John Ellison has been skydiving for 28 years. While most may consider this sport risky and dangerous, John sees it as just another part of his life. As the chief instructor at Skydive Pennsylvania (Mercer, PA), he has helped many get past the anxiety of their first jump to accomplish an exhilarating experience. Three core tenets that John employs to be successful in his role are the same principles we advocate for one to achieve financial planning success.
#1 Prepare & Review
To stay at the top of his game, John is constantly reviewing his equipment. He repairs or replaces equipment as needed to keep himself and his passengers safe. Continued evaluation of the chute, lines, harness, and other essential equipment is key to his continued success.
This same preparation and review are also key to having a successful financial plan. On a yearly basis, review your overall allocation and the actions that occurred in the previous year. Were you nervous because your portfolio was like riding a rollercoaster? This can be signs of having an over-aggressive allocation between stocks, bonds, and alternatives. Is the ‘equipment’ you are using outdated? Have you considered whether that "darling" tech fund’s best days are behind it? Periodic reviews of your portfolio assets are the key to keeping your plan and investments contemporary.
#2 Seek an Experienced Professional
Before being permitted to tandem jump with another, John had to gain a massive amount of experience to handle any unique situation that might occur while free-falling back to Earth. He went through a rigorous, in-the-sky training program that put him in various situations where he was expected to resolve issues while in free-fall. For example, if his chute gets tangled, John has mastered five or six different techniques that could correct the issue before having to resort to his reserve parachute. His vast experience gives him the expertise needed to correctly assess the situation and choose the correct course of action.
Do you have someone with in-depth financial and investment experience helping you create a financial strategy that addresses your goals while also shining a light on potential financial "blindspots" that could negatively impact your plan? You may not need a professional financial advisor all the time. Many advisors charge a one-time fee to review your financial plan and investments at a time convenient to you. But it's very beneficial to talk with a professional at periodic intervals to help course-correct early on before it becomes too late. To avoid resorting to your "reserve parachute" of selling off your portfolio and staying in cash, seek professional advice to gain expert insight.
#3 Gain Perspective Through Communication
John will tell you that skydiving equipment is expensive. The harnesses alone cost nearly $20,000 and the materials for the canopy are laser-cut for accuracy in deployment. He will also tell you that each clip and metal ring is required to be made of stainless steel and is customized for skydiving. All this information is great, but does it ease fears among jumpers?
Nerves, John says, are a natural part of his business and the only way to calm a nervous newbie is through constant communication — before takeoff, during the assent to 13,000 ft, and even when stepping out the plane door. John’s calm demeanor and reassuring words helps to keep his tandem partner moving forward, which is essential in skydiving.
Much of the same could be said for financial planning. Do you get nervous seeing a decline in your portfolio? If the economy is showing considerable volatility, do you think about taking drastic actions out of fear? Overall, it’s best to make decisions during rational times instead of when emotions are running high. We encourage in-depth discussions with those you trust during times of volatility to gain additional perspectives -- talk with your spouse, partner, trusted friend, or a financial advisor who has a long history of navigating volatile markets. If you don't currently have an advisor, consider contacting one of McKinley Carter's advisory team members. Making rational decisions isn’t the easiest thing to do when fears are running high, but having someone to chat with can help bring your emotions in check.
A special thanks to John Ellison of Skydive Pennsylvania for providing insight into his profession and experiences. I had an opportunity to jump with John last year and was glad I experienced the thrill of skydiving with such a well-respected professional.