Baby Boomer that I am, I still habitually read the newspaper with my breakfast first thing every morning. It provides entertainment. Rarely has that ever come to me so much from the “entertainment” pages themselves as from elsewhere in the paper. For the most part over the years my entertainment has come mainly from the national and international “news” sections and from the op-ed pages. However, for the last two months or so, my main source of breakfast entertainment has often come from the New York Times “business” pages. Lots of fun stuff there this summer!
My post before last (“The Traffic in Trauma: Legitimations? Legitimations? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Legitimations!”) shared one fun-filled recent business-page piece, about how such dull drudgery as “customer satisfaction” is fortunately fast becoming a thing of contemporary business’s past—a drag-down distraction from which the joyous pursuit of profit can now liberate itself, truly to become a proper field of dreams for the play of the now freed global market. In today’s post I would like to share more laughs from another article that recently appeared in the same section of the Times a few days later, way back on Saturday, August 4, almost two weeks ago now. That is a piece taken from another blog by a another blogger—namely, from “Bucks, the blog about money at nytimes.com/bucks,” by Carl Richards—and headlined “Letting Go of Long-Term Goals.” My assumption, given the source identified, is that Mr. Richards (to ape the Times affectation of always using “Mr.” with the last names of male human beings, which I am assuming the blogger at issue to be, despite how easy it is to mask one’s identity on line, at least for some and for a while), is suggesting what he takes to be a sound investment strategy to his readers (at least those who have some money, and are thinking of investing some).
The gist of the piece is easy enough to summarize. To use a slogan that can often be heard in such settings as meetings of Twelve Step groups: “Plan plans, not outcomes.”
Mr. Richards begins (at least in the reproduction in the Times, since I must confess I did not bother to check his blog itself, though I might at one time have planned to—I’m too laid back at the moment to remember for sure) by observing how we have “all heard how important it is to set and track goals.” However, he goes on to observe, “after setting all those goals, we’re often faced with a hard truth: we will not have enough money to reach all of them.” In case that does not bum us out sufficiently, he then rubs our noses in our sorry plight by adding: “Not now. Not ever.”
Now if we cherish our mental health enough to set such health as one of our goals, and if, as the pop-psychology, pop-morality guru M. Scott Peck used to like to define it, mental health consists of the willingness and desire to face reality, whatever the cost, that leaves us with but one big question. As the Bucks blogger puts it, being convinced that neither now nor ever can we be sure to have enough money to buy our ways through to achieving our carefully charted goals: “The question is, what do we do about it? Can we avoid it [avoid, that is, the disappointment that will all but inevitably meet all but all of us when we don’t have the bucks to attain our goals]?”
Toward providing an answer to that crucial question, Mr. Richards goes on next to “suggest something radical.” That radical suggestion boils down to the slogan with which I began. Here’s his exact, rather more wordy, formulation of the advice at issue, “radical” as it may be: “It’s time we let go of outcome-based goal-setting and instead focus on living the lives we want right now.” Doing just that, he adds, “can bring us freedom.”
Toward helping us attain such desirable liberty, he then offers “some ways to start,” which are, in the order he gives them himself, the following: “Let go of expectations,” “let go of outcomes,” “let go of worry” (like my old friend Alfred E. Newman, we should aspire truly to say, in a question that answers itself in the negative, “What? Me worry?”—or to be able honestly to sing, along with Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry! Be happy!”), “let go of measuring” (as in comparing ourselves with others, as, for instance, rich free-loaders enviously compare themselves with destitute welfare recipients), and “let go of mindless tracking” (not confusing the desirable goal of coming “to know where your money goes” with the un-fun miserly process of “tracking every penny” [I cannot tell for sure whether Bucks thinks it’s still okay to track the bucks, if not the pennies]).
Finally, having given us a clear statement of all those goals we should set for ourselves for letting go (replete with explanations that are presumably more helpful for investors than are—or at least are meant to be–my own parenthetical ones above), the piece from Bucks (at least as the Times reproduces it for us old newspaper-reading hold-out curmudgeons) ends with a grateful “comment” from one of Bucks’ online (and clearly less curmudgeon-y) readers. That comment gives that reader’s thanks to Bucks’ author “for the reminder to check the flip side of every coin.” From the rest of what the commentator writes, the coin at issue on its one side is that “[g]oals can be a great method of changing habits.” The flip side of the same coin, however, is “that every list needs to be maintained, and that can mean weeding out even the most laudable of goals if it isn’t really in line with the life of the person.”
What I find so wonderfully funny about all that can be summed up with reference to that final line of the grateful Bucks-reader’s comment. What’s so funny is that, when one finally gets to the old “bottom line,” if you will, of the whole thing, then we will have found ourselves weeding out—and in the process freeing ourselves from—any concern worth concerning ourselves about with money at all. Since any serious concern with money is contrary to what is “really in line with the life of the person,” whoever that person may be, what Bucks is being thanked for is demonstrating the silliness of reading, for anything other than sheer entertainment (if one’s tastes run as mine do, for example), blogs in which advice about making more bucks is offered.
I would really like to think that the author of Bucks had just that intention in mind, in writing this blog on “letting go of long-term goals.” If so, then he would be advising everyone who spends any real time trying to secure oneself financially for one’s retirement to wise up, and stop postponing retirement until one reaches the goal of such security. Instead, he’d be advising us all, we need to follow some advice from Paul, the Christian saint, of all the unexpected financial advisors. Paul recommends that, for example, fellow church members who have wives should have those wives as though they had none. Just so, Bucks would be advising us that if we have money, we need to act as though we had none. With regard to retirement, that means that even if we are not yet retired we should all act now as though we already were.
Or, as I have it in the sub-title I’ve given this post:
That is a message both most amusing and most welcome to my own ears, given that I still have almost a year to go before I officially retire myself. In the meantime, for that time that remains I intend to follow, with a smile and a grateful heart, Bucks’ advice: I intend to act during the coming year as though I were already past it, and into my retirement itself.
Should my employer complain of my behavior during that year, I’ll just refer him to Bucks.
As one can also often hear at the same Twelve Step meetings where one hears to “plan plans, not outcomes”: “Let go, and let God!”
Better God, at least, even if there is none, than the market.