Live and Learn

We can all be sure that the future will unfold differently than we expect and hope.  Sometimes not as well as we want, sometimes surprisingly better.

The future is made up of many components.  We notice change when something that we thought was one way turns out to be another. Sometimes it is because we were wrong about how things work.  Sometimes it is because the world with which we interact changed.

How that difference affects us depends on how we prepare.

We plan.  Everything from the way to get past a detour on our way to work, to finding the right spouse, to how to have enough wealth to retire.  Our plans are nearly certain to fail unless they are monitored and modified.  The world we live in is complex and we never anticipate everything.  Successful people prepare options.

The way we organize our lives is a structure.  Plans are structures.  Hopes are structure.  They don’t all work out.

A structure that is subjected to stress can behave in one of three ways.

  1. It will collapse.  The stress will destroy it.  Lose a job.  Divorce. Injury or disease.
  2. It will continue to stand as before.  Robust is the usual idea.  Strong and resilient.
  3. It will flourish.  Somehow the change is positive even though it might seem as failure or at best chaos.

If we knew our plans would flourish, change would present no obstacle.  It would be welcome.

So why is change a problem?  Because we build most of our plans to be just robust. At best.  Sometimes we tone down our expectations to meet observed reality. Sad!

Robust should be your minimum plan.

For investments over a long time, diversity will achieve that, but flourish isn’t too likely.  Should we take a tiny part of the portfolio and invest to take advantage of outrageous but possible change.  Maybe gold.  Maybe options.  It has worked for some people.  Remember – tiny share.

In the other part of our life, the important part, it is about attitude.  Unexpected losses can lead to previously unseen opportunities.  Some successes close down further options.  We can never tell without noticing what happened.  Experience only works if you reflect on it.

We must stay open-minded, critical and curious.  We must learn how to do that.  For some reason few people teach this skill.  You learn as you go.

A few things we do know.  Pride gets in the way.  Avoid pride. Fear gets in the way.  Avoid fear.  Impatience is a problem.  Thinking we have reached the goal gets in the way.  Always build new goals as one is accomplished.

This advice should not be news.  We have had this knowledge for a long time.  As Socrates said, “For a human being, an unexamined life is not worth living.”

Live and learn.


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Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact:  

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