I remember having a conversation once with a woman named Julie. She was 57, retirement was right around the corner, and despite doing “all the right things,” she was worried.
Even when she was doing all she could, she often felt like it would never be enough.
If you can relate to Julie, I want you to know: You. Are. Not. Alone.
I’ve traveled all over the world talking to people about personal finance, and if I had to use one word to describe people’s feelings about money, it would be “anxious.”
If you, like Julie, find yourself struggling to feel fine despite doing all the right things, may I gently suggest two things to consider:
1- There is no spreadsheet that can guarantee you will be fine.
I know people in the finance industry love to talk about retirement projections as if they can tell you what the future holds, and there is definitely value in having a plan. But the value is not that it gives you certainty. Just like any plan, financial ones are just guesses about the future. They can tell us the general direction we’re headed, but they lack precision when it comes to our exact destination.
2- More money does not solve feelings of financial insecurity.
I’ve met with people who have more money than they could ever spend, and they’re absolutely convinced that tomorrow will be the day it all disappears. In fact, in my experience, there is very little correlation between net worth and a personal sense of financial security. To be clear, I am not talking about actual security. I’m talking about one’s sense of security. Those are two different things.
The truth, as I’ve written before, is that uncertainty equals reality. As Julie told me, one major medical emergency, not to mention a million other things, can throw a wrench in the whole plan.
And while that’s true, it doesn’t mean we should live our lives petrified with fear.
Living with uncertainty becomes easier once we accept that the magic certainty button doesn’t exist. It’s not real, so don’t bother looking or hoping for it.
It’s worth giving a nod here to the Serenity Prayer by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Here’s a process I’ve found to be helpful:
1- Make a list of all the things that matter that you do control. Saving something for your retirement, evaluating the way you invest, spending less, finding side hustles to make a bit more, etc.
2- Look at that list and put a big, fat check-mark next to everything you’ve addressed to the best of your ability.
3- Whatever you didn’t check off, take some time and effort to work on it.
4- Any time you start to feel fear or discomfort creep up again, just go back to that list, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you have done everything you can.
5- Repeat this mantra: “Let go of the rest. Let go of the rest. Let go of the rest.”
If you can do that—specifically if you can make it all the way to step five—you’ve got a touchstone for what can help you feel just a little more comfortable in an uncertain world.
I hope that helps.
P.S. As always, if you want to use this sketch, you can buy it here.
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