by Mitch Anthony

After my friend sold his boat, he told me, “On the water, a man on a dinghy can be as content as a man on a yacht. That serenity lasts until you dock your boat next to the one three times as big and 10 times as expensive as yours, and you quickly start feeling pretty small.”

Maybe, but less is often more.

Instead of becoming distracted by what others have, we could be focusing on appreciating what we have that is easier to own, manage, enjoy—you name it. Maybe it’s the other folks—the ones who have so much—who are envious of those who choose to simplify their lives by not having so much “stuff.”

Feeling small is the underlying problem with our decision to acquire more and more. When we listen to money’s voice—a voice that haunts our insecurities regarding our supposed lack of progress in this world—we hear it tell us that if we had more, or were more, we would be somebody. You know what? Sometimes having less actually makes us richer.

Being consumed with what we could have is rooted in the need to appear as achievers in the eyes of others. If it were not for our interest in how others perceive us, how many of us would care one iota about a bigger this or a better that? We would focus more on taking care of what we have, celebrating what we have been given, and deriving more pleasure from the provision at hand. Letting go of appearances is parallel to letting go of others’ opinions of us.

We can get so busy chasing down the so-called good life that we miss the true life designed for us. Maturity, in a spiritual sense, is coming to the awareness that life is defined by what is on the inside of us, not by what adorns us on the outside.

When I was in my early 20s, I was told, “That which is good is often the enemy of that which is best.” I remembered the phrase and suspect that this guidepost may have prevented some mistakes of compromise around money—and it continues to be a needed reminder for me about what truly is best. How ironic that the best life could be most threatened by obsessing over the good life.

A person’s true life is not measured by what he or she owns, including investments. The great paradox financial professionals must wrestle with is that although they are in the business of increasing wealth, they are well aware that having money can do only so much.

Sometimes the issue isn’t having more but rather helping clients learn to utilize what they have in ways that will bring more satisfaction to their lives. Just learning to enjoy where they are at may be the greatest payoff of all. After all, if clients can’t enjoy the place they are in now, what guarantees are there that they’ll enjoy the next place they are in?

This is not to imply that living the good life is a bad thing. Everyone should enjoy what they’ve worked hard to earn—I’m the first to admit that I do. But people who make money the chief aim in their lives, instead of allowing money to arrive as a natural consequence of industry and effort, take on an odd and unnatural aura.

Purpose is the epicenter of living a life of truth—allowing the “why” to lead all-important decisions, including those around money. For example, shortly after you tell me what you do, I want you to tell me why you do it. If you tell me what you do and start hinting at how much you make or your AUM, I will sense that the purpose is lost in the shuffle.

The Greek word for inspiration in the New Testament (“theopneustos”) is translated as “God breathed.” Think of the gentle comfort and refreshment you feel when breathing in fresh spring air after a winter of cabin fever. It is this feeling of invigoration that will nourish your walk down the path of true life.

To discover what true life is intended to be, entertain the idea of your life on a map where you have the prerogative to go any direction you choose at any time you want. On that map is a trail leading to your truest, most fulfilling life. At any point in this journey, you are susceptible to making wrong turns, going miles out of your way, suffering angry backtracks, and—to borrow a cliché about men—refusing to ask for directions purely out of pride. It stands to reason that if there is a true life, then there is a fraudulent version of life as well. Each one of us is susceptible at any juncture on the map of choosing fraudulent paths, including:

  • Taking a job for the prestige;
  • Changing careers for the money alone;
  • Telling ourselves we worked hard enough that we don’t need to care about others;
  • Telling ourselves that there are a lot of people that aren’t nearly as good as we are (as a justification for a wrong turn); and
  • Isolating and insulating our lives from the needs of the world.

At any time on this journey, each of us has the option to stop, reassess our position on the map, locate the path back to our true-life path, and continue forward on the journey designed for us. While at times we may feel lost, this sense of feeling adrift forces us to re-evaluate our situations and examine the paths that brought us to a lonely place. We have a choice in all this. We can utilize and manage our money to help us stay on the true-life path or we can chase the money and hope things work out in the end.

As you start the new year, and counsel clients on money matters, be sure to remind them that it’s important to realize what the ultimate payoff is—living the best life they can with what is available to them.

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© 2016 Mitch Anthony. Adapted from an article that originally appeared in Financial Advisor magazine.

© 2016 Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony is the founder and president of Advisor Insights Inc.and the Financial Life Planning Institute, the leading provider of financial life planning tools and programs for the financial services industry.

For almost two decades, Mitch and his team have provided training and development for both individual advisors and major organizations throughout the world. Mitch personally consults with many of the largest and most-recognizable names in the financial services industry on both financial life planning and relationship development.

Mitch is a consistently top-rated presenter who has spoken to groups ranging from 10 to more than 10,000. He has been named one of the financial services industry’s top “Movers & Shakers” for his pioneering work. Through the Institute, he has partnered with Texas Tech University, the University of Georgia, and Utah Valley University to develop financial life planning programs for their undergraduate programs.

Mitch is a sought-after expert for the media, and a regular columnist for Financial Advisor magazine. His columns have appeared on CBS MarketWatch and in the Journal of Financial Planning. His original comic strip “Stanley Brambles, CFG (Certified Financial Guru)”appears monthly in the print edition of Research magazine. Mitch is also host of the daily radio feature, The Daily Dose, heard on over 100 radio stations nationwide.

Mitch is also the author of many groundbreaking books for advisors and consumers, including perennial bestseller StorySelling for Financial Advisors, cited by “Financial Advisor” magazine as the number one “must-read” book for financial professionals. Mitch’s other books include The New Retirementality (now in its 4th edition), From the Boiler Room to the Living RoomYour Clients for LifeYour Client’s Story, and The Financial Lit-Kit: The Cash in the HatThe Bean is Not Green, and Where Did the Money Go?. For information on these books and more resources, click here. Contact Mitch at [email protected].