Opportunity can arise from the unexpected

  • Article by: ROSS LEVIN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 26, 2012 - 4:27 PM

I got lost on a recent run and ended up going about a third of the way further than I had planned.

When I saw the familiar sight of Lyndale Avenue, I almost dropped to my knees to kiss the ground, but instead I slogged my way home. While painful, the extra miles have better prepared me for an upcoming event. And, they helped me think about the idea of emergent opportunities rather than anticipated ones.

For many of us, the last few years have not been what we expected. Housing prices collapsed, the stock market became increasingly volatile and job security was an oxymoron. Because the future always is unknown, our firm has preached the benefits of dealing with uncertainty rather than trying to create rigid plans.

In their book "How Will You Measure Your Life?'' Clayton Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon point out, "You have to balance the pursuit of aspirations and goals with taking advantage of unanticipated opportunities."

One of our clients recently experienced a significant health change. When faced with having to retrofit their existing home to meet physical limitations, we explored the concept of taking the money and using it to rent an apartment in a place where the couple wanted to be rather than upgrade a home that they intended to sell. Selling their home of 30-plus years was going to be a huge task regardless of when they took it on; ironically, the stress of the health scare made the project seem slightly less overwhelming.

We spend so much time keeping our heads down, focusing on what's ahead, that we have no peripheral vision. Yet those things that are around us may provide more opportunity than those things that lie in front of us. As we get more comfortable with opening up our minds, the chance of taking advantage of new opportunities increases.

Becoming comfortable with uncertainty also will help you to better allocate your resources. A client pondering retirement was wondering when she should sell her house. She was feeling house-poor. But I told her that she was merely "house- directed.'' She was channeling more resources into the home than into other areas.

A refinancing to a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage with no closing costs would give her flexibility about when to sell because of the dramatic monthly savings. These strategies involve looking at the various resources you may have and using them in a way that is aligned with what you want from your life.

"Real strategy is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about where we spend our resources," writes Christensen and his co-authors. As we look at the choices we make every day, we should view them in terms of all our resources -- our money, relationships, time and energy -- to see whether we are moving in the direction of what is really important to us.

One of our clients was evaluating a job change from a position that he really enjoys and for which he is paid well to move to a company that will pay him more but about whose culture he knows little. If the decision was purely financial, it would seem easy. Yet there are a number of things that occur with this kind of change. As he earns his stripes, he will need to put in longer hours, so his family will be affected. His commute will be longer, giving him even less free time. He does not know the politics of the new position and can't be clear as to how that will affect his fulfillment. The decision needs to be made by contemplating each affected area and then evaluating the trade-offs. We have no assurances that the decisions we make will be the right ones. But to best find our way, we should remember that there are usually many more directions to consider than we realize.

Spend your life wisely.

Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. He is a certified financial planner and author of "The Wealth Management Index." His Gains & Losses column appears on the last Sunday of the month. His e-mail is ross@accredited.com.

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