It’s Not What You Look At That Matters, It’s What You See
The title of this post was written by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. Simple living is something of a lost art this day and age. Seeing instead of looking is also rare. “Seeing” is most troublesome for those of us whose profession requires planning for the future. Myself along with other money managers, traders and market participants are experts in finding fancy ways to try and take X sum of money today, and grow it into Y sum of money for the future. We look at spreadsheets, charts, data, and numbers on screens obsessing over a future in which those numbers invested today have grown into a sufficient sum for tomorrow. The competition around this business is some of the fiercest you will find anywhere. It’s important to have an amount of money in the future to ensure your family lives out their golden years comfortably. It’s equally if not more important to SEE however; to live and be mindful of the now.
I volunteer at Nebraska Medicine and have throughout the past year. In 2018 I worked on the pediatric floor and spent a couple of hours a week playing with kids who were in the hospital for various ailments. Some were frequent fliers as a long term illness landed them there for weeks or months at a time, multiple times a year. Others were only there for a short amount of time. While their illnesses differed, one common theme nearly all of these youngsters had in common was they were able to SEE, not just look. When we played board games together, it was as if nothing else in the world mattered. Not the tubes hooked up to them, not pricks and pokes on their arm from the multiple blood draws taken by the nurses, and not the thinning hair on their heads from the wrath of chemotherapy. They were there, fully present, laughing and smiling as they beat me in their favorite board game. Some of them may not live to see the day when a dollar value on a website or quarterly statement matters.
Yesterday I was retrained as a volunteer as an Ambassador for Nebraska Medicine’s Infusion Services. In short, anyone coming in for outpatient radiation or chemotherapy I assist to try and make their stay as comfortable as possible. I might push them in their wheelchairs to where they need to go, grab them a drink while they are receiving treatment, or sit and talk with them to pass the time. While I deal with more adults than children in my new role, something I noticed was of striking similarity to the kids on the pediatric floor. They SEE. A three minute wheelchair ride was spent talking about the weather or their grand kids. They asked me about my day and what I did for work, taking an interest in someone whom they had never met. While getting treatment they seemed genuinely present. A scary disease renders us almost incapable of caring much about someday when a number on a screen is enough. The present moment is all there is and all there ever was.
My own Dad passed away when I was in the 6th grade. He never made it to retirement. His “number” on his quarterly statement or on a computer screen far outlived him, ending up in the hands of his family as it was no good to him in Heaven. For his short life of 50 years he from what I remember about him SAW. He didn’t just look.
While my business and line of work is very important, a reminder once in a while that living in the now is far more important than dreaming about the future, is warranted. Yes I realize your charts and spreadsheets are very important. Your social media presence and your blog clicks make you happy inside. But let’s all do ourselves a favor and remember this present moment as best we can.
Your “number” on your screen today, while smaller than it will be years from now, is important. After all, it’s what you see..
Trent J. Smalley, CMT