Technical analysis gets a bad rep on Wall Street. Analysts using this method try to predict stock prices by sketching out charts of historical share prices. After these “chartists” make meticulous financial cardiograms, they spend most of their working hours scouring the data for obscure patterns that “predict” the stock’s future price. “Symmetric triangles,” “head and shoulders,” “cup and handle” and a host of other quirkish names signal bullish or bearish trends in the company’s future. Many investment managers take the squiggly lines as law.
Unsurprisingly, charting has little street cred in today’s black-swan-obsessed financial world. Efficient market gurus like Burton Malkiel have spared no sarcasm in calling out technical analysts for their empirically unfounded faith in random lines. We all chuckle at these high-paid modern day haruspices, poking dead data instead of animal entrails to predict the future, with just as little empirical evidence behind their methods. After all, the mantra, “past results do not predict future returns” is at the bottom of every investment firm’s quarterly earnings report. We know the future is unpredictable. That’s why people are generally more inclined to buy index funds than pay fees for active managers who spend their waking hours scanning “cup and handle” connect-the-dots.
When it comes to the random walk down Wall Street, we laugh at the chartists who think they can predict the future. But when it comes to walking down main street, we often make the same mistake.
This is my plan, we tell ourselves. Tomorrow I’ll do X—check—next year I’ll do Y internship or Z volunteer opportunity—check, check—ten years from now I’ll have finished with W and will live in U and will have V kids—check, check, check. The variables change, but the formula doesn’t. We like to tell ourselves that we can chart the future.
But we should take a lesson from finance here: nothing could be further from the truth.
We fret, plan, project, and sketch out what we think we’re going to do next. And we often pray as if we expect God to follow our neat squiggly lines. But Proverbs 16:9 tells it perfectly: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Pitted against our pitiful projections, God’s plans always win out. If life is a random walk, and only God knows the steps we’ll take, why do we feel the need to map out the road? We should simply leave our path-planning to Him.
Trusting the Lord to guide our steps, of course, is easier said than done. Summer always feels like a particularly tough cross-roads. Decisions about what to do, where to travel, and who to spent time with always feel momentous, as if they’ll have drastic consequences on the rest of our professional and personal lives. How can we know what opportunities to pursue if we can’t chart out the path ahead? What does following the Lord’s guidance actually look like in practice?
I can’t pretend to have the conclusive answer to these questions. But if I’ve learned anything this summer, it’s that the most important thing is what I’m doing now. The most important person is whoever I’m talking to now, the most important project is the one I’m working on now, the most important task is the one I’m assigned to do now. There’s no point to trying to chart all my future steps. All I can do is focus on the one I’m currently taking. That step, if done well, will lead to the next one, and the next, and so on. The doors will open, so long as I take them one at a time, doing the best job I can with each opportunity as it comes.
This isn’t the new corporate gospel of “mindfulness” or “maximizing one’s potential.” This is simply the advice that the apostle Paul gives us in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” In a stochastic world where dumb luck determines so much of our outcomes, trying to map the future is a chartist’s fallacy. But simply doing our best with whatever opportunity the Lord has put in front of us is an apostle’s wisdom. Trust comes in knowing that He will make the next step clear to us—crucially—the moment before it comes.
Lord, give us this day our daily bread. Jesus never taught us to pray for a storehouse, and he certainly never taught us to try to chart the future like technical analysts on Wall Street. We’re meant to live moment by moment, door by door, step by step.
Lauren Spohn ‘20 is an English concentrator in Currier.