There’s a scene in Season 2 of Mad Men, when Don Draper visits Peggy Olson in the hospital. She’s recovering from having given birth to a married man’s child, and is understandably worried about balancing her ascendant career with the responsibilities of parenthood, compounded by the complexity of the baby’s paternity. Don, her only visitor, encourages her to get back to work, to move on with her life.
The scene is, of course, typical Mad Men. The shots are framed tightly, the characters say only what needs to be said. There’s minimal background noise, other than the squeak of a seat cushion as Don leans closer to Peggy, and says “This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”
As with almost all Mad Men episodes, it’s a cinematic masterclass. It’s beautifully shot, skillfully acted, and sharpens the incline of the show’s narrative arc. It conveys a wealth of emotion with an economy of words. Don spurns the idea — the modern idea — that one ought to grapple with their emotions, engage with feelings, pick at scabs. It’s more than encouragement to stick one’s head in the sand — it’s an imprecation to bury trauma so far below the surface that it simply dissolves. It’s callous and tender at the same time.
There is perhaps a lesson here, or more likely, an anti-lesson. For many reasons, it is very much not my place to weigh in on psychological coping mechanisms or trauma. I imagine that the world of therapy has evolved a lot in the last sixty years, and would probably point to Don’s advice as being pretty bad for most people.
But I have been thinking about this scene a lot over the last few weeks, albeit in a wholly different and arguably lighter context: the stock market.
The last few months have been pretty rough on Wall Street. The S&P is down nearly 12% from the beginning of the year, and the tech-heavy NASDAQ is down 17%. It’s a genuinely tough time to be a regular retail investor, climbing slowly up a mountain of equities as the winds of inflation and geopolitical instability howl. It’s hard to sidestep an avalanche.
But, as the common knowledge goes, for anyone with long term investment goals, the best mechanism for building wealth slowly is to simply keep climbing. Buy and hold, buy and hold. Even when it’s tough — really tough — to do so. Who wants to climb a mountain when it’s snowing hard?
Which is why I’ve been thinking about that scene from Mad Men. Don encourages Peggy to block out anything that distracts her from forward motion. He adjures her to internalize the belief that something didn’t happen. Because it didn’t, right?
I think this attitude may well serve investors — with long time horizons, and without exposure to shaky, individual equities — who wish to persevere. It may be best to simply block out emotional attachment, and to pretend that a drop didn’t happen, or at least that it doesn’t matter.
Because if you say it hard enough, for long enough, it won’t.