Why We Do This

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it”. – Ferris Bueller

When I was young and the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out, I was an instant fan. I was in high school when it was released, and my friends and I just seemed to connect with it right off the bat. We would recite many of the lines from the film, and while this quote was not necessarily one of our main go-tos, it popped into my head this week as I was thinking about writing this blog post.

You see, last weekend, my friend Rob and I took our two boys backpacking in the Sierras for the first time. We went to a place called Ten Lakes, which is in the high country of Yosemite, and reaching it requires a strenuous six-and-a-half-mile hike up and over a peak roughly ten thousand feet high. It’s hard. At least for me. Which is why I haven’t even attempted it in over 15 years. But it’s a special place for me and some of my friends, including Rob, who was the first person to bring me there back in our twenties, when we used to go fairly regularly. In fact, it was on a backpacking trip to Ten Lakes many years ago that Jarrett and I decided to start our own firm. We had even decided to name the new firm NorthStar Financial because we were looking at this unbelievable starry sky, the kind you can only see when far removed from the light pollution of the city, when we made our decision. That is, until we came home and realized there were about a hundred financial firms named NorthStar Financial.

Anyhow, as I said, it’s a special place for us, and as a result, our kids have been hearing about it for most of their lives. But they’ve never been, and honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get back there again myself. Did I mention it’s hard? So a few months ago, I’m having a conversation with my son, who is now going off to college in a few weeks, and he was lamenting the fact that I haven’t really taken him camping or backpacking very much over the years. You see, my wife is not much of a camper, so despite the fact that we have done a lot of travelling together as a family, we have only been camping a few times over the years, and never backpacking. He was particularly aggrieved that he had never been to Ten Lakes, since we have told so many stories about it, and so, over the next few weeks, the conversation kind of snowballed, and eventually expanded to include Rob and his son, with whom my son is also very close. One thing led to another, and that’s how, last Friday, I found myself standing at the foot of the familiar trailhead once again, only this time, I’m 51 years old and I’m trying to keep up with two college-aged boys up and over the mountain.

Now, I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say we made it. And we even took them on the more ridiculous off-trail day-hike we used to take, on the day in between the hike up and the hike out. And it was a fantastic time. Almost perfect, to be honest. We swam in the pristine alpine lakes, and cooked dinner around the campsite together, and the boys really appreciated how incredible it was to be seeing and doing these things, in this place, for the first time. And the truth is that I had understood the potential for it being a truly special experience before we went. In fact, that’s the only reason I agreed to suffer back up that hill in the first place. I realized that with my son leaving for college in the fall, this felt like one of those rare moments where I was actually able to recognize, in advance, the potential to have a meaningful experience together, and, well, you just never know how many of those you have left in life.

And as my son and I we were sitting by the lake in the waning light of the last day, talking about our day-hike and laughing about the few sketchy places we had narrowly managed to navigate along the way, I had a bit of an epiphany. Nothing earth-shattering really, just a thought that came to me, which I knew I would eventually have to write about. In that instant, I was really trying to take it all in and appreciate the moment, which is another thing I sometimes struggle with, when I thought about something we often talk about here at TDWM.

You see, so often what we do here is viewed through the lens of pure numbers. It’s rates of return, withdrawal rates, inflation numbers, life-expectancy tables and such. And for good reason, because those things matter to the work we do. But the truth is that what makes me really excited when speaking with a client, is hearing about their child graduating from college or getting their first job, or their trip to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary or their parents 60th, or their plan to help their kids buy that first home now that they’re expecting their first grandchild. These things live inside the numbers, but they also transcend the numbers, and they’re what make life rich. We assign value to things all day every day, but how do you put a value on these precious moments in life? You simply can’t.

We all work for many reasons, obviously: to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. To provide for our families and leave the next generation better off than we are. But I think we all ultimately hope to get some deeper fulfillment out of our work as well, and that can be the tricky part. Jarrett likes to say that everyone wants the work we do here to be science, but it’s really more art than science. It’s the art of the relationship, and that relationship hopefully leads to comfort and trust. And if that, in turn, allows a client of ours to stop and look around once in a while, to experience even one more special moment sitting by the lake with their son or daughter, granddaughter or grandson, rather than sitting in front of their computer stressing out about their financial future, well, that’s fulfillment enough for me, and ultimately, that’s why we do this.

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