by Dante Zappala
The same is true in investing as it is in hurdling fallen trees: The older you get, the fewer chances you are likely to take.
As I approached two downed behemoths that had crashed across Forbidden drive, I had two competing thoughts. I didn’t really want to break stride but I didn’t really want to break my leg either. I opted for some strange hybrid where I leapt up onto one trunk, stepped onto the other, and then gingerly jumped down, trying to believe that I had done it all in stride.
Later that day, my knee was on fire, and that oddly calculated and executed move was about all I could attribute it to. I should have just jumped it with some confidence in the same way I should have bought some Facebook stock back when it was trading in my 20s.
Our instincts are like fine wines. And the older we get, the more valuable and precise they should become. But we also have some new background noises to contend with. Is a little lingering soreness the sign of an overuse injury creeping in or just weird pain we now get for no reason? Should I honk at and curse the numskull holding his cell phone to his ear as he’s driving 60 mph on Kelly Drive, or do I just get out of his way and make sure I get myself home in one piece?
The confidence that real world experience breeds is simultaneously challenged by weeds of fear sprouting up along with it.
There is a potential remedy here. I’m preparing to get back on stage in a production with the Drama Group over in Germantown. I’ve been perplexed by this character. He’s maybe a bit older than I am. He’s brash and unapologetic. I was having trouble wrapping my mind around how this guy should be played.
Then I remembered a convention I learned a while back. Whatever you think the character should do, try to play the opposite instead. I have a monologue where I say some really hurtful things to another character. It couldn’t be less sympathetic. I thought I should be over the top and insulting, furthering the audience perception that I’m just a horrible person.
But one night at rehearsal, I tried it differently. I said those same words in a comforting tone. I put my arm on his shoulder as I told him that his life’s work was pointless. It worked. The monologue is funny now and my character has some more depth. He’s awful, yes, but he’s honest. He knows the truth but lacks any humane of way of expressing it. You feel for the guy a little more. Or at least that’s the hope.
Playing the opposite has some broad applications. When my little guy starts his fit about his shoelaces (they are never tight enough), I’ve decided to squeeze his face and kiss his cheeks and tell him how much I love him instead of throwing his shoes in the garden and telling him to wear his Crocs to school instead. Our dialogue about this matter is much improved as we work our way through this phase together.
One day recently I was running on my lunch break down at the Schuylkill Banks, checking out the new Boardwalk. I felt absolutely terrible and considered stopping to walk. I didn’t see the point. But a thought emerged. What if I pick it up? I gave it a shot and I almost instantly felt better. I was able to get into a rhythm. That feeling I like the most about running – the one where I feel in complete control, where I am defiant to fatigue – came rushing in.
Making the alternate choice doesn’t always pan out. But when it’s a low risk proposition, it’s worth a shot. Because when it works, it’s a strangely liberating antidote to the dilemma we all face. We clearly know everything. But that perception of complete knowledge means we can see the danger in every choice. Many times, it leaves us unable to act in a meaningful way.
I strongly urge you to try it out. The next time you are on stage – be it as a parent, a runner, a human being interacting with other human beings – do the exact opposite of whatever it is you’re trying to reason yourself into.
For the sake of your audience, let’s hope I’m right about this one.