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The To-Do List that Will Save Your Life

I was sitting in a beautiful theater watching a broadway production of Frozen. A woman with the voice of an angel-meets-songbird plays Anna, a young princess ecstatically looking forward to the day she can be free to start the rest of her life after years of drudgery and loneliness:

“It'll be totally strange
But wow, am I so ready for this change!

'Cause for the first time in forever
There'll be music, there'll be light
For the first time in forever
I'll be dancing through the night”

Most people would think of romance. 

Levers

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I will move the world.” –Archimedes

On my sixteenth birthday, my grandmother kindly gifted me her old Saturn. As a teenager who worked for gas money and drove most Saturdays around the state to compete in wrestling tournaments, gas was a prized commodity. I would squeak over hills without hitting the gas pedal, go exactly the speed limit (except when I rocketed downhill), drive with the windows rolled up, keep almost nothing in the car, and generally try to optimize how far my tank would take me.

Today, it seems a little overkill. 

Perception

Ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand. They lay their eggs underground, and will occasionally rearrange the eggs with their beak to regulate the temperature of the eggs. The idea that an ostrich buries its head in the sand to hide or ignore its surroundings is actually a common misnomer, and a good thing for the ostrich and the survival of the species.

The same cannot be said of the common investor.

The Whetherman

With geopolitical tension, inflation, cryptocurrency, rising interest rates, and market volatility all in the headlines lately, we hear the same question from clients every day.

“What is going to happen?”

It is a fair question, and one that takes many different shapes and sizes, too.

“What is inflation going to be next year? What do you see happening with Ukraine and Russia? China? Albania?” (Okay, Albania is a stretch.)

“Are markets going to fall soon?” “What will this administration do next?”

“Is bitcoin going to bounce back? Is Tesla stock a great choice? Is buying gold going to pan out this year?” (Yes, my punny jokes have come alive since becoming a dad.)

Firebreathers

There was no room left for thought. I jumped over the bar for the last time. People were screaming and yelling, but tunnel vision apparently applies to the ears too; everything was muffled. I noticed a moment later that my legs had stopped working, and I had correspondingly collapsed on my back. Lying in a rapidly growing pool of sweat, my lungs felt like they were graciously hosting a bonfire. Dearly departed homeostasis aside, I felt grateful.

 

Meaning in Motion

“We often live with a forward momentum, an inertia, if you will. This pushing forward, pushing forward. And when you suddenly stop, here’s a mixed metaphor, it can feel like musical chairs, and the music has just stopped, and you’re standing there and you don’t have a chair. And that’s really disconcerting. Because part of what we do, which I think leads to a significant amount of burnout and existential struggle, is we take meaning from motion…And then when I take away the motion, what happens to my meaning?”

The $1500 Sandwich

“I’ll do it myself.”

It is a beautiful statement. It speaks to human ingenuity, determination, and bravery. It underscores a belief in oneself, either to be or become what you need to succeed. The sentence can be rooted in frustration when others fail to complete the task at hand. We even hear it in more sinister tones when the villain of a story intends to carry out a nefarious deed.

The Holy Coffee Can

There is a popular character trope--perhaps more appropriately called a popular American character trope--of the immigrant with small means. Arriving in America with almost nothing, the immigrant resolves to pursue the American dream. They find work, earn what they can, and somehow manage to save a little. Over the years their dutiful, disciplined savings goes into a coffee can or small box. Eventually they buy something meaningful, like a gift to their children or the chance to finally get ahead. It is a beautiful sentiment that resonates with those who believe America is a place of opportunity.


That said, it drives the financial planner in me absolutely nuts.

10 Years: The Story of How We Got Here

Conestoga Wealth Partners just celebrated a decade helping clients succeed. Rather than my typical moralizing financial post, perhaps it is timely to share the story of how and why Conestoga came to be. Some might say it was a story of David beating Goliath. Others say it resembled the flight to freedom of settlers in America. Some would even knock us down a few pegs and compare it to Johnny Paycheck’s opening lines: “Take this job and shove it. I ain’t working here no more.” 

Nudge versus Sludge

Enter Richard Thayler, a behavioral economist, and a legal scholar named Cass Sunstein. Candidly, a behavioral economist and legal scholar do not set the stage for a book laypeople sprint to the store to read. Yet in 2008, that is exactly what happened. Their book Nudge sold millions of copies, becoming a New York Times bestseller. Its message resonated with governments, corporations, and families alike.

Their book focused on how we make choices, and how we can inspire ourselves to make better choices. Instead of mandating changes or forcing ourselves to do something differently, they advocated for other ways to create meaningful change, whether it be for a young child or an entire country’s healthcare system.

They argued that the key to many outcomes we want lies less with heroic efforts of will, and more with making things easier, more convenient, or simpler. Of course, willpower is still indispensable for many difficult things in life, but relying on it alone can be…precarious. Willpower takes us only so far.