There once was a farmer whose horse escaped. 

His neighbor said, “Oh that’s terrible!”. 

The farmer shrugged and said, “Who knows?”.

The horse returned a day later with another horse.  The horse had made a friend.

The neighbor said to the farmer, “Oh, that’s wonderful!”.

The farmer shrugged and said, “Who knows?”

The farmer’s son was riding the new wild horse.  He was thrown from the horse and broke his leg.

The neighbor said, “Oh, that’s terrible!”

The farmer shrugged and said, “Who knows?”

A war broke out and the military went door to door for mandatory enlistment.  Upon reaching the farmer’s home to rally the son for war, they found him bed ridden with a broken leg.  They wished him well and left.

Who knows?

In a similar vein, I used to give golf lessons.  People I instructed would frequently report back after a practice session or after a good round with: “Mitch, I’ve finally figured it out!”.

My time spent in competition has led me to only one logical conclusion about how to approach your progress in golf (or any pursuit): Who knows?

You never figure “it” out.  In fact, I don’t even know what “it” is.  Whether you play golf or not, you know that whatever hobby, interest, or pursuit – there is no end.  No figuring it out.  There is only progress.  Only improvement.  And even then, there are two steps forward, one step back.  That’s the only way.

Who knows where we are in that process?  No one, including ourselves.

If you watched the recent docuseries, The Last Dance – chronicling the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan’s run in the 1990s – you might have heard an interesting line in the final episode.  This is paraphrasing one reporter’s commentary:

So many people face the challenge of projecting the insecurity of their past on their future.  People travel to India and spend a decade to find the present moment.  They do yoga, they meditate, they’ll do anything to be ‘here’ now.  Michael’s edge was not that he could jump higher, shoot better, or run faster.  His edge was that he was always in the moment.  Why would he worry about missing a shot that he hasn’t taken yet?”

Was his next shot ripping net?  Who knows?  Not him, not me, not you.

In regards to investing, a concept that’s become abundantly clear to me is that embracing the unknown and being in the present moment might be the greatest investment technique. 

What great irony that ‘planning for the future’ begs for being in the moment.  Because, if we don’t, we project our ‘insecure past on our future self’ per the reporter in the Bulls docuseries.  We get greedy.  We get scared. 

Frequently, in the ‘financial planning’ process, I’m struck by how much we plan based upon insecurities of our past.  We want to provide something we didn’t have as a child.  Or, we were given something as a child and we’d feel like failures if we don’t do the same for our children.  Or, simply attaching goals and earmarking milestones helps provide knowns to unknowns.  The irony being: we still don’t know, but we’ve tricked ourselves into relieving some of that anxiety.

The farmer, the reporter’s comments on MJ, my experience providing golf lessons – have led me to a place where ‘financial planning’ is better served as ‘financial positioning’.  In many cases, I have a growing suspicion that our industry has mis-served in keeping the focus on investment returns, amassing wealth, and planning out each year of our lives.  Which sounds great until you face the question: Who knows?

Our (the financial planning industry) job is to improve your quality of life.  That’s not always done by creating the largest nest egg (though it helps).  Planning every year and making the spreadsheets jive also might cause more harm than good.  Writer Seth Godin famously says, “When something might not work is when the magic happens.”

I prefer terms like ‘directionally accurate’ and ‘financial positioning’ over ‘planning’. 

Let’s establish our North Star. Get pointed in the right direction.  Do the work with gratitude.  And be in financial position to strike when we’re being nudged or opportunity presents. 

There are significant considerations that create good financial positioning:

  • Liquidity: Considerations are emergency needs, near-term obligations, potential investment opportunities, primary/second homes
  • Income & Tax Diversifation: Creating processes around not relying on a singular income and diversifying how these sources are taxed.
  • Asset Allocation: Rather than chase returns, what amount of risk is necessary to keep you ‘directionally accurate’?  We often get this misaligned.  So your neighbor got 5% more than you this year.  So what?  What if you aren’t aimed in the same direction?
  • Contingency Plans: Life happens.  How do you keep your family in position in the event of high risk, low probability situations?
  • Automated Savings – Helps grow wealth, keep wealth, and teaches us to live without.  There are many avenues for this.

I really do appreciate the efforts I often see with people combing through every detail of their finances with beautiful spreadsheets and the years ahead planned out.  Microsoft Excel is the 3rd most used application on my computer.  I get it, and it certainly beats the alternative of negligence and the burden ultimately landing on someone else’s plate.  My only wish for all of us is a little more contentment with: “Who knows?”. 

Predict the future of the post pandemic world a little less.  Plan your retirement life a little less.  Within the narrow scope of my own life experience and in the trenches of well thought out retirement plans, the feedback is nearly always the same in hindsight: No decade ever plays out as expected.  Be in position and worry less about the plan.

After all – Who knows?

Stay calm.  Stay invested.

Thanks for reading,

Mitch

See disclaimers.

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