As a financial advisor1, I often hear people express a common sentiment that goes something like this: “I want to enjoy the now. I understand that planning for the future is important, but since no one knows what the future really holds, I want to seize the day now while I can”. I completely understand this inclination, and in a lot of ways, I agree. For most of us, however, there is an inherent contradiction in this line of thinking. That is, how can we truly enjoy the now, if our future is insecure?
As with most things in life, the answer, I believe, lies in obtaining balance.
I recently returned from an incredible trip to Hawaii with sixteen family members. This is a trip we take every other year, and is a cherished and longstanding tradition in our family. That said, travelling with a large family group can be exhausting, so in an effort to find a little alone time, my wife and I began a tradition many years back of going to our favorite beach-side bar soon after arriving in Hawaii, and ordering ourselves a Mai-Tai (or two!). Our family has grown a bit since those days, but thankfully, we have grandmas who are willing to step up and watch our two kids for a few hours so that we can continue our little tradition.
As we settled in to our usual spot and began to enjoy our usual Mai-Tai, a funny thing happened: this particular Mai-Tai tasted even better than I remembered. So good, in fact, that I thought to myself, “this has got to be the best Mai-Tai I’ve ever had”. I asked the bartender (again, always the same one) if they had changed their recipe, or used some new mixer, but he told me nothing had changed, and his recipe had remained exactly the same for over ten years.
Over the next few days, I began to realize, it was not the drink that was better, it was my perspective. I thought back to when we first started coming to this bar, and recalled that the Mai-Tai was always good, but I had a sense of feeling oddly guilty drinking it in those days. I remembered thinking, “…gee, $18 for a Mai-Tai, that’s a bit ridiculous.” It was the same incredible setting, and the same lovely cocktail, but I was not in the right frame-of-mind to truly enjoy myself. At that point, I was recently married, just starting a family, and still in the early years of building my business. I was very anxious about my financial future, and the anxiety was making it impossible to thoroughly appreciate the rare treat I was allowing myself.
In other words, I was having trouble enjoying the now, because the future was so uncertain.
While there is always some level of stress and uncertainty about what lies ahead, the work that my wife and I have put in over the years to strengthen our financial future has decreased my anxiety significantly, and most certainly allowed me to more fully enjoy these kinds of special moments. As a result, I was able to relish the occasion in a way I was never able to in past years.
As far as I can tell, you only live once, so I’m all for making it count and being ‘present’ as often as possible. However, I think it is also important to understand what it really means to “enjoy the now”, and not just use it as an excuse to over-spend, and under-plan. By working hard, taking time off, planning and preparing for the future, and savoring the little moments along the way, I believe you give yourself the best chance of achieving balance, and truly enjoying the now.
1Advisory Services offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor