When people come to our offices after a major change such as a death or divorce, they are sometimes frozen.
What I often hear is people expressing their fears around doing the wrong thing. What I have come to realize though is that a much greater financial fear for people is doing the right thing.
A client called me regarding her work situation and was going to be making a decision that would have significant financial and social implications. Her thoughts and feelings poured out as I sat on the phone simply listening. I asked a question or two, but mostly was quiet. After around five minutes, she came to a decision that was going to cost her a lot of money and save her a lot of emotional anguish. Before she hung up, she told me how helpful it was to talk to me, even though I said almost nothing. She chose to do what was unexpected — trade the money for peace — but the right thing for her. She knew the answer, she just had to spend time to get there.
The right thing is always inside us, we may just choose to bury it, ignore it or run from it. The right thing could be counter cultural, personal rather than positional, and initially difficult, but if we don't do it, then it pulls on us in ways that can make our lives unravel.
There are a few ways to help get to the right thing. One way is to reframe the issue. In our company, one of the ways we try to reframe mistakes is to ask if this mistake would cost us a dollar to fix, what would we do. This takes the money part out of it which helps prevent rationalization. It also means that a person who made a mistake is more likely to acknowledge it, enabling us to potentially alter procedures.
Another way to get to the right thing is to get quiet. We create distractions because we are uneasy about the problem in front of us. Clients may make big decisions as a way not to confront issues directly. A troubled marriage results in a major home project. Kid problems become a job change. We move away rather than toward the causes of our uneasiness. Getting quiet is, in Pema Chodron's terms, the wisdom of no escape. The answer my be sticking with where we are and attempting to better understand ourselves through it. The right thing is often to do nothing.
Checking things out with those who know you will help you get to the right thing. Ironically, these often are not the people from whom we seek validation because we fear what they are going to say.
If you are going to make a mistake, make it by doing the right thing.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the chief executive & founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.