Stimulus vs Response

Written by Tom Stanley, Investment Adviser, 31st March 2023

**Apologies for the tardiness of my note this month, but as it is of a more sensitive nature, I wanted to get this one right, and getting it right it took longer than expected. I also want to let you know that the person who’s story I am about to share, gave permission for his story to be shared.**
I started writing these monthly notes when I joined Amicus, around 18 months ago. They go out to around 3,500 clients per month and very few people reply or engage off the back of each note. The very first person to reach out and respond was a man named Peter, today I want to talk to the idea of ‘stimulus vs response’ by sharing some of Peter’s story.

The initial ‘stimulus’ was my November 2021 email on Investment vs Speculation vs Gambling…  
Peter’s Response:
Email dated 26th November 2021
“What an excellent article explaining investment/speculation/gambling.
Thanks for that.
From our systems, I could see Peter was a KiwiSaver client of Amicus, and this was our first engagement with him. We had inherited a relationship with Peter through an advisory business we had recently taken over. Eager to speak with someone who had read (and appreciated my musings), I jumped on the phone to introduce myself. Through our phone call I learned that Peter, who was nearly 60 at the time, did not have the usual ‘retire at 65’ plan – Peter planned to continue working for some time past 65.
The reason? On the phone Peter mentioned he had been an alcoholic for years, living on a diet consisting largely of “beer and whiskey, nicotine, coffee and the occasional feed on junk food”. Peter also mentioned that he had only really started rebuilding his life, finances, and relationships over the past 10 years. Peter pointed me to his book “Seven Years Sober: Reflections and Perspectives” for more context – I downloaded and read his book – a very thoughtful and personal account that opened my eyes to the world of addiction.
Armed with more context, Peter and I set about reviewing his KiwiSaver in January 2022 and opted for a fund that was more appropriate for his 10+ year view of retirement – The idea was to build a bigger nest egg to fund his rent and allow him to enjoy a well-deserved and fun retirement.
Fast forward to late January 2023, and I received a call from Peter. Peter was clearly not in a good place; he shared the news that he was going to need access to his KiwiSaver. Now. He had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.
Fortunately, efforts to rebuild his life and relationships over the past 10 years meant Peter was surrounded by people that cared for and supported him. While Peter started straight on chemotherapy, his cousin reached out and helped submit relevant documentation, meaning he gained access to his full KiwiSaver balance within the week. *Thank you to team ANZ for expediting the withdrawal process for Peter*
Peter was understandably very upset as we spoke on the phone and shared stories of hardship, I thought that call may have been the last I was to hear of Peter – I was wrong, very wrong, Peter’s ‘response’ surprised again. A week later I received the following email – Peter clearly had a plan and was going to make the most of his retirement nest egg…
Peter’s Response:
 Email dated 7 February 2023
“Hi Tom
Thank you to you and your team for your help and kindness in getting my KiwiSaver freed up as quickly as possible.
The funds are in my account.
I have ordered the Italian speakers I’ve long wanted.
I’m getting a lot of support and love wrapping around me. I am grateful.
Next step is to organise myself a scenic flight.
I don’t actually need or want a lot at this time, to have the people I love around me, to listen to the music I love, to spend a few days at Pukehina (my favourite place, where I am now staying for a few days)
and a ride in a Porsche 911. ( being organised) and the scenic flight.
Thanks again Tom.
It was refreshing to see Peter’s outlook transform in such a short space of time, he had such a positive outlook, and clear interest in making the most of his situation – I encouraged Peter to share photos as he chipped away at his bucket list, he did not disappoint.
Email dated 18th February 2023
“no 911 yet but in the meantime… Pete”

Email dated 10th March 2023
“got 20 minutes in this as a passenger, then the driver pulled over and said let’s swap seats! Totally unexpected, one of the best days of my life yesterday. 20 minutes driving this! More pics to follow but resting now after 3 days of chemo.”

Email dated 16th March 2023
“I’ve always wanted a V8, always wanted a car with leather seats, always wanted a nice Coupe.
I have bought this..”

Email dated 20th March 2023
“Yesterday’s adventure. Did a couple of barrel rolls and experienced 4G’s in a turn, amazing day. A day of amazing flying and time with friends. Peter”

The week of March 20th I was in Tauranga for a conference, Peter was also in town for treatment, so we arranged to meet for lunch. At a seaside café in The Mount, we shared stories, and one comment Peter made stuck with me, he said:

‘despite being on chemo, I’ve had 2 of the best days of my life in the past 3 weeks’.

Peter outlined that the treatment did take its toll, but his body was responding as well as he could hope for, and off the back of each 2-week treatment cycle he had a few good days where he could get out and live life. This perspective made me think of a principle at the core of a favourite book that I happened to have in my travel bag – Man’s Search for Meaning, a 1946 memoir by Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. I pulled out my copy and asked Peter whether he had read it?

Yes, he had, and it was a favourite of his also.

At its core, Man’s Search for Meaning is philosophical. It is a memoir from Frankl describing life in Nazi death camps and lessons for spiritual survival. Peter and I agreed he is a living, breathing application of one of Frankl’s core messages:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Victor Frankl

In other words, we can’t often choose the ‘stimulus’, but we can always choose our ‘response’.

We finished our lunch in the sun and Peter generously offered to drop me off at Tauranga airport in his V8 Mustang. Seeing how much joy the car brought him was a real kicker – here was a man making the most of every moment.

If you take one thing away from this note, it is to pay attention to your ‘response’. Stimuli are everywhere and noisy. We can get caught out responding in ways that are neither positive nor constructive.
Often, we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.
Plans change.
Life events happen.
If something impacts you, your Investments, KiwiSaver, or Retirement Plans, please know that we are here to help – and are just a phone call or email away.
Thank you again to Peter. I am very grateful that he allowed us to share some of his story. It is not often you get a first-hand account of a person rallying in the face of such adversity. The team at Amicus and I wish Peter all the best for his treatment and look forward to more photos.

If you would like to speak with any of our advisers, please click one of the links below and book a time.

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