan didn't initially make his high school basketball team. After that, he swore he would never be outworked by anyone ever again. He went on to become the greatest player ever. There's a lesson in that. We all know guys who can recall every baseball stat of their favorite team off the top of their heads; win-loss records, slugging percentage, ERA. Ask them about the top five holdings of their mutual funds , and they look at you as if you have two heads. Some people spend more time investigating the purchase of a refrigerator than they do a stock or mutual fund. You have to wonder why people put more time into planning their next vacation than they do their retirement. A vacation is two weeks long; a retirement can be 20 years. There is something wrong with the math here.
The Freedom of Responsibility
Not to get all Zen on you, but once you accept this, there is a certain exhilaration in the concept. Suddenly, planning for your own retirement takes on a different hue. You become more focused, motivated and excited about learning. Short cuts (i.e., stock tips) make you laugh. When other traders whine about their bad luck/the Fed/market makers, you can snicker to yourself at how they are fooling themselves. As the magnitude of the awesome responsibility of taking control -- and responsibility -- sets in, it tends to sharpen the mind. It is empowering. I think Spider-Man may have gotten it backwards: With responsibility comes great power. This column was originally published on April 12, 2005.