Now that most of us have already blown our diets and other New Year resolutions, is there something of the determination we felt just a few weeks ago that we can grab a hold of and use in our lives and careers?
I think there is indeed a lesson for those of us who are scarred by the market whiplash of 2009 and anxious about what 2010 will bring. And even for those who scored big in last year’s recovery rally and are dreamily anticipating the next notch on their belt, I think there is a lesson as well.
In fact, it is the same lesson — namely, that there are two things that can be very damaging to your finances, mental well-being or relationships with clients and family alike, and they are: the past and the future.
Probably all of you have clients wounded by the plunging market who don’t want to get near equities again. They are haunted by the past. But let’s say you had the foresight to buy distressed financial companies at the market bottom in 2009 and you tripled your investment. Mere single digit-returns or losses in 2010 could seem inadequate if you allow glories of the past to frame your present.
This happens outside of work as well. Married life has its ups and downs. Whether you’ve been married 50 days or 50 years (40 for this publisher), you probably don’t feel like you did on your honeymoon. And that is fine and good as long as you’re not measuring your marriage by the standard of your honeymoon.
Like the past, the future also claims victims among those blinded by its bright light of promise or harsh glare of worry. How often do people overlook the good that is under their noses (e.g. their current relationships as opposed to hoped-for new ones) in the quest for a vaunted future that never materializes? How often are we paralyzed by fear of a future that also never materializes? (Or maybe it does, but the fear of it prevented us from enjoying what we had up until the feared event arrived)?
Nothing better symbolizes this dual psychological hazard than the New Year’s ball dropping in Times Square. Thousands of people suffer a night in the freezing cold (and millions of others suffer a night of bad television) focused on a future that is without meaning. And it is well known that many experience depression after it has dropped because their mundane lives didn’t quite match the expectations that Dick Clark set for them.
Whether you pine for the past or fear the future, it is the present that matters most. You can be sure that neither George Washington nor Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays we celebrate this month, marked the New Year gazing at a ball. But they matter to us still because they invested so much in their present. If you’ve fallen off your new year’s diet, don’t worry. Today’s a new day.