Anne Lamott is a terrific writer and, based on those writings, I suspect a not very good financial planner. But in "Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage," she writes, "At one end of the spectrum are those in the throes of lifelong forward thrust, who are focused on goals that turn out to be meaningless, greyhounds at the track who've caught the mechanical rabbit of prestige, and at the other end are people with slow-motion tragedies unfolding in their lives." There is some powerful financial-planning wisdom in that sentence.
Most of us live in both worlds, and the countless others in-between. We make decisions that at times conflict with our values but feed our need to be seen. And if we have lived and loved, we have also probably endured those slow-motion tragedies of loss or unmet expectations.
The spectrum is three-dimensional. We experience many things simultaneously. This last year, the stock markets hit record highs and those of us with investments or real estate saw our balance sheets grow while at the same time we may have felt lonely or isolated.
Having money is a big benefit in life. While it can't buy happiness, money can make us happier. There is a level of ease that we feel when we don't have to worry about the basics. The more money we have, the wider expanse of things to enjoy. It is when money is being used for chasing the mechanical rabbit that it makes us unhappy. Remember, we are only either going to spend our money or give it away. That's it.
Chasing the rabbit moves us toward the spectrum of (not-quite) tragedy when:
• We worry about losing what we have. Investments will go up or down. Stop focusing on the highest your account has ever been.
• We tie our personal value to our portfolio value. The two are unrelated, even though the world tries to connect them.
• We focus on money mistakes we made. Everyone does something stupid with money. Some stupid things work out, leading us to believe they were smart. Regardless, you are going to buy something you didn't need, sell something too early or too late or trust someone you wish you hadn't. Mistakes don't have to ruin your lives. Forgive yourself and move on.
• We compare ourselves to others. None of us know what each other has or the price we paid to get it.
If you use your money to support your values, you won't end up chasing mechanical rabbits.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.