• Michael Rosen
    • Investment Insights are written by Angeles' CIO Michael Rosen

      Michael has more than 30 years experience as an institutional portfolio manager, investment strategist, trader and academic.


    Published: 12-16-2021

    To fail or to suffice? It doesn’t quite have the cadence of Shakespeare, admittedly. It is not the existential question that grips (and eventually destroys) Hamlet. But it is a fundamental question that confronts many of us in our daily lives.

    To fail or to succeed is not a choice; of course, we would choose to succeed. The practical challenge for many of us is, are we content to get by, to suffice, or should we pay a cost, even risk failure, in hopes of achieving greater goals.

    The vast majority of people are content to get by. There is no judgment in that statement, merely an observation. Most people just do their jobs, fulfill their minimal obligations, without exerting more effort than is required.

    For example, think about your last memorable shopping experience. Was there even one? You have encountered hundreds, thousands, of store clerks over the years, and how many really stand out? Most people will struggle to think of a single example.

    Once a week I walk into my local Ralph’s, one of the 2,700 supermarkets in the Kroger chain, to stock up on basics. Every week I see Rick, stocking shelves or bagging groceries, and every time he greets me with a smile and “welcome, it’s so good to see you.”

    Now the cynic might say that’s just what everyone who works there is trained to do, and every time we hear those words we dismiss them as a platitude, a convention. When someone says, “how are you?”, it’s not as a therapist or a medical doctor; he/she does not really want to know the state of your health. So we answer with, “fine” or “great.” These are our social conventions.

    Not so with Rick. He is genuinely happy to see you, to welcome you. You can see he is grateful to be doing his work, and is sincere when he asks if there is anything he can do for you. His positive attitude, genuinely held, is remarkable because it is so rare.

    Like almost everyone in Los Angeles, Rick wanted to be an actor. He had a few appearances on TV and in movies, but when his mother took ill, he needed a steady job to take care of her. He worked as a receptionist at a real estate firm for many years, but was laid-off in the 2009 recession. His weight ballooned to more than 350 pounds, and he was really struggling. He took the only job he could find, the lowest entry position at Ralph’s.

    Each year, Kroger selects an “associate of the year” from among their more than 400,000 employees. A few years ago, that was Rick. I can only say, it was a very good choice.

    Year-end is a time for reflection, but more importantly, it is a time to reaffirm values and renew goals. In pondering the question, to fail or to suffice?, I hope the choice is, to fail. Because to fail means to have tried. Some goals are difficult to reach: to lose weight, to learn a musical instrument or a new language. But not even trying is not a choice; it is a sentence of stagnation and decay.

    Our values are expressed in our actions. And our actions are determined by our goals. Whether those goals are difficult and costly, or relatively simple and easy, and whether we achieve them or fall short, we only fail we if we don’t make the effort.

    Most of us will never be employee of the year, like Rick. But every time I see him, I’m reminded that a little effort can have a big impact. We can all make that effort to achieve greater goals.

    From everyone at Angeles, may your holidays be healthy and healing, and the new year bring renewed commitment and high aspirations, for our families, our communities and our world.

    Photo courtesy Aleksandar Pavlovic

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