Lessons from Inspector Gamache

If you’re unfamiliar with Inspector Gamache, and have any propensity to enjoy mystery novels, I highly suggest picking up Louise Penny’s series that centers around Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté de Quebec. Her books follow Inspector Gamache as he leads his team through political nightmares, murders (a large majority of which happen to be connected to a quaint Canadian town), and personal issues.

You may be wondering why on earth I’m writing a Friday Brief about the protagonist in a fictional murder mystery series, but I find that certain phrases and lessons from Gamache often come to my mind. The books are mysteries that also take the reader on a journey that exposes truth about the human condition. Gamache is a wise, sometimes unconventional, strong leader. When a new team member joins Gamache’s force, he instructs them to learn these four phrases and be willing to say them – and mean them.

“I don’t know. I need help. I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

He’s teaching them wisdom and leadership, as strong leaders willingly say any of those phrases. These self-admissions demonstrate one’s inner strength, rather than displaying weakness. I believe these admissions also are important for us as investors.

“I don’t know.” Recognizing what we don’t know takes courage and humility – the latter of which often is hard to find in the finance world. Investment managers claim to be the best of their class, striving to consistently beat their respective indices and competition. But nobody definitively knows which sector is going to outperform the rest in any given time frame. We don’t know whether there’s a black swan event coming our direction, or if we’ll freeze when responding to a big, obvious, gray rhino is lumbering straight toward us. We don’t know exactly how much we’ll need to spend in retirement, but we can build margin into our financial plan, so that there’s room for the unexpected. As advisors, we don’t always know the answer either, and I would caution you before taking advice from someone who pretends to know more than everyone else and operates on an island.

“I need help.” Why is it so hard to admit we need help? I believe we avoid admitting we need help because when we do, oftentimes shame washes over us, telling us that we’re unworthy if we can’t do (insert any topic) on our own. We all need help in our financial lives, from both technical and personal perspectives. In the advisor – client relationship, the advisor is often the person who helps when asked. When you hire us, you’re asking for our ongoing help. But old habits die hard, and it’s tempting to keep a tight hold over areas of our lives that we think we can handle just fine. And from the advisor seat, it requires humility for us to say, “this question goes beyond my scope, let’s involve the rest of our team at Beacon, or another outside professional, to make sure you’re receiving the best, meaningful advice.”

“I’m sorry.” Taking responsibility and expressing remorse is difficult. And sometimes, it’s hardest to say this to yourself. I extend much less grace for my errors than I extend to others’. As investors, we might make a mistake. We might deviate from our plan in a way that has lasting impact. What matters is what we do next, which includes taking responsibility for our part.

“I was wrong.” Admitting when we’re wrong takes strength. There may be consequence to endure. We might have to adjust our goals, or go back to the second sentence and ask someone for help. The choice we make after realizing we were wrong matters. Say you invest in something that just does not perform. Do you dig your heels in and double down on the investment that went south? Or do you cut your losses, and clear the poor investment from your portfolio? Your broader financial picture matters, and having outside counsel is beneficial if we have blinders up preventing us from seeing the situation from all angles.

When we are willing to dig deep, be honest with ourselves, and involve others, we create space for change to occur within our lives. We recognize our own limitations and structure our financial life accordingly. We don’t know the winning market sectors in the next 6 months, or a year. Sometimes things don’t go our way, and sometimes we have to apologize to a spouse, friend, advisor, or even ourselves, when we get things wrong.

Our hope at Beacon is that we’re alongside our clients as you navigate through uncharted waters. We want to be someone you trust when you acknowledge you need help – because we all need help and input from others. Just last week, Geoff asked for help about his family’s upcoming car purchase. Based on the feedback he received from others who knew more than he did on the subject, Geoff ended up changing his mind from his original top choice, paying cash for the Hyundai Palisade.

Let us know if you are ready to have a conversation about how you might need help in your financial life. We feel lucky to have the job of partnering with clients to provide meaningful advice.

Ellen Martin
[email protected]

After graduating from UVA (go Hoos!), I moved to Raleigh for the Raleigh Fellows program where I fell in love with the city, its people, and a fellow Fellow who is now my husband, Wesley. I worked for another wealth management firm in Raleigh for seven years before joining the Beacon team in June of 2021. When not at work, you can most likely find Wesley and me walking our dog, Ollie, on the lovely Raleigh Greenways, or enjoying a cup of coffee and a La Farm white chocolate baguette.