Imagine you’re deep in the woods with your two best buds,experiencing that camping trip you always dreamed.

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One bright and dewy morning, the three of you decide to take ahike along a seldom used trail.

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About an hour into your trek, you hear the nearby foliage beginto rustle. Obviously, it’s one of nature’s creatures, but whichone? “Let’s find out,” says your curious friend.

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Related: Remember, there's more to retirement andlife than rmoney

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“Let’s not,” says your more cautious companion. Curiosity winsand the trio quietly tip-toe towards the flapping leaves.

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Alas, your scent travels faster than you and the bush stopsmoving. So you stop.

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It’s too late. Rising from the camouflage of the forest stands atowering grizzly bear. He’s obviously very hungry and he looks atthe small group not as an assembly of itinerate backpackers, but asbreakfast.

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“Run!” yells the cautious one, with just a hint of righteousindignation. “Run!” screams the now not-so-curious one. “I’mrunning as fast as I can!” you gasp at full speed, without evenconsidering looking behind you.

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But, how fast, exactly do you need to run? Some might answer“faster than the bear.” Those unfortunate folks are destined tobecome ursine banquet because, as we all know, no one can runfaster than a hungry grizzly bear.

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Still others might guess, “You need to run the fastest.” Again,the extra burst of energy will only cause them to tire morequickly; thus, slowing them down and, again, meeting the same fateas the others.

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The correct answer to the question “How fast do you need torun?” is, as all the smart readers out there in readerland willproudly proclaim, “Faster than the slowest other person.”

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Once the bear catches the slowest hiker, the other two can slowto a brisk walk and still get away.

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There’s more to this lesson than woodland safety. It alsoreveals an important mistake made by retirement savers (see,“A Better Way to Set Retirement Goals,”FiduciaryNews.com, July 25, 2017).

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Indeed, this is the most common mistake made by all investors.It’s not all their fault, though. You may even say they might bevictims of messieurs Nielsen and Arbitron as well as perhaps morethan a few behavioral psychologists.

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Each year, each quarter, each week, each day, heck, for thosewith nothing better to do, each minute, we’re constantly remindedby the financial (and mainstream) media what “the market” isdoing.

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This narrow view of the investment arena has become the go-toheuristic for naïve investors to measure their relativeperformance. It’s the timberland equivalent of saying “I need toalways run faster than the bear.”

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Consider what’s behind that statement. Returning to our originalmetaphor, it has the effect of shifting our objective from“escaping the bear’s voracious jaws” to “running faster than thebear.” These aims may seem synonymous, but they aren’t. These are“forever” goals.

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In other words, they continue until they are achieved. Sure,while you’re running faster than the bear, you will appear toachieve the “escaping” goal. Alas, you can’t always run faster thanthe bear. And you only need miss that goal once to become thebear’s breakfast.

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The only way to complete the “escaping” goal is to make sure thebear is no longer hungry. That means running until the bear findssomething else to eat. If the only other thing to eat is anotherhiker, then you only need to run faster than that other hiker.

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Correctly restated, your goal can be reduced to “run faster thanthe slowest hiker.”

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In the retirement realm, investments are often couched in termsof “the market” (historically the S&P 500). All statistics usedderive from these market averages.

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Benchmarks, now immortalized by SEC prospectus requirements forall investment companies (i.e., all mutual funds must comparethemselves to an index), have evolved from personal wealth goals toindustry standard indices.

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People are now too busy measuring themselves against somearbitrary general index rather than against their own needs andwants.

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How dangerous is this? The S&P 500, as of this writing, isup about 10% this year. Many analysts would be too surprised if wesee a sudden correction of as much as 20%.

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If someone is close to retirement and they only need to earn 5%this year to hit their goal, why would they want to risk that 20%just to squeeze and additional 5% above their need?

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Yet, the constant barrage of reporting the return of the “marketaverages” overcomes those too week to maintain a stoic investmentdiscipline. These are the folks continually selling low and buyinghigh, forever chasing the latest investment trend, foreverbelieving the purpose of their lives is to run faster than thebear.

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Our lifetime goals can’t be measured in bank accounts of stockportfolios. They are instead measured by family, friends, and thoselittle (and not-so little) accomplishments we leave behind us. Noone wants his gravestone to read “Here Lies Me – I Beat the S&P500.”

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal FiduciaryNews.com and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christophercarosa/)and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChrisCarosa).