Levin: Balancing what is with what could be

  • Updated: August 30, 2014 - 2:00 PM

When I was in my 20s, my picture of my future involved homes, cars and a lifestyle quite different from the one in which I was raised.

In my 50s, my dreams involve peace, vistas, and in some ways, a lifestyle different from the one that I have. While our family has worked hard on trying to have our lives match our values, life tends to be additive.

How can you strip away the things to which you are accustomed, but may not be choosing in favor of those things that call you? And when can you be comforted by the things that hold you rather than strangled by them?

Clients who were considering moving in order to build a new house were describing the favorite part of their day: sitting in the morning at home together, a cup of coffee in hand, looking out their window at cattails and wildlife on a marsh where their current home sits.

Building a new home gets them a new home, but is it a good substitute for their daily treasured ritual? If the fantasy of “all things shiny and new’’ lasts at all, it is only until it is no longer new — weeks or months after moving in. The reality of morning coffee looking over the marsh is a daily affirmation of their lives together.

We certainly can’t resist the many changes that we will confront in our lives, but we also don’t need to exacerbate them.

In his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,’’ Greg McKeown writes that when you want to improve, “The best place to look is for small changes that we [can] make in the things we do often. There is power in steadiness and repetition.”

A client couple were having trouble talking about their money issues. It was obvious in meetings that things got triggered and neither was able to talk productively with the other. What was a little change that they could incorporate?

Rather than having a faceoff about money at the kitchen table, we encouraged them to go for walks together with their dog. Talking about tough issues is often easier side by side, and the difficult subjects tend to soften when you deal with them.

If something is not an emphatic “yes,’’ then it should be a “no.’’

“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution toward things that really matter,” writes McKeown.

One of our clients was an executive who bucked the trend of late-night and weekend meetings to be with his family. When the company understood it, they supported it. Regardless, this was a risk willingly taken. He felt it not worth succeeding at a place that didn’t adequately value work/life harmony. Their support made him far more enthusiastic about his career.

How do we rid ourselves of the things that are getting in the way of what’s important? The issue is that once we have something, it is hard to dispose of it.

McKeown encourages us to ask this simple question:

“If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”

Spend your life wisely.

Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. His Gains & Losses column appears on the last Sunday of the month. His e-mail is ross@accredited.com.

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