Worry is a useless emotion – an attempt to exert control over something unknown. When we worry, usually what we’re left with is the same result regardless, but with a few less hours of sleep. Ultimately, we also justify the worry because it would be too much to bear that the sacrifice (loss of sleep, loss of joy, etc) was for nothing.
Author / Investor, Morgan Housel writes in his book The Psychology of Money (Chapter 5, Getting Wealthy v. Staying Wealthy):
“There are a million ways to get wealthy, and plenty of books on how to do so. But there’s only one way to stay wealthy: some combination of frugality and paranoia.”
Morgan proceeds to do a masterful job of providing examples of reckless wealthy people, seemingly incredibly intelligent and seasoned individuals, that lost sight of their blind side. He illustrates from the mass affluent to the ultra-wealthy, that what seems like ours forever can easily slip through our fingertips.
But I ask: does not being reckless – being prudent, let’s say – have to include worry, fear, paranoia? What’s the yield on worry? I think Morgan’s onto something, but we need to go a little deeper.
The counter punch to this sentiment could be Mary Schmich’s famous ‘mock’ commencement speech that she wrote for the Chicago Tribune in 1997:
“Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.”
To Morgan’s credit, he does offer insight to getting wealthy as something of the opposite:
“Getting money requires taking risks, being optimistic, and putting yourself out there.”
This seems on par. When I reflect on risks taken in life, it’s not that those risks weren’t accompanied by worry. It’s just that nights of lost sleep were simply that – lost sleep. The worry didn’t propel me forward faster. The risks taken were calculated enough that probability was in my favor, but that’s about it. Nothing more, nothing less. Allowing time to unfold and appreciating all outcomes (good and bad) has been the provable strategy – not worry.
Now, what about preservation? Staying wealthy. Does that strategy deviate? Is it time to worry?
I must give Morgan a hat tip for referencing humility in conjunction with fear / worry. He continues:
“But keeping money requires the opposite of taking risk. It requires humility, and fear that what you’ve made can be taken away from you just as fast.”
Here is my challenge: humility and worry (or fear) don’t reveal themselves the same way. Humility naturally takes risk off the table. We recognize how much luck has played a role, and we can see the interconnectivity of everyone’s successes and failures. We’re not as self-made as we might think. This lends itself to gratitude – not just of the good stuff, but the bad stuff, too. And, because of our genuine humility, we ultimately rest on ‘having enough’. Humility, as it turns out, is that edge needed to not get greedy and play some defense.
Worry, on the other hand, comes from a place of scarcity. It’s actually the opposite of humility. Worry is seeking control, while humility acknowledges how little control we have. If we’re worried about having enough, we conduct ourselves and make choices that are completely different from a humble and grateful place. I encourage you to reflect on anytime you’ve been worried, fearful, or paranoid – you likely were more short term in your thinking, felt more gyrational, or acted less level-headed. You definitely weren’t thinking, “this, too, shall pass” (which is always the truth). This has proven to be my struggle, anyways.
There are two likely outcomes from worry: 1) Experience the suffering of worry with no practical use or 2) React to the suffering in exaggerated opposition.
Meaning, we waste time/energy in fear or we experience the same emotion on the other side of the spectrum, which ends up being a tail chasing exercise. For instance, if I’m worried that I weigh too much, I’ll likely either 1) Do nothing or 2) Create an unsustainable plan to lose weight. So, my deep-down reason for shedding pounds needs to exceed my worry in the interest of long-term success.
In parallel, I’ve also noticed there’s a tight rope to walk between humble parenting and worrisome parenting. They might look the same on the surface – caring, loving, supportive. Whether we’re setting boundaries or just being available, it seems critical to give attention to whether we’re solving for our own worry or for our child(ren)’s dilemma.
They don’t need to be mutually exclusive, but given our recent ‘eye roll’ phase, it’s pretty clear to me that kids know when you’re solving your own problem (relieving worry) vs helping them with their own. Perhaps a more humble approach is acknowledging our lack of control and simply being there for them.
Again, just my observation and I fall short daily.
Circling back to implementing a healthy dose of “worry” into your wealth preservation strategy – Morgan’s book is excellent and offers all sorts of non-obvious lessons on money’s influence in our personal lives. In Chapter 5, from above, indeed, wealth creation involves a very different strategy than wealth preservation.
We do need to go one step further, though, than leaning on worry as a preservation device.
Nowhere in life does worry assist in progress or shield us from blind spots. It’s simply an illusion to gain control where control is not attainable. Surely, worrying is inevitable, but given its uselessness, we ought to seek mitigation.
There might be a fair criticism here that seeking not to worry is a form of naiveté or eternal optimism. Although, I can never reconcile the perpetual circle worry ultimately positions us – a trapped room with nothing but white walls and no secret doors. I’m confident in saying that worry will always be apart of my life to some extent, but I will also never say, “Good thing I worried or I would have never solved that problem!”.
In the story of preservation, humility and frugality will do the trick. Simply ‘having enough’ and recognizing the role luck/good fortune has played is more effective than a meddling, almost numbing, paranoia in the background.
The current yield on worry is 0%. And, I don’t see the Fed touching this rate.
Thanks for reading,