The Value of Right Now: Two Lessons From Michael Jordan

Two years ago, when Michael Jordan turned 50, Wright Thompson wrote a captivating piece on the man from Wilmington. Thompson documents the struggles Jordan has faced as he grows older,Jordan becomes further and further removed from his younger genius. To read it is to be confronted with a man who is flailing wildly for a sense of identity, struggling to understand what purpose he could possibly have now that he can no longer do what he feels he was made to do.

Jordan’s birthday was Tuesday, and as I revisited the Thompson piece, it struck me that being fully present in the moment is integral to life, and to the process of financial planning, but sometimes we are so caught up in the future and/or the past that we miss the present altogether.

‘”How can I enjoy the next 20 years without so much of this consuming me?” [Jordan] asks, sitting behind his desk as his cellphone buzzes with trade offers. “How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?”‘

Lesson 1: The foundation of planning for your financial future is built Today. Be fully here. Michael’s identity for so long was wrapped up in his craft, consumed with winning the next game, and the pain he expresses above reminds me of the problem Sam wrote about two weeks ago. This problem has very little to do with money and very much to do with all of the sudden finding ourselves in the future we had been rushing toward, without having learned to be fully present upon arrival. I say “learned,” because it takes practice to plan for the future while understanding the future is made up of present moments. Though it’s not intuitive as we plan for our financial goals, the more fully we cultivate life in the here and now, the more equipped we will be to live that future when it arrives.

‘”It’s consumed me so much,” [Jordan] says. “I’m my own worst enemy. I drove myself so much that I’m still living with some of those drives. I’m living with that. I don’t know how to get rid of it. I don’t know if I could. And here I am, still connected to the game.”‘

Lesson 2: Learn from your financial past; don’t be enslaved to it. Moving on is something Michael Jordan has not done. In his mind he is still a basketball player. He is making 30-year old decisions at 52. We are not immune. Our historical experiences can lead to poor decisions in the present. Some of us were positioned to bear the full brunt of events like the Great Recession, and as a result have pulled out of the stock market completely, leaving limited options for our future. Others of us were fortunate (or lucky) in the past, and have positioned ourselves to bear the brunt of the next downturn, again leaving limited options for the future. We can allow the past to confuse what is necessary today, rather than learning from it as best we can and moving on in wisdom.

Please do not hear me saying that thinking about the past and the future is not important. It is VERY important. What I am suggesting is that we often go through the financial planning process (and life) without a proper grasp of what matters right now. What matters right now is looking around us: What is it that we and our families actually value? Who are the people we love most, and how are we treasuring them? Is our vocation providing us an outlet for our greatest talents, or do we need to look for other places to use them? What brings us joy, and how are we currently pursuing that?

Only when we are more fully aware and present in the now can we learn best from the past and set a course for the future, finding and continually refining the tension between the two. That’s what good financial planning is all about.

Jared Korver
[email protected]

A product of small-town North Carolina (Carthage, to be exact), I’m proudly married to my best friend and co-adventurer, Amy. Together, we have two sons–Miles and Charlie–and could more or less start a library from our home. I love being outside, can’t read enough, am in the habit of writing haikus, and find food and coffee to be among life’s greatest treasures.