A few weeks ago, I drove with my 90 year old Zayda (Yiddish for grandfather) to the cemetery to visit my Dad (his son). Naturally it was an emotional time, but in some ways it was a very nice little outing. Perhaps it’s because when visiting someone you love and lost too soon, you start to face your own mortality. Regardless, these types of situations often force us into conversations we too often avoid.
Realizing I was in one of those rare moments, I figured I’d seize the day. I asked my extremely intelligent Zayda a few questions about life. The one I think is most worth sharing is as follows:
“Zayda, you’ve lived a long, blessed life,” I said. “You’ve been successful in business. You have a beautiful family full of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. You’ve had many successes and failures, good times and bad, great memories followed by regret. If you were to give me your life advice, what would you say?”
(As a side note, I find this question very interesting. My entire career hinges on giving other people financial, career, and oftentimes, life advice. However, I feel it betters me to learn from others. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting my Zayda, you’d understand the wisdom he provides. Quite frankly, he has something most of us do not–90 years on the job of life learning, studying, and observing. There are no short cuts to getting there, just simple grit and time. So, I take value in his response. I hope you do as well.)
“Andrew,” he responded. “I need to think about it for a little while.”
So, I granted his wish. A few weeks later while staying at his beach house, I brought up the question again. I sat in his pink sunroom and he in his favorite reclining chair.
“Well, Zayda,” I said. “I gave you time to think about my question. What is your answer?”
After a long pause he shared the following:
“Andrew, I thought long and hard about this. If I am going to give fairly general life advice, it would be two-fold. One is the concept of 100%. The other is the concept of balance. You see these things go together in a non-intuitive way.
“First, I’ll address the 100% concept. I think most of us get it wrong. We are told (programmed really) to give everything 100% all the time — 100% at your job, 100% at your religion, 100% at your family. The reality is you don’t have to give 100% all the time. Honestly, 100% isn’t right for most people. It’s too extreme. You should always strive to improve yourself in all facets of your life. You don’t need to be at 100% in order to be successful.”
(Another side note: he was referring to the “progress not perfection” mentality.)
“Let me give you an example,” he continued. “Many years ago, I went to a Bar Mitzvah of a Hasidic [very orthodox] young man. I sat between two men of equally observant Hasidic backgrounds. Sitting next to them, it was quite obvious that I was not of the same level of observance. At the end of the service, one man turned to me and asked, ‘So, when are you going to become Hasidic?’ Before I could answer, the other man turned to us both and said, ‘Nonsense, it is not right for him.’
“Now this wasn’t meant as an insult. Rather, he knew where I was in my life and that this level of observance wasn’t right for me. That is not to say I couldn’t do things to increase my spiritual nature. But, giving 100% was not the right thing for me, which is what it would take to become Hasidic.”
“So you see, life isn’t about having to give 100% all the time in everything you do. Knowing you are progressing, even if just a little bit, is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. All too often, I see people so fixated on one thing that they neglect another. This leads to my second life lesson — balance.”
(If you’ve followed my blogs, you’ll know balance is something I take very seriously. But, it is actually refreshing to hear it from another perspective.)
“If you give 100% all the time, you simply can’t have the balance it takes to live a well-balanced life. Think about ‘workaholics.’ They give 100% to their job. They very likely have successful careers. But, are they happy? Are they spending time with their loved ones? Do they realize how precious and short some of these moments are?
“All too often I see people lack this balance. Sometimes we can’t change our circumstance. But, we can certainly change our efforts. We can choose where and how we exert our energy, and most importantly on whom. We can take a step back and reprioritize our own lives. It’s important to find that right balance between family, work, friends, charity, and faith. Keep in mind, I said’ important’ not ‘easy.’ It will take work. Also, it doesn’t need to be 100%. As long as you are progressing, you will get closer to your ideal balance.”
There we were, two grown men separated by five decades with a common interest. We have love for one another, and a love for talking about life and that elusive magic formula to happiness. We both mentioned how the target is always moving. What is right for us today, may not be right for us in 10 years; we always change.
I took these words to heart and have been thinking about them ever since that evening. I stayed up late that night (and many nights since) really digesting what he said and what he didn’t say. A lot of what he mentioned seemed intuitive and has crossed my mind many times. I suppose when you hear it from someone you immensely respect, it carries extra weight.
Perhaps because I am in the advice business (knowing my clients value my experience and perspective as it pertains to their finances), I like hearing other’s advice. Especially advice from someone like my Zayda, who has a lifetime of experience living. Experience, like wealth, needs a balance. You may not want, or need, to give it 100% all the time. But, it’s fascinating how that simple, yet sage, advice transfers equally to life, love, and planning.
I’ll never forget that conversation. Hopefully, it will continue to shape my life as I move forward. Thanks, Zayda, for the crash course on life through your immense life experience and infinite spirit. You inspire me. If you knew how to type, you would give me a run for my money in this blogging thing!