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?