The year 2008 was one of the worst for the markets this country has seen. I was a new television host—an Afro-Latina queer woman—with a solo prime-time show on the number one cable outlet for the markets. And the crash had the network in panic mode.
But I repped Main Street not Wall Street (the black sheep of the network in more ways than one), so my point of view had a different imperative. I told viewers to stay calm as trillions of dollars went poof. “Hold the line,” I said, “Think long term,” “Don’t do anything out of fear and panic.” I rejected the dramatic myths of the market, and in response, men (who were supposedly my colleagues) screamed at me on air for being incompetent, while others belittled and threatened me online. Yet, within four years, retirement accounts were replenished and the market was back, and then some, in one of the biggest gains in history. Boring and safe may make you a lot of money but not necessarily Wall Street.
The market overall is a construct written and traditionally controlled by a small, tight group of white males who have enjoyed continued wealth, while everyone else—women, Black Americans, and people of color—has been left out. (A bit of money-control perspective: Women—and everyone else not a white male—gained the right to have credit cards in just 1974 by a federal equality mandate.)
I rejected the myths of the market, and in response, men screamed at me for being incompetent
The danger is that we can internalize these bad scripts, which like most myths, creates a system of elite status for a few, led by gatekeepers to maintain the tale and its profits. We can’t let that happen, can we? After all, we’ve seen in the past year how challenging myths can save elections and even lives. Sussing out myths when it comes to your money and your career can also save a lot of household wealth.
In that spirit, here are some market myths that deserve to lose their luster.
Market myth: “This isn’t betting.”
Any place where you can instantly lose money, some or even all of it, and not be able to predict when either will happen is a literal bet. There are bets where the stakes and risks are truly high, low, and everything in between. Put all your cash savings into buying a home? That’s high stakes (all your money plus the roof over your head), moderate risk (over years), but still a risk. You can lessen that risk by holding onto your bet longer. Put some play money into buying one hot stock, low stakes, high risk. Still, a gamble.
Sussing out myths when it comes to your money and your career can save a lot of household wealth.
Denying that the market is a game elevates Wall Street to a noble authority. It’s a useful and profitable myth for the industry to discourage masses of individual investors from managing their own investments. It keeps Wall Street as the house. And the house likes to win. Recognizing and respecting the odds, the stakes, the players, and the dealer means that you can choose to walk away, not to play, or how you want to play—on your terms.
Market myth: “You gotta do something!”
Screaming about the markets creates drama, panic, and fear. It’s good for ratings and trading. Each time you make a stock purchase, sale or buy, you make money for traders, brokerages, banks, and many people in between. Fear and emotion fuels market trading and speculation. And even with a no-cost trading app, money is being made behind the scenes through your every move. Unless you’re a day trader, unless it’s play money you can afford to lose, don’t give yourself agita looking at your long-term investments daily, weekly, or even monthly. Just keep investing broadly: no fee or low fee, with or without a professional who’s obligated to give you the best advice (a fiduciary). Ignore the screamers even in what feels like the worst of times. They’re just doing their jobs. You do yours. Learn, earn, and hold.
Market myth: “Women aren’t good at this.”
When anyone—and I do mean mostly men, because this has been their purview—tries to make you feel dumb about investing or for taking a “boring” stand in the market by sticking with tried-and-true (no- or low-fee) broad index funds, walk away. Wall Street likes the metaphor (another tale) that just as you wouldn’t let your buddy operate on you because she’s not a doctor, regular people shouldn’t be trading in the market themselves. That’s a false analogy, as our actual lives are not at stake (livelihoods maybe, but not lives). And for the first time, with no-cost (to you) trading apps and services, no- or low-cost index funds, and reams of information just a Google away, many of us have all the tools we need to pick where we want our money to go, or where we want to place our bets. Nothing wrong with seeking out and even paying for help. But never let anyone make you feel small or inadequate when you’ve done your due diligence. It should always be a respectful conversation.
Market myth: “I know what’s going to happen.”
On my show, one of my favorite sayings was, “Don’t crystal-ball it.” Media giants, data firms, brokerage firms, banks, et cetera all make loads of money off saying one thing is going to be worth less or more than the other in the future. But there is too much out of our control for anyone to always be right, and in our media world, it’s usually the most outlandish and loudest who get the mic.
Recognizing and respecting the game means that you can choose to walk away or how you want to play
Plus, at the extreme, you know how life throws you a curveball once in a while? Out of the blue you get a DM from a lost love who says they’re single again and misses you. Or maybe your building has a water main break that destroys your closet. In the markets, unpredictable, disruptive occurrences like this are deemed black swans. These babies change everything. Like recently when a bunch of individual investors on Reddit discovered a loophole position on a stock, gathered together, and poof! there went billions of Wall Street dollars, a hedge fund needed rescuing, and the stock market overall went down. Only past patterns are clear. Cross them with information from the present from multiple sources and make decisions that work for your future and yours alone.
Never let anyone make you feel small or inadequate when you’ve done your due diligence.
I encourage using the markets to build wealth and legacies for our families, and even sometimes as a fun, informative diversion for money we can afford to lose. Just make sure you write your own stories.
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