A Lesson Learned

I’m fortunate to be part of a year-long program this year focusing on leadership. I look forward to hearing different perspectives and how I might implement the lessons across my professional and personal life. But I bring this program up not to tell you about what’s in store for me for the next year, but to relay an anecdote that serves as a nice metaphor.

The kick-off event to this program was held last week in the Phoenix area—every other participant was flying in from different parts of the country, but I was fortunate enough to be just a two hour drive away. I left late Sunday afternoon to get there for the kick-off dinner and let’s just say I definitely made it with plenty of time to spare. If you’ve never experienced the moment of dread when a hotel employee tells you they can’t find your reservation, it’s a real kick in the teeth. Turns out the kick-off dinner was Monday and I had arrived a day early. It was now 4pm and I was looking at staying an extra night in Phoenix or driving two hours back for the evening.

I called my wife who was somewhat happy to hear that I had my first major “dad-brain” moment and then sat and pondered the next move. Clearly, my drive up to Phoenix was now a sunk cost—it happened and there was no reversing that decision. When I thought about it, the question came down to this:

“Is a two hour drive worth it to spend another evening and morning with my family (and make my wife much happier for helping her with toddler duties)?”

The answer was obviously no—free night out on the town! I’m kidding, of course. The answer was an obvious yes. It was irrelevant why I was in that situation, so it became a matter of simply figuring out the ideal course of action given the circumstances. In reflection during my beautiful (not beautiful) drive back on I-10, I did spend some time thinking about how I might learn from my mistake so as not to make it again (note to self: have someone who knows what they are doing control my calendar).

There is a good lesson for everyone here on dealing with problems throughout your financial life. The series of steps that put you in certain circumstances are relevant only in the sense of what you may learn from them. For example, “I’m 50 years old and I’ve hardly saved anything”. I’m guessing there are some regrets for someone making that statement and hopefully they’ve learned some valuable information that can help them going forward, but they are where they are. Dwelling on the past in this case will often serve only to hamper future efforts to better the circumstances. This is even more true for tough circumstances that appear through no fault of your own: “I did everything right and then the market crashed,” for example. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “How did I find myself here?” but far more productive to focus on “What can I do to solve this?”

To cap off my story, it was well worth the extra drive to see my wife and son (they even pretended they were happy even though I know they were mad I ruined their night on the town). Plus I was able to turn an embarrassing moment into a blog post, so that’s something too. All’s well that ends well.