“Embarking on a financial plan is like sailing around the world. The voyage won’t always go to plan, and there’ll be rough seas. But the odds of reaching your destination increase greatly if you are prepared, flexible, patient, and well-advised.”
– Jim Parker, Australian Portfolio Manager


Financial markets are volatile: geopolitical trade wars, interest rate changes, and global financial events. When seas get rough, should investors jump ship?

Before doing anything, recognize that market volatility is a normal part of the journey along the path towards building your retirement savings. How can investors maintain discipline through market ups-and-downs, political and economic uncertainty, or whatever crise du jour appears to threaten our retirement goals?

Here’s one way we can do it, based on my experience of learning how to sail in the Vancouver’s coastal waters. It was a perfectly sunny day when my instructor took three students, including me, across the Georgia Strait. Everything was fine until we got way out on the water and a few clouds started to roll in. Suddenly, the water became very choppy and our sailboat tossed violently from side-to-side. Needless to say, the students were very uneasy.

As a novice sailor, I was scared and disoriented as we bobbed on the growing waves. Fortunately, our instructor remained calm – he had a plan for these kinds of situations. I’m writing this today because he took over navigation and led us to calmer waters.


Investing is a lot like sailing We all know that the voyage may not always go as planned, and there may be rough waters. If you’re prepared, the odds of reaching your destination safely go way up. In my book, Smart Risk, one of the “5 Ps” stands for Plan. Before embarking on an investment, you need to choose your goal and be confident that it’s achievable. The actual portfolio is the vessel to get you there. Always ask yourself, or your advisor, “How much “bad weather” can my plan withstand along the way?”


A successful sailing voyage needs a good navigator
This is where a trusted advisor comes in. A skilled advisor—someone who is ever vigilant and makes the necessary adjustments—is key. When your personal circumstances or the investment horizon changes, you may need to replot your course.


The markets are as unpredictable as my little sailing adventure in Georgia Straight.  A sudden squall can whip up waves of volatility, tides can shift, and strong currents can threaten to blow you off course. An experienced advisor can work with these and adjust and adapt.


Once the storm passes, you can pick up speed again. Think of a well-diversified portfolio as a sturdy vessel that acts as a ballast against tempestuous markets.


Avoid Distractions
Distractions take both sailors and investors off course. It takes discipline to side-step hot investment trends that could veer you away from your plan. The business media with their scary news headlines are experts at creating distracting noise, tempting you to act on fear or news that’s probably already be priced into markets.


The Bottom Line
A degree of uncertainty is inherent in the investment journey—as in everything else. Nevertheless, you can prepare for a range of possibilities while always keeping your final destination in mind. Trust yourself and your navigator to chart the course to your Work-Optional Life.

Maili Wong is a best-selling author, a Canadian investment advisor and licensed portfolio manager specializing in helping affluent families transcend their wealth across generations. Her first book Smart Risk shares her personal story of resilience as well as lessons learned and secrets gleaned in her 17 years of international investing experience. Maili was a featured TedX Talk speaker in 2016, and named one of “Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women” by WXN in 2018, and one of B.C.’s Most Influential Women by BCBusiness in 2019.