For over a month, my wife Gina, and our four kids (17, 13, 9, and 7) recently hiked and toured our way through the villages and mountains of Europe. There are surprisingly few options for crews as large as ours so we Airbnb’d our way through Germany, Slovenia, and Italy.
This was a family plan, but it was also part of a business plan. One that is a lead-by-example approach to inspiring balance for our team and our clients. Since returning from the trip, I have had time to reflect on the experience and answer questions from curious friends and colleagues.
Here are some of my Sabbatical Musings
We did not have an answer.
Then the 4th quarter of 2023 happened. Just as balanced portfolios were languishing with limited gains over the last three years, almost everything popped to the upside. Stock indices, large and small, rallied double digits. Bonds leaped due to a dramatic drop in interest rates. And then, a sigh of relief; 2023 was a good year with a 60/40 stock and bond portfolio returning over 17% (after only being up 4.5% two months earlier) [60%Russell 3000 / 40% Bloomberg US Agg; Source: Morningstar Direct]. That’s almost two years of historical returns in eight weeks. Blink and you missed it. Try and time the market and you probably missed it as well.
what the end of 2023 has reminded me about good investing
Best place we visited: San Martino in the Italian Alps. Gorgeous views of the mountains and the valley where, two miles below us was the only market in town. “Let’s go for a hike, kids.”
Most memorable moment: This year is our 20th wedding anniversary and Gina arranged for a renewal of our marriage vows in a private Mass in Rome. What better way to celebrate this adventure of life and parenthood that we have shared together?
Best motivational quote: “Everything is possible with a running start!” – Josie, age 9
Best preparation: I took 3 years of German classes in college in the hope that the Army would station me in Europe. Instead, they sent me to El Paso, TX. Nearly 25 years later, the German came in handy ordering food and asking for directions.
Worst preparation: Realizing at the Newark airport that the two little girls had filled their carry-on bags with nothing but stuffed animals…which I then trekked across the Alps (literally).
Best reason to bring a winter coat: Sledding down a glacier in June at the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany.
What we would do the same: Leave room to breathe. We didn’t over-itinerary ourselves and left time for spontaneous exploration…and naps.
What we would do differently: More mountains, fewer cities. Rome and Ljubljana, Slovenia were beautiful but the vistas and air in Bavaria and Assisi were the family favorites, hands down.
What my clients thought: The support my family and our team felt from our clients was extraordinary. We worked hard to communicate in advance. I felt like the enthusiasm for the experience was shared broadly.
What I learned while away: I have an immense level of trust in our team. It was easier to disconnect than I had imagined because Katie and each team member made it clear they wanted to be proud of the work they did in my absence. Not only could I focus on my family, but the team kept up our momentum. Learning that you are not indispensable is an important insight for a leader.
What I learned about travel: Seeing new things is great. But I wish I had my guitar or other hobbies that I could experience in those new places. Just traveling may not be enough for me.
What I learned coming back: I was excited to get back to the office because I value conversations with our team and with clients. It is intellectually stimulating and something that meets an important need for me. When I am with family it is intimate, nuclear, and very much about us. Coming back to our business reminds me that I have a conduit to outwardly influence our community and industry. I like the balance of both.
How a sabbatical made me a better advisor: I have financial goals and obligations, just like everyone else. College is creeping up for my kids but committing to an experience like this makes perfect sense when I contemplate my future self. We learn about opportunity costs in investing. Taking a mid-career sabbatical with my family was a recognition of the opportunity cost of this moment. We did not let it slip by.
My last words before heading home: After a month of trains, schnitzel, pasta, and paying for restroom access, Gina and I stood on a beach watching the sunset on our last day in Europe. We contemplated the joys and the chaos of the past four weeks. I looked out over the mountains and thought of the three words uttered by Clark W. Griswold. To sum up the accomplishments of a proud husband and father:
I appreciate all of you who have reached out about this time away and what it has meant for me and my family. If you are considering stepping away, whether it be for a short time or embarking on something more permanent (retirement or otherwise), please reach out. I’d love to hear your thoughts, fears, and hopes for the journey ahead.
Aggressive Balance is a biweekly e-newsletter authored by Dennis Morton, Co-Founder and Principal of Morton Brown Family Wealth.
A gifted storyteller and financial advisor by trade, Dennis explores topics of leadership, finance, and the human condition in his writing as they relate to curating a life worth living.
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