In his book, "What the Dog Saw," Malcolm Gladwell talks about puzzles vs. mysteries. Regardless of how difficult it may be to understand, puzzles have solutions. If you work hard enough, you can solve them.
Mysteries have no answers because there are too many variables that affect outcomes. Mysteries are about uncertainty. In fact, we tend to overcomplicate them by absorbing too much information.
As the year comes to a close, I was thinking about how often we try to turn the mystery of financial planning into a solvable puzzle.
Understanding your cash flow is a puzzle. You can figure out where your money is going and determine whether you are spending it in accordance with your values and budget. Your estate plan is a puzzle. You can figure out who gets what assets when you die. Tax planning is a puzzle. Decisions around insurance are puzzles and how you work to get out of debt is a puzzle.
Even if puzzles are complex, they are solvable. Good advice adds to desired outcomes.
How the stock market is going to perform next year is a mystery. How you are going to feel about the money you have saved is a mystery. Whether to help your kids or pay for schooling or which job to take or how long your marriage or business partnership will last are mysteries.
With mysteries, you have to be willing to adapt because you may not get what you expected.
More important, you need to try to become comfortable with impermanence. The good news is that we are not giving up control — we never had it in the first place.
We can switch up puzzles. We can get our financial houses in order by understanding those things that have the biggest financial effect on our daily lives: how we spend and save our money.
We have control over getting a will drafted and having those uncomfortable money discussions.
But in 2020, let's try to become comfortable with the mystery. Mysteries have many answers, but no one right answer.
We do better by managing ourselves rather than trying to manage those around us. We do better by talking about the things with which we are uncomfortable rather than running from them. We do better by acknowledging that we have survived even our worst days, so we will be able to handle what comes our way no matter how difficult it seems. And we can look forward to knowing that how the story ends will remain a mystery.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.