Generosity flows from confidence and leads to confidence.

We are generous when we are feeling confident about the future.  We give our time and money freely when we have the confidence we can overcome life’s future challenges.

When we are generous with our time and money, we also remind ourselves of our own good fortune, and of all the resources we have at our disposal as we face an uncertain future. When we see the world from a place of gratitude and abundance, we feel more confident.

Build your confidence; be generous.

Fear is the single largest obstacle that stands between us and investment success.  Intellectually, we understand all the logic behind creating and maintaining a diversified portfolio, sticking with stocks for the long run, investing money on a regular basis, and not getting swayed by short-term market swings.  But all that logic seems to go out the window when we watch our portfolio decline in value as the market plunges. Our brain might say to hold on, but our stomach screams SELL, SELL, SELL.

The antidote to fear is not logic.  Strong emotional reactions need strong emotional medicine.  The next time you feel that pit in your stomach as the market drops precipitously, try asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Can I predict the future? (Hint: The answer is always no.)
  2. What do I rely on as I face an uncertain future? Is it my close relationships with family and friends, my intelligence, my faith in God, my resilience, or something else?
  3. What ten things am I most grateful for in my life?

When you finish answering these questions, see if you feel a bit calmer.  My bet is that you will, and you’ll be less likely to overreact to a short-term market move.

We all have our challenges.  Our children are driving us crazy.  Too much going on at work, and not enough time to get it done.  Our body sends us daily reminders that life is not what it used to be.

Few of us, however, face challenges comparable to Susan Spender-Wendell’s.  Susan was a well-respected journalist at the Palm Beach Post, happily married with three young children, when she learned at age 44 that she had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.  ALS is a gradually debilitating motor neuron disease. There is no cure and most people die of respiratory failure within three to five years.

Susan faced a choice about how to live the rest of her life; the same choice each of us faces every morning.  Susan chose to embrace life, to focus on what she could do, and to live with joy as she so inspirationally shares in her new book, “Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living with Joy.”

Susan prioritized. She focused on doing the things she could still do before her disease eliminated those options.  She traveled to the Arctic to see the Northern lights, went on a cruise with her sister, toured around Greece to meet relatives she tracked down after finally learning about her biological father, now deceased, and planned a trip with each of her two older children.

The most poignant moment in the book may be when she takes her 14-year-old to New York where they make a trip to a bridal shop. Susan asks her daughter to try on wedding dresses, knowing she won’t be there when she gets married.

As we age, we all face a similar, although far less traumatic, and dramatic challenge. While we may not know when or what we will die of, as Susan does, we slowly lose our ability to do what we once could. No matter how well we eat and how much we exercise, we all suffer physical and mental losses as we move into our later years. That is just life, unavoidable.

We do have a choice, however, in how we live our lives as we age.

Like Susan, we can choose to focus on doing the things that require physical and mental exertion sooner rather than later. If you have always dreamed of visiting America’s national parks, going to Machu Picchu in Peru or taking a bike trip with your adult children, there is no time like the present.

We can also embrace and be grateful for what we can do, instead of lamenting what we can no longer do. I have a friend who loved to golf.  Between his hips and knees, golfing has become too difficult. Instead of bemoaning the loss of golfing with his buddies, he has taken up bridge and created a whole new set of friendships.

Susan writes of taking a dip in her pool and while floating on her stomach, realizes she no longer has the strength to lift her head. After her friends pull her to safety, she realizes she can no longer swim. “So how shall I handle it? Pine away for something I can no longer do? Something I adored? No,” she writes. “For that is the path to the loony bin. To want something you can never have.”

Time is our most precious and scarcest resource.  For those dreams that require strength and stamina, remember that a dream delayed might become a dream denied.  Instead of lamenting over what you can no longer do, focus on what you can do to add meaning and joy to your life.

And don’t wait to do what you have always wanted to do.  Because, as we all know, tomorrow is promised to nobody.  Choose life.

