Anyone who reads my column regularly probably knows I’m a planner. There are rarely occasions where I make a decision before researching the matter in depth weighing both the pros and the cons. This desire to always have a plan, probably stems from the fact that I feel an overwhelming need to always be in control. This attribute is something that helps me be very effective in the world of personal finance where without a plan you can quickly find yourself in trouble.
In a world of unlimited opportunities, but limited resources, it makes sense to have a plan before deciding a course of action. However, experiences in my life have also taught me that no matter how much planning you do or how much control you attempt to gain, the truth is the power we convince ourselves we have, is more often than not, just an illusion.
Several years ago, when I first learned I was going to be a father my natural planning tendencies went into overdrive, from setting up college savings accounts, to baby-proofing the home, to making sure we had adequate life and health insurance just in case the unspeakable were to occur. From a planning standpoint we had done everything we could to protect ourselves and our new son from harm. Yet, just after his first birthday our son Ethan was admitted to Children’s Mercy Hospital for several life threatening conditions within just a couple of months.
How clearly I recall having a one-on-one conversation with God while driving behind the ambulance during the first of these incidents. I pleaded for His mercy while acknowledging that in the end He was the one in control. I am grateful to say God’s mercy was shone to me and Ethan is now a happy and healthy six year old kid. But, it was during that time of great difficulty that I learned a valuable lesson. In the end, despite all of our best efforts there is very little in life that we have total control of.
Recent volatility in the market has reminded me once again of this very basic fact. Over the past few weeks, fears of a trade war between the US and China have once again caused the market to go down and with it people’s nest eggs. At the same time, escalating tensions between the US and Iran could impact global markets particularly the energy sector. During times like this it is easy for people to become frightened about what the future holds. While this distress, particularly for retirees, is understandable, it is not beneficial. The reality of the situation is the market is out of our control. Worrying about the stock market doesn’t make it go up a single point.
The art of letting go of fear and worry is not something I have come anywhere near mastering. In our current 24/7 news culture that seems to peddle all fear all the time, I know I’m not the only one who can find themselves lying awake at night afraid of something that might happen in the future. This kind of unbridled worry is dangerous. It can cause reasonable people to make irrational decisions and make a bad situation much worse.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m in no way saying that we should simply be spectators in our own future. There’s an old saying that we should “pray as if everything depends on God, but work as if everything depends on us.” In my opinion this is the balance all of those who believe in a higher power must strike. We must do all that we can to be wise stewards of what God has given us, but in the end recognize that it’s all His to begin with and He will do with it as He pleases.
Helping our clients to be a good steward is what we, and thousands of other financial advisors, attempt to do every day for our clients. Putting together a wise financial plan that projects a reasonable rate of return and factors in unanticipated challenges helps increase the chances of financial success for those who follow them. However, no matter how experienced your advisor is, in the end neither they, nor you, can ever eliminate the threat of things going wrong. That’s why I think it becomes imperative that at some point we say to ourselves, we’ve done all that we can and relinquish control to the one who is omnipotent and rest easy knowing His plan will never fail.