This story is sponsored by Mindful Money, a Berkeley wealth management company that is committed to a behavioral and mindful approach towards financial well-being. It was written by the company’s founder and president, Jonathan DeYoe.
David DeYoe, my brother, died on June 17, the day before his 46th birthday. It was an accident that took us all by surprise. Neither he, nor his family, was prepared.
As someone who has run a financial planning firm for two decades, I have dark moments when I feel responsible that they were not better prepared. It is hard not to blame myself because, well, I know how real “impermanence” is and I didn’t force preparedness on him (not that I could have).
If you knew us both, you would know that I am the eldest, the planner, the one who was anxious about the future and that he was the youngest and he lived much more in and for the moment. The fact that he equalized his income and outflow relying on his company’s equity to be his long-term savings is only the beginning of the problem.
The old adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” fits too perfectly. And now I know, even with all my Buddhist training about impermanence, that I didn’t push hard enough.
To many people, Buddhism sounds very pessimistic. At the very heart of Buddhism is the first of four Noble Truths… life always involves suffering in both obvious and subtle ways.
Early morning chanting in the Theravada tradition includes, “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, death is suffering…” And every day the sense of impermanence is cultivated with, “I will age, I will sicken, I will die, and I will be separated from everything I love.”
I have heard and read these teachings, and I have participated in these chants myself. They can be viewed as depressing, but they also happen to be true.
Steve Jobs tried to remind us of the importance of seeing this truth with his Stanford commencement speech in 2005:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered… Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — just falls away in the face of death… Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Considering our own death galvanizes us towards action, but not just any action… action that matters — action that can make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.
And moving us to action is also the purpose of the Noble Truths in the Buddhist tradition. Given the first Noble Truth — that life is suffering…
2. We can know the cause of suffering,
3. We can eliminate the cause of suffering,
4. There are steps toward eliminating the cause of suffering.
One of the things that led me to write my book, Mindful Money: Simple Practices for Reaching Your Financial Goals and Increasing Your Happiness Dividend, was noticing that my clients, and many in our culture, suffer a great deal of stress and anxiety in their financial lives. I noticed that most people spend on things that aren’t even that important to them. And, rather than actually making the effort of self-discovery and doing the very simple math of planning and prioritizing, they ignore the big issues all together.
Think about your life span
As brilliant as my brother was, and as much as I pushed, this is exactly what he did. He was going to get to it… tomorrow. And he was 45, so he was supposed to have 40 more years of tomorrows to get it all figured out.
Coming out of the Great Recession, when I started writing the book, I wanted to simplify personal finance. I started with a definition of financial planning:
Financial planning is the act of insuring against what can go wrong in order to acquire the luxury of investing for what can go right.
There is a tendency to see our place in this relatively high-wealth society as a given. We believe “it can’t happen to us.” We are lulled into complacency by the variety of temporary hedonic joys and the steady consumption we see all around us. And we are distracted from the important work by bitter fights over small things (think about most publications, any political conversation and your social media feeds).
For many of us, we will go years, decades, even our whole lives without ever noticing or experiencing a real tragedy. This is a blessing, but it is unreliable and it is always only a temporary condition. Life, health, and youth are in no way assured. As the poet says, “SHIT HAPPENS!”
There is a blissful (ignorant) time before tragedy, and there is a time after tragedy. We all get to experience this if we ever really love anything at all.
I cry heavy convulsive sobs almost every day. Just this morning, I saw my brother reflected in my son, and I could not remain standing. My heart breaks every time I think about my sister-in-law and nephews. Our families are up-ended, trying to discern the path through the wreckage.
Consider the numbers
And I knew this was always a probability. If you take the number of people who drown in the ocean and divide that number by the number of people who swim in the ocean, you get a non-zero probability that the next time you swim in the ocean you might die. It is never expected; he was a strong swimmer having spent a lot of time surfing with the boys on Pacific beaches. How many of the 235,000-plus people in the world who drown every year are also strong swimmers? Did you catch that… that is a staggering number.
And drowning is only the fifth leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Poisoning (including drug overdose), car accidents, falls and choking are the first four. There is always a chance that some totally benign activity that you have done thousands of times — like driving, swimming, or eating — might be the time that the probabilities work against you.
And, it doesn’t have to be an accident. People are crushed by life on a regular basis. Just think of those people whose lives have been upended by a heart attack, or a stroke, or cancer or a natural disaster — fire, flood, and hurricane. Or, consider the stories you read about innocent bystanders of violence. As long as we cannot see clearly to do more as a society to support those whose lives are completely ruined through no fault of their own, it will be on us individually to do as much as we can.
I can tell you absolutely that when tragedy strikes it is unforgiving. Noticing that it can happen (before it happens), waking up to the fact that it does, in fact, happen to people just like us can stir within us the desire to be prepared. (Of course, the desire still has to overcome the inertia of inaction.)
Seize the day
My brother never completely got around to the first. But maybe, just this one more cautionary tale will move you to rethink or to start your honest financial planning process. Financial planning isn’t about money. It is about discovering your heart’s desire and pursuing it. It is about love and dreams. It is about protecting against that which can go wrong, so you might access that which can go right.
Do the math… what are your biggest goals for yourself and your family? What if you are not here tomorrow to see them through?
If you want any help thinking this through, there are a few excellent firms in Berkeley and Oakland that can help you. We don’t even sell insurance, but we can help you calculate the need. If you don’t want to do it yourself, we have a team of people who are ready to walk you through a planning process. We ask the questions and we do the math so that your loved ones aren’t in the same boat if something happens to you.
What are you waiting for?
Stop predicting. Start Planning. Stay Mindful.
This story was written and paid for by Jonathan K. DeYoe, founder and president Mindful Money, a Registered Investment Advisor. He is passionate about personal financial planning, financial literacy and helping clients achieve better outcomes through mindfulness. He is the author of “Mindful Money: Simple Practices for Reaching Your Financial Goals and Increasing Your Happiness Dividend.”
This material is solely for informational purposes. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Mindful Money and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital. No advice may be rendered by Mindful Money unless a client service agreement is in place. Mindful Money is a service mark of DeYoe Wealth Management, Inc. a Registered Investment Adviser.