When Having It All Means It’s All Falling Apart | Kanebridge News
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When Having It All Means It’s All Falling Apart

How to get through those days when your professional and personal lives won’t quit

Tue, Jan 10, 2023 9:31amGrey Clock 4 min

The first message, received while I was at the office one day last month, drowning in work, informed me that my daughter had lice. The second confirmed my son had it, too.

The third, which came as my deadline was approaching and I was feeling phantom itchiness on my scalp, announced that my son’s wonderful kindergarten teacher had quit the week before and was never coming back.

I felt like I’d been cast in an adult version of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Everything—work, life, parasites—had collided. In addition to having no idea which crisis to tackle first, I questioned how I’d gotten there in the first place.

Sometimes there is a fine line between having it all and it’s all falling apart. After a stretch when many of us laboured to be Santa at home and year-end heroes at work, all while facing a tripledemic, we could stand to take a deep breath, shift our perspective and, when all else fails, laugh at the absurdity of it all.

“On your bad days, when nothing is going right, you go, ‘Oh, my God, I’m a horrible parent. I’m a horrible employee. I’m a horrible wife. I’m a horrible everything,’” says Lilian Tsi Stielstra, a mother of two grown children in Vancouver, Wash. The 58-year-old says she still remembers the morning years ago when she confidently marched into her office in her brand-new black power suit only to realise it was adorned with a blob of her one-year-old’s snot.

One lawyer and mother of four in Pennsylvania told me she’d once dropped her child off at soccer practice, then figured out, in the blur of juggling back-to-back calls, she’d dropped the wrong child. A nonprofit executive mistakenly threw the plastic bag containing his homemade lunch in the trash and commuted to the office cluelessly clutching a bag filled with cat poop. One tech leader recounted to me the time she received a text message while stationed in a glass conference room in her bustling office. It was her fiancé, breaking up with her.

Some tales of work-life clash are grisly, like presenting to a client in Chicago still bloodied from fresh dental work. Some are eventually funny, like when your child bursts into a research meeting of scientists to announce his pet lizards are having sex.

Navigating our different responsibilities and identities has never been easy. These days, it’s compounded by our current stew of illnesses, corporate chaos and the pressure on parents to make up for everything kids lost during the pandemic.

“It’s all colliding,” says Lisa Duerre, who spent a day last August dealing with an ailing sibling, an anxious child, a crucial client pitch and a dog who decided right then was a good time to get sick all over the carpet.

The chief executive of RLD Group, which advises tech companies on culture, Ms. Duerre recently had a coaching client kick off a session by placing her forehead down on the desk, overwhelmed by caring for a parent with dementia while dealing with a corporate reorganisation.

For those in the throes of acute work-life tensions, Ms. Duerre recommends first pausing. Take three deep breaths. Notice how you’re feeling—are you screaming “Just cancel everything!” in your head? Are your shoulders scrunched up near your ears? Tell yourself you’re just going to choose the next right action, and the next, one at a time. Ask yourself what’s most important to do right now, and then ask for help where you need it.

Go to a peer first if you can, she says, so you’re not constantly sounding alarms to your boss. When you do approach your manager with a problem, bring some possible solutions rather than plaintive queries. The paediatrician only has an appointment during the client meeting; would you prefer I call in from the parking lot there or send someone else to the meeting in my place?

Messy days, and tragic and scary moments too, are part of having a full life. Shouldering many roles, from dad to dog owner to team leader, makes us happier, says Yael Schonbrun, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Brown University, though it can also make some situations harder.

“When we have a life that has a lot of meaning and purpose, it’s often quite uncomfortable,” she says.

See if you can find the silver linings in your busy, complicated days. For example, limited time can force us to be more focused and present, says Dr. Schonbrun, the author of a book about how working parents can manage feeling overwhelmed. Stepping away from work to see our kids or tend to another responsibility can breed bursts of creativity.

When our lives are bigger, a loss or challenge in one area often doesn’t hit as hard.

“Even though I might run at a higher anxiety and higher stress, I don’t run lonely,” reasons Shelley Nelson, who juggles two kids and a job at a financial-technology company. She hit a run of bad luck starting in late 2021, breaking her hand right as she was starting a new job, leaving her with one for typing. Then came pinkeye, a flat tire that made her late for a meeting where she was to meet her new executives, Covid-19 infections for nearly the whole family and the death of her husband’s grandmother.

“I was, like, this is not who I am,” she says of all the accommodations she had to request from her new manager, from extra work-from-home days to time off.

She laughed to keep from crying. She wished she could do better, at everything. But she told herself she was managing as well as she could, and found the bad days built resilience.

I did, too. When the woman at the lice-treatment centre examined my hair and assured me that good moms get lice, I took the diagnosis as proof of my hands-on parenting. When my son came down with a mystery fever the following week, I cherished the extra cuddles on the couch. By the time my daughter was hit with a stomach bug on Christmas Eve, just as my editor was texting me about a column, I was less fazed by it all.

Nothing seemed to be going as planned, but it still felt like a privilege to have so many things I loved, constantly colliding with each other.


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A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe


Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer

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