John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.
OK, so is now a good time to get into the stock market? After the recent downturn, I figure that there must be some bargains. I don’t have a lot to invest, but I’m still young enough to take some risks—I think. I am in my mid-30s, unmarried and don’t have much debt. I have managed to save around $38,000. I have a small 401(k) that I put 10 percent of my income into. Should I dive into the market now or save for a house? Should I wait for things to go down even further? Or have I missed the boat already? You have age in your favor and should concentrate on the growth of your money—not in bonds, in my opinion. Right now, income from your stocks is not as important. Put your toes into the water gently, spending a quarter of your cash now. Invest it in areas you believe will grow in the future: robotics, biotech and health care, etc. Move your money slowly as you go. When you see sell-offs that frighten others, invest the rest of your saved cash, little by little, in the same original areas, thus lowering your cost per stock and preparing for eventual growth in the future. Creation of wealth takes time, not in-and-out trading. Trust your instincts.
I am a woman in my mid-30s and have a successful career. Unfortunately, I end up leaving and starting at a new company every year or so. It’s not my bosses—they’ve been great—but my female co-workers who hate me. I am attractive and all of my bosses have happened to be men, though they don’t single me out for special treatment. Some woman in every office has it out for me. My female supervisor or manager starts with complaints about my work or hours—nothing is ever good enough. I finally get worn down and quit. I’m worried that my resume does not look great with all of these employers listed. Is there a way I can befriend these women so they don’t see me as a threat? Or should I find a job working only with men, since they seem to treat me more fairly? If you’re being totally honest with me—which I’m not sure you are—you have to look at how you present yourself to others. In your case, it’s female co-workers. What about female friends? Do women you meet socially have the same negative reactions to you?
I have a number of female friends who are all mentored, encouraged and promoted by strong men. So, good for you, if men with office power recognize your value. But if you’re contributing to a dysfunctional workplace, you may have problems wherever you go. And if you’re in Boston, you’re not going to find many places where women are not an integral part of the environment.
I like to solve problems with some common sense, but I’ll make an exception with you. If you have the same problem at multiple jobs, I would make appointments to see the men who encouraged you in the past. Ask them honestly what they think you were doing to alienate female workers and what you could do to change the pattern.
I was recently in a part of California where the wildfires devastated so much territory. And then, the mudslides raced down the mountains, leveling homes and killing people as they slept. Friends of mine, who were evacuated from their homes, had minutes to pack a bag and leave. A lot of people stayed, never really believing it would be as bad as it was. Weeks later, rain was predicted and evacuations were again called for, but no disaster followed. Does paranoia play a role? Are new weather patterns unsettling our lives even more? My simple response is yes. Weather can be even more frightening than political upheaval or increasing global and domestic violence.
In Santa Barbara, 300 homes were destroyed and 18 people lost their lives, many carried away by mudslides mixed with giant boulders that rolled people miles away from their homes. It was horrifying and it can linger in one’s mind. As to fear: When I grew up, the radio predicted the weather a day in advance and people reacted to it, worked around it, went to work and mostly went to school. Now, predictions can take place weeks in advance of events and—assaulted by endless predictions of doom—we’re all whipped into a frenzy that’s too often not worth the alarm. It’s usually the total surprises that really damage us: Fires suddenly out of control, record-breaking hurricanes, 9/11, the meltdown of financial systems and mass killings. Almost all are impossible to predict. Social networks now keep us on a constant high-anxiety track.
Weather will continue to punish us when we least expect it. Just the way that the rest of life so often treats us horribly. It’s why I constantly emphasize finding some joy every day—something to laugh at or someone to laugh with. The more engaged in life you are, the less you’ll obsess about dangers you cannot control. ◆