THE PATH TO SUCCESS
The path towards success is long and “certainly uncertain” for nearly everyone. Everyone’s definition varies yet there is no guarantee that at the end of the rainbow we’ll find the pot of gold we set out to find. No promise that the hours of commitment to our passions and careers will yield the exact results we wanted. No certainty that the risks we take will be validated by quantifiable, tangible success in the way we initially defined it. How we define and measure success is different not only among each of us, but also to ourselves in time as we grow, change and adapt. Success rarely remains a static point for us to achieve at the end of a long arduous journey with a clear indication of our arrival.
Just as our measure of success is not always clear or perfect, many times neither are our decisions to get there. Why do we seemingly self-sabotage at times? Well, no one is correct all of the time, and some more than others. We are humans, and not unlike in our investment endeavors, we are impatient and frustrated in our personal challenges, causing us to act irrationally and make errors.
Most of us want to be happy, no doubt. However, we make decisions in the hopes of gaining immediate gratification that we don’t realize come at the cost of our true longer-term wants or needs. After all, those long-term wants or needs are all the way down the road and sound hard - I want what I want now! As with everything, there is a balance to be struck and trade-offs to be weighed on the path to our ultimate goals. This can be hard to evaluate and takes true honesty.
In our financial lives, the short-term distractions which we may succumb to are often opportunities for perceived short-term gain without considering our long-term goals. We want the profit without the pain, but if this rarely ever works - why do we still do it? This happens in investment portfolios all of the time. Or perhaps we may think that a higher salary this time will provide us the happiness that has been allusive. In his excellent book, The Geometry of Wealth, Brian Portnoy explains that research suggests money may alleviate sadness, but does not necessarily inspire joy for most. Brian cites the work of famous economists, Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton in which they determined that above an annual income of about $75,000 per year (at the time of print), the impact of money on our day-to-day lives diminishes. The research suggests while our reflective happiness may increase with the more money we make, our experienced happiness does not necessarily increase once we earn more than what we truly need to be “successful” and presumably, happy. The argument for the optionality and utility that more money can provide us with however, is an entirely separate conversation from this.
hiking the path
When reflecting on the process of attaining long-term “success”, imagine a long, strenuous, wooded hike following a path from the trail-head all the way up to the summit of a mountain you must ascend. In this instance, there truly is no short-cut to reach the top to achieve your success.
You likely begin with a sense of enthusiasm and eagerness. You’ll consult your map or rely on trail markings to help guide your way. Despite following all of the guidance you may still find yourself lost. You came prepared however and packed supplies and essentials for the necessary pit-stops and water breaks required to pace or reorient yourself. After a break you push forward and rediscover the intended trail. You climb between trees, over rocks, and through streams as you gain ground. After another break you begin again only to be tempted by a perceived short-cut resulting in starting off in the wrong direction once more. Not only are you lost once again but you are more fatigued as you’ve gained altitude and the day has grown longer. You are resilient however and use the experience and knowledge you’ve gained along your hike to lead you back on track. Eventually, after proper planning, encouragement and commitment you are able to reach the summit. The view exceeds what you hoped for and the feeling of accomplishment is more than fulfilling. You succeeded. You’ve “made it”!
Soon thereafter as you rest and regain your strength, the feeling of success becomes somewhat fleeting. Of course you maintain pride in your accomplishment (you alone made it to the top!), but you turn around and look down towards the trail that lead you to where you stand. You reflect on the twists and turns your journey led you on. It wasn’t always on the established trail you set, as your path evolved and found new direction along the way, but you still made it. In this moment you appreciate it is in the journey to get from where we are to where we want to be, that we not only learn but actually live.
It is now we can appreciate it’s not just about getting to the top of the mountain on your hike to achieve perceived “success”. It is equally about the process and experiencing the path we lead. Results matter - no doubt - but the end result alone is not the most valuable part of your hike. You result cannot be achieved without the experience. For it is even in our failures and short-term mishaps that we learn and move forward the wisest. In the end, one way or another we reach our summit regardless of what external perception may suggest. We might as well embrace the pain it takes to get there.
The truth, of course, is that we all have a mountain we are climbing. Some follow the trail, others lead their own path. Once we reach the top of our mountain however, there is almost always another trail we must forge towards our next goal. In reality we blaze many trails on a variety of personal and professional issues simultaneously which range over differing timelines and complexity. Some hikes we take are short and sweet, some are long with many peaks and valleys of varying highs and lows along the way. The sooner we realize and begin to appreciate the process, the more we will learn, the more fulfilled we will become and the less likely we will be to make unnecessary mistakes, (though some mistakes will always occur - we are humans). The important thing is to enjoy the ride where possible and always be moving forward in a thoughtful way.
The lessons we learn from our hike can be applied to something as personal and intimate as our financial lives. Whether in investing a portfolio or managing specific financial planning objectives, there are difficult decisions to be made and no doubt times of doubt or great uncertainty on the road to where we want to be. No two people have the same exact definition of financial “success” and no two people will have the same route to that achievement or share the same distinct experience. What is consistent however is that to attain “success” in our financial and investment lives we all have to walk the path one way or another and probably withstand some pain. At Hudson Oak Wealth Advisory we serve to be your compass, your trail guide, to assist on your journey to the top of your mountain - however you define that.
As we each progress along our own path, we must forge our way onward embracing the pain when it arises and enjoying the process. Just as our road to success can be “certainly uncertain”, our lives are perfectly imperfect and mistakes will occur. It’s important to embrace the struggle at times, it won’t always go according to plan. If we are committed to our plan and stay true to our values and purpose however, we will achieve success. As The Geometry of Wealth, fittingly quotes Goethe, “Do not hurry. Do not rest.” These are certainly words to remember as we continue along our path.
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