In the past couple weeks I?ve learned of two discouraging developments. The first was finding out that one of my best friends has prostate cancer. The second, just this week, was finding out that the husband of a former minister at our old church had a massive heart attack and died a few days later.
Neither man is 50 years old.
It?s an uncomfortable reality that no matter what we have going on in life, we have no certainty of anything. We can make all the plans we want for a great and glorious future, but none of us knows how much time we have, or even what the quality of that time will be.
Does that mean that we shouldn?t plan for the future? No, I don?t think so. We should plan, but in doing so, we should never take lightly the central importance of today. As the saying goes, ?yesterday is a canceled check, tomorrow is a promissory note, but today is cash?.
In the personal finance blogosphere we churn the details of all things financial. Most of it centers on the ?how?, as in how to manage/increase/eliminate/etc. this or that asset/income/expense/etc. Culturally, we tend to see money as something almost magical, as a commodity that can fix our problems, insure us against disaster and even give life a purpose. But can it?
Money is important?in fact, properly managed it can be one of life?s ?anchors?. An anchor being one of those elements in our lives that keep us grounded, focused and moving forward with purpose even during those times when the forces against us are banging at our doors, looking and sounding menacing.
We all have anchors, we all need them. Somehow those anchors seem most obvious and important in the darkest hours and events. Most other times, we tend to ignore them?if we even know what they are. So let?s cut to the chase: should the prospect of disaster and ultimately of our own mortality affect how we live?
Only when we come face-to-face with the frailty of life do we begin to truly embrace its richness, and the need to pursue that richness purposefully. In order to do that over the long haul though, we need anchors. The more we have, and the stronger they are, the better we?ll be able to withstand what life throws at us. And as you read in the opening paragraph, it can throw just about anything we can imagine at us, and a few we can?t.
With the hope of stimulating your own ideas on what your anchors might be, here are mine, in no particular order. An anchor can be anything you rely upon that keeps your ship of life afloat during the darkest times. Mine are comprised of beliefs, philosophies and practical applications.
Know that it can all end at any time
As someone once said, ?you?ve got no contract with life?. That?s something we only think about in a meaningful way when serious events visit our lives or those close to us. But we need to think about this periodically. It begs the question, what would we be doing with this time, with this day, if we knew our time was limited? It is?and that?s why we need to think about it.
Have Faith in God
True Christianity teaches that the most important element of faith is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The key word is relationship–it?s not about ?religion? and all the nuances that reduce it to a debate over issues. That relationship is available to all of us and life is both fuller and easier to bear when you have it. The time to develop it is before the storms of life hit?akin to putting money in the bank for the uncertainties of life.
It doesn?t mean we won?t have problems, nor does it mean we shouldn?t try to deal with them. But it does mean that we?re not somehow doomed because we fail. We?re never doomed, not even when life looks completely hopeless. Not if we?re walking in that relationship.
Take care of your health, but don?t obsess on it
There is no blueprint for good health and a long life?there are only correlations. Nothing we do will guaranty that we?ll live to be 90, or even that we?ll be in good health for most of that time. In the end, there?s also genetics, environmental factors, stress levels and plain dumb luck. We don?t need to run six miles a day, swear off entire food groups, or down a handful of vitamins every day. The motto eat less, move more will likely fit the bill what ever your health status is.
Skills are more important than jobs
In all that we do, we need to be able to roll with the punches. Jobs don?t always permit this, and sometimes they are the punch that hits us (job loss, passed over for a promotion, etc.). Skills are part of who we are, and they come with us where ever we go. They represent our ?stock in trade?, that commodity that each of us brings to the marketplace of life. They?re worth expanding and it?s worth developing new ones.
Accept that bad things happen, and often they can?t be prevented
Don?t get caught up in shoulda/coulda/woulda debates with yourself and others when something really bad happens. My wife and I refer to that as the ?what if game?, and it?s close to a waste of time. Bad things will happen in life, often in spite of our best efforts. Accept the fact that bad things aren?t always someone?s fault. Once disaster strikes, energy needs to be concentrated where it will do the most good. What ever might have prevented the crisis didn?t happen, and analyzing it doesn?t change that fact.
Grudges are a waste of time
Trying to right the wrongs done to you is chasing your past. Retaliation invites retaliation. Focusing on positive efforts and forward directions will accomplish far more than getting even.
