Settle down, settle up and settle in

  • Article by: ROSS LEVIN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2011 - 3:06 PM

I received a recent e-mail from someone regarding their health that left me unsettled. I knew that there was nothing I could do about it, other than provide support, but it nagged at me anyway. Eventually I got caught up in some other things and the feelings went away. Feeling unsettled is unsettling. In spite of those proclamations to ''Never Settle!'' I think it's more important at this time of year to discuss the value of the different ways of settling.

Settle down. A client came in with a nastygram from her ex-husband regarding money she was owed. Since owing the money isn't disputed, the ex was either trying to provoke our client or he was simply wanting to punish her. But interestingly, our client didn't react to it. She recognized this as his issue and left him to stew in his own juices. People who are either getting divorced or are recently divorced are often on two different playing fields. One may be trying to figure out what is fair or how they can make their new life work, while the other is trying to win the balance-sheet battle. They spend a tremendous amount of energy, time and money to often end up worse off than either of them should have been. What if they had both just simply settled down?

Settling down is useful in other areas, too. Large U.S. stocks bounced all over the place last year and are relatively close to where they started. It was not possible to stay ahead of the news. Instead of freaking out about the market volatility, what if you settled down and used it to your advantage? If you would have established how much you wanted to have in stocks and how much in bonds and rebalanced when they became out of alignment, then you would have profited from volatility rather than been punished by it. Settle down: it's not the future you need to fear, it's your response to it.

Settle up. At times, you may not be able to settle down because you haven't settled up. One of our clients was having an issue with a business partner. Based on how the business was structured, it allowed for distributions to take place that appeared inequitable. Rather than discussing this issue before the distributions, the partners would roil about it after they occurred. They settled up by discussing who was doing what within the company and what a reasonable distribution of funds would look like. After talking things through, they found common ground. But in order to settle up, each had to acknowledge their individual contributions to the problem.

This time of year is a great time to settle up matters that need to be closed. These may be personal or business issues that you've been putting off, or relationship issues that need some work. One of my employees approached me because he was unhappy with how I was not addressing an issue in which he was interested. Once he pointed out what was going on, I could understand his point, make adjustments and we could move forward.

Settle in. Sometimes the other party won't or can't see your issue. Settling in is accepting that things are not going to turn out as expected. No one knows what will happen with the euro. And this is an election year, when the news is filled with what candidates and pundits think is wrong with virtually everything. Think about the failed forecasts for 2011 ranging from a double-dip recession to Judgment Day. Try watching events with curiosity rather than anguish. Settling in assures you that you can handle uncertainty.

Spend your life wisely.

Ross Levin is founding principal and president of Accredited Investors Inc., Edina. His e-mail is ross@accredited.com.

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