We often care more about being right than doing what is right. This has far reaching consequences.
First, a quick story:
This was the sound of my high school basketball coach grasping for straws as we fell further behind on the scoreboard. He was calling for my teammate “Combs” – not me. It was always a toss up who got thrown to the wolves last between the two of us. For the record, Combs was a great guy.
“Are you kidding?” I’d think (with an expletive). I’d been in this program since grade school. “How am I buried on the bench?” Another F-bomb.
Our program was abysmal. From middle school through high school, we saw three different Varsity coaches at the helm. I can’t remember for sure – but I think we won a maximum of 6 games between my junior and senior year combined.
Yes, I rode pine – as they say – for a really bad team. To this day, I carry resentment over my playing time. All these years later – a wonderful family, great career, happy life – and this trivial high school melodrama is still a chip on my shoulder. Hey, we all have scars.
In search of quarantine activities, we added a basketball hoop a few months back. As I half watch our kids play and half shoot hoops myself, my mind wanders back to my time on the bench.
A neighbor startles me from my trance. “You must have been a heck of an athlete”. I feel so disconnected from his comments, as I reminisce about picking splinters from by rear.
Then, I sort of understand what he’s saying. They see a former college golfer who now stands at 6’3’’ and refuses to let his 6-year-old daughter beat him in a casual game of PIG.
One notable piece that I can’t ignore is that I’m no longer the person who rode the bench physically. I was a shrimp. While everyone else was growing beards, I might have been sprouting a pimple. When I finally did grow, I was more suited for a different role. Watching me play basketball with a growth spurt was more like watching Bambi leave the den for the first time.
More importantly, as I now dribble on our quiet neighborhood street and make our kids practice their defense on me, I realize how little I practiced like this in high school off-seasons. Sweat rolls down my back trying to cross over our toddler who screams for the ball. It’s 90+ degrees. “Where was this 20 years ago?” I think to myself.
The reality was that my focus was elsewhere. Playing competitive golf consumed me. After that, I was your typical high school kid just trying to fit in. Time was spent on social status.
I spent next to no time outside of the basketball season trying to get better. And, to be sure, there was time to do so – I just didn’t carve it out. So, all reasonings that made me feel entitled for more playing time when “Combs!” was yelled were very moot.
The resentment harbored towards teammates and coaches was grossly misplaced energy. Ultimately, my anger was with myself for wasting time. Legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, seems appropriate for right now:
“The true test of a person’s character is what they do when no one else is watching.”
No matter our role at any given point, there’s a ‘chopping of wood’ that’s inherent to any task. This daily chopping largely goes unnoticed and isn’t glamorous. I didn’t chop wood.
Some of my teammates did, some didn’t. But, who cares? I’m pretty sure resentment is never useful, and my right to it certainly was gone with my unwillingness to pick up the ax. I was focused on being right about my time on the court vs doing what was right.
Author on leadership, Simon Sinek, has written:
“Bad leaders care about who’s right. Good leaders care about what’s right.”
This story of “righteousness” surely can resonate for all of us – that’s to say, we get stuck on being right vs doing what’s right.
We can see this everywhere. Politics are easy to pick on.
Republicans: “All they want to do is raise your taxes!”
Democrats: “There’s so much inequality! They’re evil!”
What simpletons. If they want their messages to resonate, maybe they rephrase. And, I don’t think this is too Kumbaya.
Republicans: “We have a free enterprise system. We can use it to better alleviate wealth inequality here at home.”
Democrats: “We need to do something about those left behind. Maybe we can use our free enterprise system to help bring everyone up.”
Yes, I said the same thing and just flipped the sentence order. In my opinion, that’s how eerily similar we are to one other, but are too stubborn to see it. We’re too stuck in being right.
I recently Tweeted this below:
While I don’t expect you to agree entirely, if you can’t find some kernel of truth in this, I might suggest you’re caught in ‘being right’ vs ‘doing what’s right’.
Focusing on being right is very constraining. If we can give ourselves a small glimmer of the possibility of being wrong, we might start to breath better. If we offer ourselves the possibility that we’re likely wrong about a lot of things, the shackles fall to the floor. We become more liberated to think and act more clearly than ever before. We’re not attached to being right. We only care about doing what’s right.
When we only care about what is right – not who – blame goes away. Finger pointing ceases to exist. Anger and confusion subside. Personal responsibility soars. All we can do is polish the mirror. There’s no one to ‘be right’ against.
For investors of all levels, we can’t run from the simple truth below. It has nothing to do with being right and only concerns doing the right things “when no one else is watching.” (Reference back to Wooden).
Recall Morgan Housel’s succinct insight here from a previous post:
One of the greatest privileges of my job is seeing extremely bright and experienced people get caught in their own story line. I say ‘privilege’ because it’s a great reflection tool for me and, hopefully, recyclable for others. Not one of us is immune. Our personal narratives can get the best of us in drastic times and slow/compounding times – i.e. pandemics or reaffirmed biases day after day.
There was a 2013 psychological study done called the End-of-History Illusion. Its basic premise is that we drastically underestimate our potential for personal growth. We think we have experienced significant growth up to the present moment, but that growth will greatly reduce moving forward (i.e. we’ve already figured it out).
Overwhelmingly, the data suggests that we’re very bad at predicting what will make our future selves happy – both young and old. We aren’t right.
Maybe, just maybe, we’re all wrong about a lot of stuff.
Our lens of righteousness can become so thick that the attachment to being right supersedes curiosity. We keep reading the same publications, we watch the same shows, we look for books to confirm what we already think and feel.
We might even get to the point where we can’t talk politics with one another…
(Is this thing on?)
Whether it be our personal wealth situations or the wealth situation for our entire country, it seems to me, one of the most detrimental hurdles is ‘righteousness’.
It freezes an individual from getting started. It can derail someone well on their way. It can make for a lonely rich person. And, it can keep groups of people from talking. There’s no faster way to create a barrier between your goals and other people than needing to be right.
Let’s be fine with wrong. It’s the only vaccine.
Stay calm. Stay invested.
Thanks for reading,