A lot is written on the question, “Is life a destination or a journey?” The answer is both. By definition, you can’t reach a destination without a journey. A journey without a destination is a sure fire way to waste a lot of time and money that will ultimately take you nowhere. I see two kinds of mistakes people make handling their finances. Surprisingly they are almost mirror images of each other. The first mistake is too much focus on the journey, particularly obstacles. Too often instead of remembering their goal, people lock in on the obstacle. There are three kinds of obstacles. The first are the road bumps of life. Roll over them. Then put the pedal to the metal. The second type of obstacle requires planning and effort to overcome, but it is possible to overcome these obstacles. This is sometimes called the four step method. It is frequently used by engineers and scientists working on technical problems. 1)First spend some time understanding the nature of the obstacle and your limitations.
2) Then make a plan that you believe has a good chance of overcoming the obstacle.
3) Implement your plan.
4) Then examine the results. If you are not getting the results you want return to step one and try again.
The third type of obstacle can not be overcome, either because it is not in your control or because you are limited by time or resources. In financial matters, people fall victim to focusing on problems that they can not control or overcome rather than what they can do get closer to their goal.
Consider this conversation. A person needs to get from Baltimore to Miami by the end of next week. They ask me how to get to Miami. I tell them just get on I-95 South. Stay on that road until you get to Miami. Then they inform me they do not own a car. If fact they tell me they need at least a $20,000 car in order to feel safe on the Interstate. They just don’t have that kind of money.
I think a minute before replying, “OK, You can fly to Miami on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Ft. Lauderdale, just 28 miles from Miami for less than $200.”
They reply, “But I don’t have a car or $20,000 that I would need to buy a car. How could I get to the airport?”
Really, I have had conversations that are all that different from this silly example. Usually, there is no financial problem that can not be overcome given enough time. However if you are constrained by the reality of your situation, bypass the problem or change your destination. Generally this kind of obstacle leads to an almost hypnotic state of paralysis. However, sometimes even the wise charge on against an immovable object. I am sure General Robert E. Lee would have repositioned the Army of Northern Virginia on better ground if he knew in advance what would happen to Pickett’s Charge.
The mirror image of an unhealthy focus on the journey is keeping your eye on the destination without planning or counting the cost. This kind of planning always includes a schedule and a budget. Too often I see people try to make the trip from Baltimore to Miami by riding a bicycle to the West. After a few days they reach Ohio. “This isn’t Miami,” they lament. Then they turn around and come home.
If asked, I tell them, “Get in your car and head south on I-95. It should take you less than two days.” I give them the journey of 1,089 miles begins with a single step speech and send them on their way.
But a few days later they are back in Baltimore. They tell me, “I didn’t like the traffic on I-95. I am going to find a different route.”
I shrug my shoulders, ruefully shake my poor old bald head, and wish them well, knowing in my heart that there is a good chance they will never reach Miami. But you never know, they might actually find a different route to Miami that works for them. No doubt it will waste a lot of time and money, but my prayers are with them as they journey through this valley of tears.
What I am talking about are ultimately problems that exist in our heads. We all have blind spots. You have yours. I have mine. It is easy for me to see your blind spot. After all, it isn’t my blind spot. Sometimes I am not aware of my blind spot because it is my blind spot. They wouldn’t call it a blind spot if I could see what was going on there. Sometimes I know where my blind spots are located. If I know that I have a blind spot, I give an extra effort to find out what is going on in my blind spot before I make a move. I have owned two cars that had significant blind spots. I owned the second for 14 years. So far, I would rate it as the best car I have ever owned, but it had a fastback roof that gave it a bad blind spot. I learned that I just couldn’t rely on the rear and side view mirrors before changing lanes. I had to turn my head so I could see into my blind spot. I traded in that car for a new model four years ago. My new car only has a small blind spot. I no longer need to turn my head in such a dramatic fashion, but I still find that it is a habit deeply ingrained in the way I drive a car. It is not a bad thing to spend too much effort making certain that your blind spot is clear before you change lanes as you drive down I-95 on your way to Miami.
One more thing, Let’s be careful out there.