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« Who Cares About One Percent? | Main | Financial Planning »
Friday
Nov062009

Becoming Who We Are

It is well known, almost a cliche in fact, that our lives eventually become the result of our previous choices.  By the time one reaches the age of us "boomers" one has made many, many choices that have steered their lives to the point where we find ourselves today.  I often remember that day years ago when I decided to take the physical exam required to qualify for the US Air Force flight training program, even though I needed glasses and had been told I had no chance of passing it.  Yet, due to a series of highly unusual chance events, I passed the exam.  I now find myself rapidly approaching the end of a 30 plus year career of flying airplanes, the culmination of choices I made long ago.  Other choices, many made in haste without really considering their import, have also impacted my life in profound ways.  Desperate for a date to a fraternity party years ago, I tapped the shoulder of a pretty young thing in line in front of me at a cafeteria and asked her for a date.  This was the wisest snap decision I ever made as we have had a fantastic 30 plus years together, and she remains the light of my life to this day.  And many other, less readily recognizable decisions have shaped my life.  A decision not to go there, or a decision to do that, have all worked together to see that I have arrived here.

Many folks, often without realizing it, face momentous decisions each day; decisions that will keep them within the law or decisions that ultimately lead them to further bad decisions that eventually will lead to their downfall.  Many otherwise "good" people have made "bad" decisions because they simply do not take the time to ask themselves if this decision is in keeping with their moral code. Perhaps some make the decision that is just the easiest way to go at the time; maybe they choose not to "rock the boat" at work; perhaps they decide that they will "go along" with a decision they know is wrong just this one time.  Maybe they just do not realize the impact that the decision will ultimately have on their lives.  But nearly every day we face decisions that will affect us long after the decision is made for either better of worse.  Often we cannot know simply because we cannot see the future, but we still we must choose.

I recently had a talk with a young friend of mine struggling with some decisions that will ultimately determine the path that his life will take.  As a youngster, all he ever wanted to do was to fly airplanes.  He is a bright and energetic young man, and through considerable hard work and determination, he found himself hired at a regional airline at the tender age of 21.  In a few short years, oil prices went to $140 a barrel, the financial and credit markets melted down, and a raging recession gripped the land.  Thus he found himself furloughed from his job flying airplanes with his wife expecting their first child; all this before the age of 25.

My young friend is at that age where doors begin closing behind you as you make decisions.  Not all, but some decisions you make at his age will mean that certain opportunities you may now have may never appear again.  Thus it is that he finds himself with his current dilemma.  I mentioned that he is a bright and energetic young man, and that being the case, he did not spend too much time crying about his situation when he lost his flying job, but set about beginning a new career in the financial services industry.  He has been making steady progress and no doubt could eventually be quite successful in this field.  Suddenly he finds he has another opportunity to fly for a living, but if he opts to return to flying he may have to turn his back on his budding career in financial services.  By choosing to fly again, he is facing the fact that he will be away from home a great deal, missing numerous events that his child will be participating in over the years, as well as facing all of the upheavals and tumult that a career in aviation almost guarantees.  So he is facing a very tough decision, one he already knows will likely determine the trajectory of his life.  I shared with him some of my thoughts as I looked back over my flying career and wished him well as he makes his decision.

We also face financial decisions along the way that greatly affect our future.  Do we save this dollar or spend it?  Due to the time value of money and the fact that a dollar saved eventually becomes greater that the original dollar, a dollar saved today eventually becomes more than a dollar.  Of course to save it, we forego the pleasure of spending it today, and the priceless memories we often get from spending a dollar with family or friends.  Do we save for our future, our retirement, our children's education, or do we spend (or borrow) to enjoy life today?  There are often no hard and fast "right" answers.  But there can be a balance.  To arrive at that balance, we have to be brutally honest with ourselves occasionally.  We have to ask ourselves the hard questions and project our spending and our financial lives into the future to see how our spending today will affect those future lives.  We can also observe those around us.  We can note how those who have trod these roads before have managed.  We don't necessarily have to relearn all of the lessons if others have learned them before us.  Experience is often a harsh teacher.  Often it is best to skip the "school of hard knocks" if we possibly can!  But all to often, since the future is unknowable, we simply have to pray for wisdom when facing financial decisions and make the best decision we can with the information at hand.

My wife and I have made many, many spending or saving decisions over the years.  The results of these decisions are even now still evolving.  Some things, such as how much we spent or saved, we could control.  Others, like the general economy, what politicians did to affect it, and general market conditions, we could not.  Thus it is left to us to educate ourselves as best we can, control what we can, and trust the Good Lord with the rest.  At least, that is how we have always faced that aspect of our lives.

I am now facing some fairly big decisions that I know will affect the rest of my life as I contemplate my retirement from flying.  Thus I am reading everything I can find about that stage of life.  I am trying to learn from the experiences of others.  I am just about ready to hang up my flying suit, but I am not ready to check out and play golf five days a week.  Now mind you there is nothing wrong with playing golf and taking it easy in retirement, it is just not the way I envision my retirement. Oh I want to play plenty of golf, but I also want to feel as if I am still making a contribution; that I am still doing something worthwhile for others.  I guess I just want to still feel needed somewhere, somehow.  So, that is why I am doing as much as I can to prepare for this next stage of my life. Whether I eventually become a teacher of some sort, a writer, a financial advisor, or a greeter at Wal-Mart, I am determined to become something else worthwhile.  I guess you can say I am still working on becoming who I am to be.

So, whether we intend it or not, we are all still becoming who we are.  Each day we make decisions that determine that outcome.  Even as I work this out in my life, I wish you well as you become who you are; I hope it is who you want to be!

 

Fly/Drive Safely

10 November 2009

 

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