It's Important to Always Find a Silver Lining

Joel Litman

Today's Altimetry Daily Authority is a little different than usual...

I heartfully and warmly wish all our readers a very Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

We've been reserving our Friday Daily Authority issues for sharing opening remarks about the coaching topics for our global employees. As we aren't publishing this Friday, we thought the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was suited to an end-of-the-week note. 

Americans across the country will be forced to celebrate Thanksgiving differently than I can remember in my 50 years. For most folks, smaller or even virtual-only Thanksgiving gatherings are anything but ideal... but this is the reality of the situation. 

I focused my coaching comment this week on one amazing story by John Milton. Alongside Shakespeare, Milton is arguably one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language. His best-known work is the 17th century epic poem Paradise Lost

However, one of his lesser-known works is the origin of a popular phrase today. In Comus, he writes... 

Was I deceived? Or did a sable cloud

Turn forth her silver lining on the night?

I did not err, there does a sable cloud

Turn forth her silver lining on the night,

And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.

A more modern paraphrasing of this passage would be, "I was not wrong, I did see a silver lining in these dark clouds." Milton was highlighting the importance of making lemonade out of lemons.

There have been times in my life where I have realized the value of a silver-lining mindset.

For many years I had been donating money to a number of different charities, particularly in the Philippines. My mother, true to her nature as a CPA, warned me to check on the veracity of the charities I was funding.

She said that unless I audited the charities myself, I couldn't know for sure whether the funds were being spent in the right way. My forensic and audit intuition agreed with her. 

By 2008, it had been more than 30 years since I had stepped foot in the Philippines. I decided to go there again, mainly to perform surprise audit tests on the charities. As a significant donor, they'd have every reason to open the doors wide. 

Some of the charities were wonderful. They were thrilled to have a donor visit, and they made me feel incredibly welcomed. I visited community centers and program locations and met many of the various individuals that I had seen in pictures and read about in reports. I still fund those charities to this day.

The other half of the charity visits didn't go so well. Frankly, they weren't so happy to hear from me... 

Some personnel were baffled that I was in the same city. They couldn't get their heads around why a donor would actually fly halfway around the world to perform a surprise visit.

Some of the nonprofits couldn't show proof of the programs they had put in place. One purported to have been supporting a children's library and a soup kitchen. Upon visiting, I saw that those two institutions existed... but the people affiliated with the library and kitchen had never heard of the charity I'd funded for them. 

Sadly, I discovered that funds simply weren't going where I had been told. Finding out that a charity had been fraudulent was incredibly disheartening. 

Since I was already visiting the Philippines, I offered to conduct a free seminar for the stock exchange and the local financial analyst society. 

Had I not needed to audit some questionable charities, I wouldn't have found myself in a close enough location to conduct an educational program there.

The nonprofit review led to some shady organizations and characters. However, the sideline engagement of stopping by the Philippine Stock Exchange turned into a life-changing set of introductions and meetings. After my program, I spent time talking with a number of financial executives who later became some of my closest friends and mentors.

Talk about a silver lining around an otherwise dark financial cloud!

Another incredibly serendipitous outcome stemmed from a simple mis-conclusion. When those financial executives inquired about why I was visiting the Philippines, I mentioned the charity audits. I remember one chief investment trader saying:

Oh, we assumed you were here because you realized it's a gold mine for finding financial analysts.

I had no idea. 

Cut to today, and our office in the Philippines has more than 100 incredible professionals. These folks have created a massive advantage for Altimetry. They're integral to our growth and to much of what our Altimetry readers see every day.

All the while, the birth of our Philippine office stemmed from a decidedly negative situation.

It's heart-wrenching to look at the coronavirus pandemic and see the loss of those who are dear to so many people...

Having to spend Thanksgiving – one of the most family-focused holidays – away from family and friends is difficult. Having to spend a first Thanksgiving after losing loved ones is even harder. 

And yet, in keeping with Milton's view, the best we can do is to see how to gain what we can from the terrible situation.

The pandemic has forced folks to adapt. I know many families who have created virtual game nights and now spend even more time together (virtually) than they did before the pandemic. 

The most tech-challenged folks among us have grown accustomed to FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Meets, so they could see their children, grandchildren, siblings, and friends.

It's genuinely heartwarming. In some ways, bonds of family and friendship have grown stronger.

And after all, isn't that so much of what Thanksgiving is about? Being thankful for family and friends, and what we have? 

Pre-pandemic, 50% or more of our company's personnel were already telecommuting. This figure has jumped to more than 90% now, and I can't imagine going back to the way things were. Our people are spending more time with loved ones... while spending less time sitting in traffic, waiting for elevators, and getting caught outside in an unexpected cold rain with a broken heel or forgotten keys. 

Many folks are taking the opportunity to learn to get more sleep... or to meditate and exercise. You can do a lot with an extra few hours each day, without the all-in costs of commuting... And that doesn't even get into the mental health benefits of not being stressed during that commute.

Personally, I've found more time in my day by not needing to gallivant from airport to airport and conference to conference. I'm probably actually seeing and speaking with more people monthly than I did in the pre-pandemic days. (Though I do miss meeting people in person!)

Much of the research is showing that if ever there were a time to promote a healthier lifestyle, this is it. I hope that a newfound attention to health may last a lifetime... A focus on your personal "B.E.S.T.": breathing, eating, sleeping, and training. 

In this time of thanks and giving, allow me to express my deepest gratitude for you, our readers, for taking the time to read our work here at Altimetry. I hope and trust that our efforts contribute to your life in a positive way – both financially and personally.

And I hope that on this uniquely challenging Thanksgiving, you too can eventually find silver linings. We'll be back in touch with the Daily Authority on Monday, November 30, after the holiday weekend.

Thank you, 

Joel Litman
November 25, 2020

P.S. What silver linings have you found during the pandemic? Let us know at [email protected].

P.P.S. I haven't included the names of the charities here, in order to avoid making today's essay look like an endorsement for the good ones. However, if you care to write to me, I'll be happy to share the names of the most effective and efficient charities I found.