The next time you look at your company's 401(k) options and feel overwhelmed, think about Chris Gardner. As a novice stockbroker at Dean Witter, the Pursuit of Happyness author never knew where he and his son would be sleeping at night, but he managed to create asset-allocation plans for hundreds of clients and performed so well that after just a year on the job, he was lured away by Bear Stearns, one of the most venerable firms on Wall Street. If a homeless single father with no financial experience can do a credible Warren Buffett imitation, surely you can separate the winners from the losers in your retirement plan.
"It's no less a responsibility than your health," says Gardner, who now runs his own investment company in Chicago. "When something is your responsibility, you've got to get good at it." He tells people to stop saying "I can't" and start thinking I must. The first step is to educate yourself. You can click on the investor education section of SIFMA.org, the Web site of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. Then attend brokerage firm seminars to learn how these companies can help you achieve your goals—but don't commit right away. "Invest your time before you invest your money," says Gardner. "It's your life. Get good at it."
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