We?re imperfect people, living in an imperfect world
We can get depressed if we spend too much time ruminating over the fact that we aren?t perfect, our lives aren?t perfect, or the world isn?t a better place. Maybe that?s part of the price we pay for living in the Media Age. We?re flooded with images of perfect people, living perfect lives in a better world and we ask ourselves, what?s wrong with me? Answer: nothing! We should fix what we can, and be prepared to live in harmony with what we can?t. Perfection is a burden we can?t carry.
People are more important than things
It?s ironic that I first heard it put in those words by the minister mentioned at the beginning of this post. It resonated to such a degree when she said it some 10 years ago that it?s become one of my anchors. We can spend so much time chasing money, influence, things or perfection that we completely miss the people who are right next to us. We can live without all the things we normally chase, but we can?t live without people.
Family and friends are one of life?s greatest blessings
In my worst moments, family and friends have been there for me, like a rock in a storm. In the best of times, they?ve made life worth living. Creating reliable relationships doesn?t just happen, it requires time and willingness when life is going well for us, and theirs isn?t. There may be times when we don?t have time for people, but that should never be the rule.
And so are the ?strangers? in our lives
People bring a richness to life that makes it fuller and more enjoyable. We should be open to who ever might come into our lives, even those who don?t look like us, worship like us, live where we do or earn a living the way we do. Conformity weakens our lives; diversity adds strength.
Live beneath your means
We can make all the plans we want and life can still go in another direction. The best plans are loose and flexible. If we can live at least a little beneath our means?what ever those means may be?we?ll always have enough to live on and a little extra to save for later. It?s not a goal, it?s a financial lifestyle, one we can implement at any time in life. Basic and effective since the beginning of humanity, we can take it as far or as lightly as we choose and it will always work.
We?re not building empires here
No matter what we own, what we accomplish or how many people we might have authority over, all of it will end at the grave?or sooner?and none of it will save us when our time is at hand. Our identity should never be tied up in these things.
The world is much bigger than our little corner of it
Too often, we wallow in the defeat of the door that just closed, virtually oblivious to the many others that are open or opening all around us. We can obsess on ?the one that got away?, when the better course might be bidding it farewell, and moving on to the next opportunity. Always be aware, always be open.
And don’t forget to seize this day – take time to enjoy life?every day
While we?re preoccupied with building our own version of the perfect life, real life is happening all around us. True happiness really IS found in the little things. While we?re charging hell-bent for the big prize, we can miss the joys of the journey that make life worth living. Take time to ?smell the roses?.
I?ve touched on my anchors briefly here, but will cover some of them more specifically in a series of posts that will follow in the coming weeks. I think it?s that important.
In the meantime…
1) What are your anchors in life?
2) What keeps you centered even when your world seems to be coming apart?
3) Is money your primary anchor, or is it something else?
4) What are your anchors if money IS the problem?
Sorry, Kevin, you have a minor typo. Family and friends are life?s greatest blessings. I’d not give them up for anything. (I say this a bit tongue in cheek, I know there are some loners out there who shun companionship, I suppose they can be happy too)
That’s a great point Joe, but we probably have to counter balance it in sympathy for those who have family members who are closer to the opposite!
Great post, I follow similar believes!
I know a young man that was 18, who looked (on the outside) to be physically fit and very healthy, but he got cancer and died the following year. You just never know!!!
Money Reasons – THAT’S a real tragedy! I was thinking more along the lines of people who completely neglect taking care of their health, but they live to be 90, while others do all the “right things” and don’t live nearly as long.
I’ve been lurking on your blog for months now–have read every post. I just have to tell you how darned smart and insightful I think you are. Thoughtful post today…
Thanks Red! How much do I owe you? 😉
Hi Kevin, great picture with a thoughtful post. I live in Tornado Alley so I’m aware that bad luck in a bad storm could kill me at an early age. However, the vast majority of the time it’s sunny and I’m in no danger at all.
I’m fortunate that at this point in my life I’m no longer worried about money week to week or even month to month. That eliminates a large source of stress. I still live below my means and save for a rainy day though.
I know that sufficient money doesn’t fix everything. It couldn’t prevent the tragedy of your friend’s death or your other friend’s cancer. I totally agree that spending time with friends and family should be a high priority, not only because they are so important, but because you never know how long they will be with us.
Balance is the key I think, and we run into trouble when we over-emphasize one pursuit at the expense of others.
Not only does that take away from us developing different sides to ourselves and our lives, but it can also create false expectations. For example thinking that money insulates us from disaster, or a rigorous health and fitness program will prevent certain diseases. It’s better to have money and good health, as long as we know that they aren’t magic bullets.
It might be good to spread ourselves out a bit, and think of life a bit like an investment portfolio with some of this and some of that. If it works in investing, then it must be true in life. That’s better preparation for the dark times than putting all our eggs in one basket.