I don’t think anybody grows up hoping to be mediocre.  We all want to be successful.  We want to feel proud about our accomplishments, our life.

When we start a new endeavor, we typically imagine what success would look like.  I remember enrolling as a freshman at Emory University and defining success in purely academic terms.  I wanted to graduate near the top of my class and be admitted to a top five law school.

My definition of success served me well, and it served me poorly.  On the plus side, it motivated me to go to class and study.  I graduated near the top of my class and was admitted to two of the top five law schools.

On the negative side, my definition of success blinded me to other opportunities.  Although I had a small group of great friends, I missed the chance to connect with more people and I never got involved in any student organizations.  Maybe most importantly, I passed on numerous opportunities to experience the joy of being a college student by just having fun.

We all want to be successful.  How we define success impacts how we choose to live our lives.  So, my question to you is simple.  How is your definition of success working for you?

We crave freedom.  The ability to do what we want, when we want to do it.

We equate freedom with money.

All I need is enough money to get to the Promised Land. 

With enough money, I can live in the home I desire, drive the car of my dreams, and stay in the finest hotels when I travel. 

With enough money, I can stop being a slave to my work. I can do what I want to do.

But it’s all an illusion, a mirage.  When we equate freedom with money, we deny ourselves the opportunity to feel free.  Why?  Because we all have an infinite capacity to imagine scenarios where we lose our money.  When we imagine those terrible scenarios, we feel scared and anxious, not free at all.

It’s an illusion that distracts us from a compelling truth:  We already have the capacity to be free. 

Freedom is the ability to face an uncertain future with clarity, courage, and confidence.

We need clarity about what really matters to us, and about what we want our life to be.

We need courage to take that first step from what we know to what we want.

We need confidence that we will figure out how to deal with whatever adversity comes our way.

What can you do to get the clarity, courage, and confidence you need to be free at last?

Have you seen the bumper sticker, “He Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins”?  Do you ever wonder, wins what?

In America we use money as a way to keep score.  Our focus on what people earn and how much money they have is pervasive. Football coaches take a new job, and the press immediately reports how much they are being paid. They don’t report on what their plan is to build a winning program, or better yet, what their plan is to develop the young men under their care into thriving responsible adults. We compare CEOs not by the impact their companies have on society, but by how much money they earn.

Our culture is so focused on money that we lose sight of the fact that time, not money, is our scarcest resource, and the most important things in life can’t be purchased.

How are you using your wealth?  Do you spend more time thinking about the size of your balance sheet than the quality of your most important relationships?  Are you more focused on how your income compares to those around you than the positive impact you can make on the people around you?

He who dies with the most toys leaves a lot of toys behind.  He who builds a life of close relationships and meaningful work leaves the world a better place than he found it.

What legacy to do you want to leave?

Many people ask what the stock market will do next. It is a common question that gets even more common when the market corrects a little or surges even higher.  We all know that the short-term market movement is unknowable; yet, we all look for an answer as to what the future holds.

We seek the most reliable forecast, a guru that has correctly forecasted the markets at least once. Yet, with very few exceptions, market and economic forecasts are little more than guesses. In the Consensus Forecasts report, economists predicted that not a single economy would fall into recession in 2009. In reality, 49 of the 77 countries considered fell into recession that year. Another example of the failure of forecasting was revealed in the 2001 International Journal of Forecasting which published an economist’s survey of the accuracy of economic forecasting during the 1990’s.  The survey found that the economic forecast failure rate was virtually unblemished.

That finding is extraordinary.  Just to be clear, we believe that many experts throughout the world have thoughtful insights.  However, a forecast is just a guess and certainly not a guarantee.  Investors should not put much stock in them.  As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.  If you follow enough forecasts, there is a probability that at least one will be right. The problem is that no one knows which forecast will be right and if the person who happened to get it right last time will be successful next time, and the time after that.

