When U2 sang, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” they perpetuated the greatest myth of all time. The truth is we always find what we’re looking for. The problem is that we don’t always believe that we were looking for it.
I was talking to two different clients whose college-educated children wanted to pursue full-time music careers. One client claims to support the idea, recognizing that there will be struggles from which their kid will grow. The other is against the idea, believing that their child should put their degree to use by having a “real” job during the day and working on music at night. One interpretation could be that one client is encouraging the child to pursue his or her dream while the other client issuing a wake-up call. A different way of looking at it could be that one client wants the child to experience different aspects of life (work and music) to make a more informed decision, while the other client wants the child to be focused on one part of his or her life. There are even more explanations, but the point is that each client sees the situation in a way that affirms what they are looking for.
We are never objective. We each have a lens through which we see the world. Most of us try to seek ways to support that view (confirmation bias) even if we proclaim to not care. This difficulty in not understanding alternatives often leads to problems. In the example with the children, there are different issues — what does the child want, what does the parent want for the child, what does support (financial and emotional) mean, how can a relationship be maintained when goals are at odds, etc. Listening without judgment or interruption or agreeing to a Devil’s Advocate role are ways to address our biases.
We always find what we are looking for in everything from politics to finances. If you think that there will be a market correction, you will find others in your camp. If you love stocks, you will find supporting research on this as well. Again, objectivity is elusive. A strategy that helps is to read a variety of perspectives — the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and your local paper each may look at subjects from different angles; often reporting includes inferences and certainly editorials are opinions, so reading different publications will increase your knowledge base. But this only helps if you are trying to see a different angle. Be genuinely interested in different viewpoints.
What you’re looking for is in front of your nose, but the best decisions come from valuing what you aren’t looking for.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.