We received a text from one of our daughters the day after we dropped her at college: "I'm not sure that this is the right school for me."
Text No. 2 followed a day later: "It seems like everyone knows people here and I don't know anyone." Then No. 3 arrived: "I'm going to try to put myself out and meet people tonight." Next day: "Send me my sunglasses."
From then on, the texts and phone calls are all about how much she is enjoying college. There will certainly be times when difficulties again arise for her. But almost certainly, the sunglasses moments will follow.
In financial planning, client e-mails are often the kid-at-college texting equivalent. When the markets are rough and clients are scared, the "I'm-not-sure-this-is-right-for-me" e-mail is guaranteed to arrive in my in-box.
Psychology professor Timothy Wilson writes in his book, "Redirect - The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change,'' that it's not "the objective world that influences us but how we represent and interpret the world." The difficulty is that we often think that we are being objective when we really aren't.
Why do certain clients view stock market pullbacks as catastrophes and others as buying opportunities? It has little to do with what's happening in the moment. It's really about how they are interpreting the environment and how that could affect their imagined future. When my daughter writes that "Everyone knows people," she is expressing discomfort in a new situation. When a client writes "The economy looks really bad," they are expressing their concerns about their tomorrow.
While there is certainly some truth in both of these statements, it is not the complete story. If they are treated as such, then different decisions will be made that actually will affect their futures. If "Everyone knows people" leads to our daughter isolating herself, then she will cause what she fears. If "The economy looks really bad" meant selling out of stocks on the morning of Oct. 4, then a 14 percent rally was missed.
Two years ago, one of my good friends was pushed out of a job to which he had dedicated two decades. They worked out a mutually agreeable parting and my friend had to figure out what was next. Much to his chagrin, his stay-at-home wife was not that thrilled to have her husband at home in her office. My friend discovered that his focus on work had left him with few outside interests and even fewer social relationships. A hard lesson.
"The No. 1 predictor of how happy people are is the quality of their social relationships," Wilson writes.
My friend decided that he needed to expand his network -- he made it his new job to meet with people for breakfast, lunch, and a drink after work. He met with nonprofits to share with them the corporate skills that he felt he could bring to serve them.
My friend is still out of work and times are difficult. But some of his volunteer activity has helped him create purpose while he continues to work on what's next.
Wilson says people are happier when they "confront problems rather than avoid them, plan better for the future, focus on what they can control and change, and persist when they encounter obstacles instead of giving up."
This may not make things bright today. But it will help you prepare for when the sun comes out.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is founding principal and president of Accredited Investors Inc., Edina. His Gains Losses column runs on the last Sunday of the month. His e-mail is email@example.com.