Levin: Seeking financial answers from your 'deep gladness'

  • Article by: ROSS LEVIN
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • October 27, 2012 - 5:04 PM

Something happened to me in Ely, Minn.

I hiked with our dog among the forests and lakes, breathing the northern Minnesota air. Late that night, my wife and I went to a public access boat ramp on Burntside Lake and watched meteor showers and the Big Dipper, which seemed to take up half the night's sky.

I thought of theologian Frederick Buechner's words: "The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

Is anyone experiencing their deep gladness from this political season? Is anyone's life improving from the tenor, tone and content of these venomous campaigns? Are these in any way serving the world's deep hunger?

Turning up society's volume is far easier for many of us than tuning in to our own aspirations. We can focus on the politicians and what is going on out there because it serves as a distraction from looking at what we are experiencing within our own lives.

Money has a place, but it can't be our purpose. In spite of this year's robust stock markets, clients still feel unsettled and unsure that it may not last. But no situation lasts. Maybe during these times we can take a moment to think about what is lasting.

One of our clients is in her 80s. She was describing how lucky she feels about the life she has lived. She talked about her kids and grandchildren. She talked about the many years she spent with her late husband. She talked about charity. And she said she needed to update the letter she had written to her children describing the things that shaped her and the decisions that may have helped shape them.

Her financial security has not come from what she has, but from what she has wanted. She used to go on long bike rides and walks with her husband. When he retired, they traveled together, but not extravagantly. The things that mattered to them weren't things.

Look around you. Have you thought about from where your deep gladness is derived?

One of our clients went through a very difficult divorce where winning the battle became the overarching issue. But in a contentious divorce, there can be no winners. A friend said once, "You had an idea, now the idea has you." This client's idea was that she was not going to be taken advantage of by her ex, yet her ex was playing on a completely different field. Once she let go of the idea of winning and losing, she could accept the incoming missiles fired by a person whose purpose was punishment.

While she didn't roll over on unreasonable requests, she also didn't get hooked by them. She made the decision that her life was going to change and she would direct it, not him. She realized that the fights were more around control than money.

How do you find your deep gladness? Maybe through getting quiet and thinking about the why in your choices. I was talking with a client who had a dollar number in mind that they wanted to leave their kids. When I asked why, the client could not articulate an answer. The number may not have been wrong, but it also was not meaningful. It was only a number. Instead, by reconsidering what the couple really wanted for their children, they could evaluate their decision in all of its complexity. Did they want to show their kids that they believed in them enough to let them struggle? Did they want to help them appreciate the things that they will build on their own rather than those that are handed to them? Or did they want to provide a living standard below which the kids knew that they would not fall -- regardless of their chosen path? A considered answer matters far more than which answer.

This political season revolves around regularly pointing out the world's deep hunger. We may not agree with what the politicians can do to solve it, but we can certainly look at what we can do to make a difference for someone.

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

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