Maybe it’s the proliferation of online content and “click bait”, or maybe it’s our human desire for shortcuts and easy answers, but is anyone else coming across more investing “dos and don’ts” columns these days than ever before? Online and in newspapers, I think more advice has been written in the last year than through all of recorded history. On its own, each piece seems reasonable, but I think something just doesn’t sit right when you take them all together in context. I agree that topics like what to buy and when to buy it is really important, as is how to plan one’s estate to minimize taxes, for example, but I think stopping there misses out on the real core of financial advice: not just how to handle money, but how to think about handling it.
Do people that have a lot of it think differently? Do people that make a lot of it think different than people who already have it? Do people that earn it through work think differently than people who receive it as a gift? Yes, yes, and yes. But even categorizing into questions like these only scratches the surface.
Speaking from experience, I’ve been a prime offender of the “advice column” mentality myself, as my loyal readers can attest. But after years now of managing a growing sum of money for other people and myself, what I’ve noticed is that the most successful (and happiest!) clients among us benefit from two particular and not-so-common traits you can’t learn from a list or an article: a balanced temperament and emotional self-awareness. However you define success, investment and otherwise, there is a certain amount of in-tune-ness shared among high performers. They don’t force themselves to fit into some imaginary pre-set “money-making” template because they recognize there is none. Instead, they are deeply considerate individuals that habitually check in with how they feel and how they think about their choices. Practicing yogis would call it “mindfulness”, and philosophers might say something like “know thyself” – they are in tune with a sense of self-awareness. It seems to offer a distinct ability to be comfortable in making long term decisions and openly accepting the results.
So this week instead of a list of answers about how to achieve investment success, here’s a list of questions.
- How deeply are you willing to be curious and how hard are you willing to work to satisfy that curiosity?
- Does matching the consensus opinion move you in the right direction or away from it?
- Where do you set your boundaries? Are you willing to invest yourself into your choices or are your choices separate from you?
- Are you able to summarize the arguments against your choices? Can you describe those arguments better than your critics?
- Is it easier to change your mind or change the question?
- How do you resist the urge to tell yourself (or others) what they want to hear?
- It is more important to do the right thing, or do things right?