What To Do When You Want To Change Your Life but Can’t Quite See the Picture

As I read Michael Lewis’s book on the pandemic, “The Premonition,” I kept thinking about its application to significant financial decisions. Often, we make them based on incomplete information and where those choices lead us.

The book’s insight on the pandemic could also help our financial planning.

One of the key characters in Lewis’s book, Dr. Carter Mecher, described how he viewed maps and plans. “He told a story about some troops who’d gotten lost in the Alps. They’re in a blizzard, said Carter. A guy finds a map in his backpack. The map leads them to safety. What was cool about the story was that once the soldiers were safe and able to study the map more closely, they saw it was a map not of the Alps, but of the Pyrenees.”

Many people are trying to decide how to change their lives but are afraid because they can’t picture their future. What if you viewed the map you drew for yourself as a launching-off point, rather than a firm commitment to an uncertain future?

Where you live can be an experiment, not a shackle, for instance. If you rent, you are not making a decision that would be difficult to reverse if you run into a roadblock.

You may sequence your life differently by taking some time off with an expectation that you will work longer. You can live off less by re-characterizing wants versus needs.

When making decisions in times of clear uncertainty, don’t view things in terms of right or wrong, but rather when you imagine looking back over your life, review the choices you wish you would have made differently.

Lewis points out that since no one knew exactly what the “right” course of pandemic action was, he suggests, “Play forward whatever you are thinking about doing or not doing, and ask yourself: Which decision, if you are wrong, will cause you the greatest regret.”

For most of my clients, their lifetime regrets are the result of inaction when it comes to getting outside their comfort zones and instead taking action out of fear or greed.

Regret can also come from not managing low probability but high consequence events — not making sure you have adequate insurance before your house burns down.

The pandemic is still around after over a year and a half, and we don’t know what changes will be thrust upon us from it. But don’t let that prevent you from making your own changes.

Spend your life wisely.

Related: Don’t Expect a Savior Like Lassie to Rescue Your Retirement Finances