I recently ran into renowned arctic explorer Will Steger at a coffee shop one morning. I was reading; he was getting started on his regular 20- to 30-mile Sunday walk. He is nearing 70 — I'm not. He was excited for his day ahead, and that made me excited.
The thing that Steger does better than almost anyone that I have ever met (with the exception of my wife) is say yes. Not to everything, but to the things he believes to be important.
One of our clients is also approaching 70. He was describing how when he was in his early 50s and first came to us, he would check his 401(k) balance twice a day dreaming of when he was 65 and could retire from his corporate job. We instead reviewed what he and his wife needed for cash flow and persuaded him that he could take a pay cut to move to academia. When we were talking with them about their current portfolio, he said that the best decision he ever made was saying yes to the career change.
Saying yes is not about being reckless, it is about honestly looking at your resources and saying, "This is what I really want for myself." It may be doing something bigger than you thought possible, but it may also mean something smaller.
One of our clients was feeling tremendous financial pressure from decisions that they made that were not consistent with their capabilities. When times were good for their business, they built a house that they could barely afford. Times are no longer good. Each month they are digging a deeper hole for themselves. While they could eventually get bailed out, in the meantime their financial struggles impact everything — their marriage, their parenting, and their confidence. In order to move on, they have to say yes to their current situation and change it. Yes is accepting that they are in trouble. Change would not be easy because they would have to sell their house and switch their children's schools. But saying yes acknowledges that they can move past the temporary social embarrassment caused by the changes and redefine their priorities.
Saying yes is living the Stockdale Paradox that Jim Collins describes in his book, "Good to Great." Adm. Jim Stockdale was a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton, and he described how to survive that horrible experience: "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."
Rather than trying to escape where you currently are, say yes to it. And then look at things that you need to change in order to get where you wish to be. If money becomes your distraction for the other things in your life that you are avoiding, then it won't hold its proper place for you.
While I didn't head out on a 20-mile trek that Sunday, in the coffee shop I worked to figure out where I wanted to say yes.
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 email@example.com.