Meredith Whitney, a former analyst on CitiBank stock, showed remarkable prescience by correctly forecasting the credit crunch.  But she then made an outlandish prediction about the municipal bond market performance and defaults for Year 2011.  You may recall her appearance on “60 Minutes” in 2010.  Whitney’s prediction was utterly off base.  Municipal bonds outperformed expectations in 2011 and there were very few defaults, making her second, very public prediction one of the worst financial predications of the last few years.

So the next time you are tempted to change your portfolio’s allocation based on a forecast you have read or heard somewhere, or one that you came up with yourself, you might be wise to think again. Do you really want to bet your hard-earned life savings on someone’s guesses?  Perhaps your time would be better spent focusing on your goals.

When I graduated 30 years ago, my plan was to pursue the “American Dream.” I would work hard and earn enough money to own my home, drive a nice car, send my kids to college, enjoy wonderful vacations, and have enough money to retire comfortably.

I did it. I checked all the boxes: home, car, college, vacation, money for retirement.

And, then in my 50s, I started to wonder, ”Is this all there is? Is life really just about the things money can buy?”

Of course not. Virtually all of us value our closest relationships more than our stuff. We understand the joy of helping someone else often trumps the pleasure of a shiny new purchase. We love engaging in activities that fuel our passions and grab our attention.

Our challenge is that the pursuit of the American Dream often leads us astray. Our pursuit of more money, so we can buy more stuff, takes us away from what really matters to us.

We know this, yet we continue to chase the Dream. Why? Because we get a short-term happiness burst when we buy the new thing. It feels good, but when the pleasure quickly fades,  we are left longing for more, so we look for another hit, the next luxury purchase.

What is the answer? Regularly remind yourself about what provides you lasting satisfaction, and focus your attention on the pursuit of those experiences.

Don’t let the American Dream lead you astray.

We don’t get the life we want. We get the life we manage to create, and we create our lives through the choices we make.

It is not always easy to make the right choices.  We live in a culture that tells us the path to happiness is filled with luxury cars, luxury homes, and luxury experiences.  Somehow the things we purchase will give us the happiness we desire.

Yet, if we pause, we quickly realize how insane that premise is.  We know the pleasure of owning a new car or enjoying a luxury vacation is fleeting.

Real happiness comes from having at least a handful of close intimate relationships. It comes from engaging in high-challenge, high-skill activities that demand our complete attention.  And it comes from the deep satisfaction we feel by making a positive difference in the lives of others.

What are happy choices? Those that support close relationships, engaging activities, and the opportunity to make a positive difference.

Our happy choices might include living in smaller homes with shorter commutes that allow us to spend more time with our family.  They might include giving less lavish holiday gifts in order to free up funds for making a positive difference in the world around us. Maybe it means choosing to pursue a new job or business opportunity that will allow us to more frequently engage our Signature Talents.

Each of us must decide for ourselves what choices are right for us.

What are your happy choices?

Five simple words that changed the focus of Apollo 13′s mission from landing a man on the moon to getting our men home alive.  With the new mission clearly defined, the team at NASA  pulls together, improvises, and pushes the limits of every system on the Apollo 13 to get our men home safely.

When we are clear about our mission, our goal, we can accomplish great things.  It helps us focus our attention and our resources on what matters most.  It helps us enlist the support of others.  It gives us the energy to keep going when the going gets tough.

All too often, in our personal lives, our mission is muddled.  We are so busy pursuing society’s vision of success that we lose touch with what matters most to us. Because we are disconnected from ourselves, we end up feeling confused and wondering if this is all there is to life.

If this blog resonates with you, pause for a moment and consider what matters most to you.  If you need some help getting started, reach out to us and inquire about our Life Priorities ™ exercise, our process designed to help you get in touch with your most important desires.

Because if you don’t know where you are going, it is impossible to focus your wealth on how to get there.

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