It looks like you and your husband are balancing yourselves successfully!
Long time lurker here, Kevin. I must say I really enjoy all of your posts. Great job at this site!
I’m so sorry to hear about the bad news you’ve heard so recently. And I definitely agree with that we must enjoy the time we have NOW because it is the only guarantee that we have.
But I find that a lot of people my age (late 20’s) take this too far. They don’t save for the future, they party hard, take long expensive vacations because they feel they deserve it, and should do it while they are young. They may take jobs that are easy to do. Jobs that don’t require much energy from them (these are really smart people), pays the bills, but no opportunity to grow.
Yes, we are not building empires here, but each of us has the ability to make change, to make a difference, to advance technology, medicine and knowledge. When we really live like it is going to end tomorrow, we will make different decisions, and we can begin to forget the difference we could have made, if we only tried.
Too much of living for ourselves can turn us selfish, and neglect the worth of the potential contributions we could make to society. Don’t underestimate your own worth to the world!! 🙂
Just my (very long) two cents…
Kypris – I think you’ve got a valid point, so many embrace the “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” mindset, especially the young. It could be a cloaking type “philosophy” that legitimizes making only a minimal effort.
I think that we all need to live life purposefully, and to find the pursuits and passions that we’re specifically suited to do. While none of us can save the world (another questionable philosophy going in the opposite direction) we should do our best to make life better in our own little corners of the universe. In that regard, we do have a responsibility to ourselves and to others, and personally, I think this is also a God-given mission. I believe that we’re all meant for something higher.
Thanks for weighing in.
No one benefits when we turn to ourselves and make it all about us. BTW, there are people who aren’t so young who live that way as well.
There’s a story about a group of monks who are sanding a table and who start talking about what they would do if somehow they learned that the end of the world will be coming later that day. One says that he would get to confession. Another says that he would make peace with someone with whom he had been angry. A third lists the prayers he would say to prepare for the End.
The most thoughtful monk then says: “I would try to do as good a job as possible sanding this table.”
His point is that, if we are living our lives right, we are already prepared for the End and we are already doing the thing that we should be doing in the event that the End is coming. If sanding a table is what was put in front of you, that’s what you are supposed to be doing.
I was meant to be preparing a blog entry on New School safe withdrawal rate studies! Perhaps not, but that’s what I tell myself in any event.
Rob – When I wrote this post, I was thinking less along the lines of The End (though not necessarily excluding it of course) and more about getting through the rough parts of life. All of us have events that can cause us to kind of stall out and to question the meaning of life. That begs the question, how do we get through those moments, and what are the anchors than enable us to do that?
But to tie into the table sanding story, if we come back to those anchors on a regular basis, there’s a greater chance that we’ll be sanding the table, or doing that thing that we’re meant to be doing. It’s when we get complacent that we might lose sight of that.
I have grown to “appreciate” every day since being laid off in 2008. Up until then, I was so used to having a job and a routine (lol). While I still do not appreciate what happened, I so much more “treasure” life. Sometimes it takes hardship for us to start paying attention to what is important. Everyone has a different list of what is important. The bottom line – I don’t want to have any “regrets” about anything I could have done something about. Hey, I am human and still get mad with my boyfriend or daughter (the only 2 people that I have allowed into my life) – but I make sure before we go to sleep, I say a NICE goodnight and not my usual SILENT treatment. Great post!
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Angela – That’s so important, learning to appreciate every day and the people closest to us. Treasure will ellude many of us, and for others who find it, it’s seldom enough. That’s why I think it’s so important that we come to define our lives and our reasons for living as beyond the financial.
If you think about it, all the worlds wealth hasn’t cured poverty, disease, hunger or warfare–why should we expect it to do magical things in our personal lives?
Great post. I am 72 and it makes sense for me to be grateful to be able to be financially independent even if my lifestyle may not compete well with those of other people. My constant vigil is against buying appliances and gadgets which can become clutter. I love the spiritual slant of your writing.
Hi Georgina – “I love the spiritual slant of your writing” – thanks so much! As I get older, I’m becoming more spiritual, and glad it’s coming through my writing. It’s lead me to a place where I’m more aware than ever that I need less stuff than I ever imagined. I’m always trying to pare down the pile! Not easy when you have a family though! Our societal direction is to always have more.
BTW, I really believe that stuff can cloud our judgement and infect our view of life. Not only does it cost money to buy, but then you need a place to store it, and you also have to maintain it and eventually replace it. That’s a money sucking cycle we can’t win.