A view of the mountains from above at sunset.

Decisions, decisions…

September 05, 2023

Financial counseling, like life in general, involves a lot of decision-making. And making good decisions is critical for long-term success. You could argue that our true “net worth” as individuals is nothing more than an aggregation of all the decisions we have made along the way.

Decisions fall into two categories: those that matter, and those that don’t. What kind of toothpaste should I buy? In the long run, it’s unlikely to matter. Which person should I marry? it’s hard to imagine a more impactful decision. After circling the sun nearly sixty times (and being married for nearly 28 years), I can say with conviction that making good decisions on things that matter is never an easy task. Uncertainty is always present. The way forward is never clear. The stakes are high, and time is of the essence.

Further complicating matters is the undeniable fact that we live in a world where our attention is a highly profitable economic commodity. Attention profiteers hoard our attention for their own advantage.  They are more powerful and less transparent than ever. Here’s a throwback memory for context. Neal Boortz was a provocative talk radio host and attention profiteer back in the days before social media. He was surprisingly honest about the true nature of his enterprise – to deliver a show that was so compelling listeners would reliably sit through commercials. He frequently admonished listeners to never believe anything they heard on his show without first verifying it for themselves. That sort of honesty and transparency are in short supply today.   

Las Vegas is an excellent illustration of a challenging decision-making environment. There’s nothing quite like walking through a Las Vegas casino. There are no clues as to whether it is daylight or dark outside. Everywhere you look, things are flashing, whirring, ringing, begging for attention. And decisions are being made. Hold or double down? Stay or walk away? You don’t have to be a statistician to know that, in aggregate, the house always wins.

As it turns out, Las Vegas is also a good stepping-off point for access to places like the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce. About 150 miles to the northeast is a trail up to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. If you get up early, you will find a place where there are no flashing lights or ringing bells, no news crawl, no dollars changing hands – nothing but a glorious landscape to occupy your attention. It’s a perfect place to reflect on the decisions you have already made, and more importantly, the decisions you are yet to make. It’s not easy getting there. The journey to meaningful places is always challenging. But the experience can be life-altering.

I hope you will join me in seeking out places, real or imagined, that provide similar opportunities for quiet reflection and better decision-making. Let’s work together to defend our attention, focus on what really matters, and grow into better investors, spouses, parents, and citizens.     

Mike Masters