The fog had come in over the harbor as the fireworks were set off. The sound was loud, but the colors were muted until the fireworks fell below the cloud covering and briefly sparkled.

We had not been to a fireworks display like this and before the fog became too thick to see much of anything, this faint display was transfixing. While this fireworks show did not create the rush of ones in the past, it stayed with me longer.

Let me make a case for the muted, or as I prefer to think about it, the middle way. Our attention is drawn to the extremes, but why? 

I was thinking about this when I saw from a distance an extremely wealthy client wearing old clothes and climbing into his nondescript car. Whether he lives that way because he is so comfortable with his money that he doesn’t need to impress people or so uncomfortable with his money that he doesn’t wish to call attention to it, or simply doesn’t even think about material things, is not the point. The point is that whoever didn’t know this person and ran into him on the street would probably not give him a second thought. And I find that sad.

I don’t find it sad because he is more deserving of recognition than someone else, but that the vast majority of us are probably not registering because often what we have may seem more important than who we are.

This gets many of us tripped up. In order to be seen, we may feel we need to make a statement. But those statements are often like the fireworks blasts that create initial excitement but are soon forgotten. The middle way is more enduring.

I was talking with a client who was describing a Swedish friend When asked what he does, the friend said, “I cross-country ski and go on long hikes.”

I, on the other hand, may respond with “I am CEO of blah, blah, blah.” But that isn’t what I really do. I spend time with my family, love nature walks and birding, enjoy reading, sports and the University of Minnesota. While I love my occupation, it is only part of what I do.

The Swedish friend’s approach is a great equalizer because everyone is interesting in some way; we just need to agree to discover how.

Most of my clients are financially successful people, some of whom at times can feel unsure about whether they can afford everything they have. While those feelings are real, they aren’t necessarily logical.

A middle way would be more helpful. The clients able to soften the highs and lows are the ones who become more connected to their money and are better able to make financial decisions where actions and values align. When living the middle way, money doesn’t have as much power over you.

One of our clients turned down an opportunity to run a large organization because she was happy in the role she had and did not feel a need to take on additional responsibility and headaches. This was seemingly inconsistent with what most of us strive to do, but not at all inconsistent with her middle way approach.

She did not need the flash or the corresponding stress of a promotion when she was fulfilled right where she was. Choosing to take on the job because it was of interest to her could also have been reasonable, but only if her decision was made for her internal reasons.

The middle way should play into many of the decisions we all end up making. When we work with clients on buying a home, one of the things we like to emphasize is place over property. People get used to the home itself, so where we are generally matters more than the actual house in which we live.

One of our clients sold their home and decided to rent, which flew in the face of everything many of us have been taught our entire lives. This particular client loves the location, the amenities, and the ability to no longer be responsible for upkeep and maintenance. But renting took some getting used to.

Another couple tried the rental approach and realized that they loved tending to their gardens and having a yard. After renting for a year, they ended up buying a home in a location they wanted which connected them more to nature.

Both of these couples took a middle way of experimenting, and they came up with different results. The middle way creates options.

There are times when we want the fireworks to intensify, but those times are fewer than most of us may want to accept.

For example, many of us invest a lot of money in our children — wanting them to attend the best schools, or paying for tutoring or training. Whom does this ultimately serve? The middle way can lead to being supportive rather than micromanaging.

As I reflect on my own life, I can see where I was attracted to the bright lights of the fireworks, but when the fog lifts, I am drawn to the middle way.

 

Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.