As I write to you, it is a little over a month until Thanksgiving. Which means, assuming the planets are properly aligned, all is “write” with the universe (and my editors) and you are reading this about a week before Thanksgiving… or a little over a month until Christmas. It is, indeed, that time of the season already! The time when we anticipate our favorite meals amongst uncomfortable gatherings and difficult relatives! Oh, just stop! (I jest. Mostly.)
As I have written to you in years before, for various and sundry reasons, I jettisoned the holiday traditions of my childhood and expectations of A Christmas in Utopia. (And I wasn’t the only one.) I tried to recreate the memories of my childhood celebrations. It never came close to working. I often found that I went through the holidays only to arrive at a place of deep sadness. Perhaps that came from expectations unmet; an inability to capture moments that reside forty or even fifty years in the past.
I was, you see, imprisoned in shackles of my own making. This begs the rhetorical question: “How stupid was that?”
We talk about financial planning at Allen & Company quite a bit. (Especially here, in All About the Plan, of course.) When we don’t give thought or make time to plan what we are doing, “stupid” could be the likely descriptor for our process, and disappointment the likely destination. As you can see, it’s a pretty dependable recipe for me — at least when it comes to some things, anyway.
That brings me to a discussion about values. Clearly, in any endeavor of worth, one should decide what is valued; the thing that drives one to pursue the whole shootin’ match. And lest you fear I am being too generic, not to worry. With the holidays coming like a puffing coal-fire Number 9 engine — and my holiday failures of a decade ago as a backdrop — I have a specific suggestion for you.
But first (you were afraid we wouldn’t have any asides, right?) a quick story about talk radio. I was driving back from Miami this past month after seeing a few clients, when a caller on a national radio show talked about adjusting to American culture. He was a little intimidated with the fashion expectations of his community and working environment at the time. But before getting into the issues facing the caller, the host of the show asked for some background information. As it turns out, the gentleman was born in India, moved to the UK for his University years, and had more recently fulfilled a life-long dream: coming to America.
As a child in India, he heard a news report about the United States Supreme Court. It had ruled that a student of a public school in the U.S. could not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The caller thought this was a marvelous example of individual freedom and implemented a similar practice (or right to abstain) in his own school. He then discovered, in his own words, that “the US Constitution did not apply to India.” He also said that he told the principal: “One day I will live in America, and you will not be able to treat me this way.” Here he lives today, proud of his adopted country and the freedoms he now enjoys.
I don’t believe that I must work very hard to convince you that our freedoms are under attack these days. I may have to work just a little bit harder to convince you that it has always been thus — and that, depending upon where the prevailing powers sit along the spectrum, various freedoms are valued for a while only to then be suppressed for a while.
But today we are talking about our freedoms that we may inadvertently choose to steal from our very selves. The holidays are coming. It’s a wonderful time for giving thanks, for extending good will and celebrating our lives. They may think it’s hokey, but maybe you can pull a grandchild or twelve into your lap and Google “Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms”.
Whatever you do, my suggestion to you is to plan ahead and free yourself from worry and stress, while celebrating the freedoms you enjoy. All our talk of planning — financial planning and otherwise — amounts to naught if you don’t enjoy the journey.
(Extra points if you paint your face blue and yell “FREEeeeeedommm!!!!” like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Double extra points if you do it while hanging from the backyard swing set. Let your grandkids try to recreate that when they’re 60… ha!)