A Few COVID Crisis Insights From A Two-Year-Old

-Zachary Conway

This past weekend we announced that our second kid will be joining our Conway crew later this summer. We’re excited, of course, but also somewhat terrified beyond the typical parent panic thanks to the global pandemic that may put incredible stress on our health care infrastructure.

Our daughter, Cora, who’s two, has now known for a few weeks, and she has started to vaguely understand the concept of becoming a big sister. As we sat at home as a family and tried to take a break from the scary headlines, I realized that Cora—and I hope most other young kids—remained completely unaware of the current crisis we’re facing in the world. Fortunately, she understands her soon-to-be big sister role better than “rate of spread” data, fatality rates, and state lockdown laws. Rather than living in the fear that we’re all justifiably facing, she spent the weekend contemplating her wall color selection for her big sister room, seeing how much floorspace she could cover with her toys, eating most of our food, and defiantly telling us “no” at our basic requests in that cute-yet-infuriating way (as two-year-olds do).

Cora Conway, Age 2

As a responsible adult and as a financial advisor, I recognize I should only envy such blissful ignorance in times like these. And yet taking the weekend to detach a bit from the fear and to watch the world through my daughter’s eyes offered far more insightful perspective than talking heads on TV.

After a week of watching the minute-to-minute gyrations of markets and refreshing my screen as I fielded phone calls and worked with clients, Cora’s clear indifference to it all reminded me of something we most often forget in moments of great volatility: Markets—and what markets do—are entirely man-made. I could sit there on Saturday afternoon and take a breath because some people in a room years ago decided that we’re not going to trade these things we’re calling “stocks” on these things we’re calling “weekends.” It made me remember that those red arrows pointing downward aren’t the result of the virus itself leeching into our financial system like some spectral force. Those red flashes are the result of people succumbing to real emotions, selling at such volumes that markets dove at a rate we’ve never seen, even crashing trading platforms like Robinhood in the process. And all while Cora begged me to build a fort.

This, of course, is not to say that the market swoon is unjustifiable in real terms. The havoc that this virus has and will cause is very real. The economy will suffer. Jobs will be lost. People will be in pain physically, emotionally, mentally. And yet, as we have done before, our country will come out on the other side.

In the meantime, those most prepared for weathering storms from a portfolio perspective—thanks to proper planning and allocation—should feel most empowered to do so. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel pain. But we know that we’ve never not recovered from our darkest crises or deepest financial drawdowns. Unfortunately, these moments almost always pit our logic against our emotions. Against all we know as logically valid (market timing doesn’t work, we will recover, etc.), these moments force us to contend with some of our most deeply wired human presets. As markets unwind, our herd mentality takes over, forcing us to follow what feels like an entire flock moving in the same direction. Everyone is selling, right? We deeply and instinctively fear being left behind. Then our fight or flight mechanism compounds this: Not only is the herd leaving us, but we’re feeling a pain that we desperately want to escape.

Or, you’re my two-year-old that’s never even heard of this thing called Coronavirus. Think about that. The only difference is that properly allocated investors following headlines will feel a short-term pain that likely means very little in the context of a long-term investment plan. I realized that blissful ignorance, in fact, might not be so bad, particularly when the emotional reactions to the headlines (that my daughter doesn’t see) represent the very thing that will cause greater pain.

Beyond complete indifference to market moves, two-year-olds like Cora generally get to look through a completely unvarnished lens to see the world. Catching a glimpse of her unworriedly waddling around the house gave me a new view away from the doom and toward hope and opportunity. As an adult, I can choose to both acknowledge the truly sad and unfortunate realities of what’s unfolding and allow myself to take advantage of this disruption in normalcy—those daily patterns that we overlook because we’re busy living our lives in an otherwise neutral state. So sitting at home on a truly abnormal weekend without feeling glued to the ebbs and flows of markets provided a moment for mental reset—to focus less on stock prices and to take stock of what makes us truly happy. Our health, our home, our relationships, our alignment of values, what we choose to do for others—all the things that actually define our long-term well-being.

I have spent more one-on-one time with my wife and daughter this week than in any week I can remember. I finally made a list of the mounting house projects that have literally kept me awake at night. We took walks as a family. My wife and I created a game plan for our weekday date nights. We talked about when we’d be moving Cora to her big sister room. I negotiated with my wife about what constituted a real work-out. Stretching counts, right? I spent some time thinking about those that don’t share the comforts that allow us to freely and fully pursue our long-term happiness, and helped a friend who launched a Coronavirus Response Fund through his giving platform, Goodnation.

Most of all, I had a chance to reflect on whether I, myself, actually lived up to our company’s core philosophy of aligning our lives with our money. I could make sure those things were syncing rather than living in isolation or even in opposition to each other. And, at least in part, I have my two-year-old to thank for that perspective.