09 Dec 2021 You Are Not Your Worst Decisions.
You’d be hard pressed to find two more loaded words in the English language than “The Holidays.” The sheer weight of memory and emotion that those words evoke is staggering. On their own they’re vague and innocuous enough, but of course to each of us, they are a proxy for something real and particular.
Part of the weight of “The Holidays” is the possible dissonance between the cultural expectations of what our experience should be during this time, and what it actually is. Perpetual and constant mirth accompanied with a side of eternal optimism is one thing as an ideal—and I’m not sure even as an ideal that it’s a good one—but as a practical reality it is impossible to attain.
I want to say something about this dissonance particularly in the context of your finances, because it seems like “The Holidays” can often serve as a painful reminder of financial mistakes or poor decisions or lost opportunities. What is supposed to be a time of celebratory gift-giving can for some of us be a time of worry or even shame.
What I want to say is not the sort of thing that can fix a problem, or identify extra dollars, or remove money constraints. But I believe that it is nonetheless true, and important.
You are not your worst decisions.
Bad decisions can have bad consequences. Sometimes they have good consequences by a stroke of luck. But regardless of what those consequences are, you and your mistakes, errors, and extreme lapses in judgement are not the same. My faith tradition would even say that you and your worst intentional, hurtful actions are not the same.
We spend money on things we shouldn’t. We invest in bad investments. We accrue debts beyond our means, enable people who shouldn’t be enabled, and withhold from those in need for no good reason. We keep financial secrets, make impulsive decisions, and some of us like Scrooge keep “a tight-fisted hand to the grindstone,” saving and grasping too much at the fleeting sense of security that wealth can provide.
But still, you and I—We!—are more than the sum of those unfortunate parts. I need this reminder, and maybe you do too.
I am a particular fan of Ulysses S. Grant, in part because he embodies what I’m saying in such extreme measures as to be nearly unbelievable. Grant made innumerable awful financial decisions throughout his life, and was taken advantage of by “friends” nearly as often. He resigned from the Army in 1854 to avoid a court martial due to one of many episodes in his lifelong struggle with alcoholism. He tried his hand at farming a number of times and was plagued by almost comically bad timing. And I could go on!
Yet despite all this, Grant displayed one of the deepest wells of courage that I am aware of in our nation’s history. His sense of duty transcended his worst decisions, and our country is better for it.
The point is not that you and I need to lead an army or a nation in order to somehow “make up for” our worst decisions. That is nearly the opposite of what I am trying to communicate. No, what I am hoping to encourage is, courage. The courage to keep moving forward, the courage to know we are more than that which stains our record.
We help lots of people deal with the ramifications of suboptimal financial decisions, and that is important work. But in my experience even if the negative consequences of bad decisions are far, far behind, some of us still struggle with the residual emotional weight of them. If that describes you, perhaps what you need is not simply a financial advisor, but a good, professional counselor or therapist. They won’t “fix” anything either, but they may prove an invaluable resource in your life. If we can help you look for someone who would be a good fit, please let us know. In the meantime, know we are grateful for you, and may we all have courage during “The Holidays”!