The rains are back in town. There’s photo I’d love to take from where I sit. Low clouds are weaving through the tress on the opposite side of the bay. Each fragment of mist frames a different green vignette; either fresh leaves on resurgent deciduous or deeper mature needles on pines. No wonder I like my view home. But I won’t get out the camera because the photo would include powerlines. My eye can edit them out of my memory, but the camera would dutifully record them. Much of what we witness and discuss involves inconvenient reminders of humanity, and even though I won’t take the shot, I realize that humanity shouldn’t be ignored; especially, in finance and society.
When I take photos for my Twelve Month series, either for the narratives or the photo essays, I treat the digital photography as if it was film. When I used film I didn’t crop or colorize. I relied on positioning and lighting to create the effects that some produce with Photoshop. I don’t use software to remove powerlines because I find ways to keep the powerlines out of the picture. Especially with my photos I try to show the beauty in the everyday, nature’s arrangements that are easy to overlook while driving by in an automotive box. I walk around in somewhat inclimate weather, and sunny days too, and photograph clouds, landscapes, trees, shells, waves, and anything that happens along. It is too easy to only pay attention to the bits of the world that we have built. Even a drive through the mountains requires the driver to watch their speed and the road. I try to show what’s beyond our manufactured borders.
Yesterday my camera and I were busy at Double Bluff, a park on South Whidbey known for a dog park, views of Puget Sound, and an immensity of exposed beach at low tide. It is also known for bluffs that are made of sand that is perpetually sliding into the sea. The land is dynamic, and so is the water. It’s never the same, which is handy for a photographer. It is also bordered by private homes on either side and above. To show the nature without the structural distractions I count on fogs and mists, or conveniently tumbled trees, or an acceptance that I won’t take the shot. Here’s a picture I like, but after I loaded it into the computer I noticed a drain line draped down the hill. It probably won’t make the final cut. I liked the anemone shots better anyway. Stay tuned. The series will be complete this fall.
I edit out the humans because I want my photographs to show nature. I think there are people who want to edit the human species out of nature entirely, maybe because we’re too messy, but that’s another issue and possibly another post.
People edit humans out of personal finance too. Finance relies on mathematics, and mathematics is the ultimate well-ordered abstraction. It is easy to reduce everything to equations, logic, and optimal solutions. Put Personal in front of Finance though and each solution becomes unique. Real life can’t be reduced to equations. Job choices may be driven by proximity to family and friends. Spending choices may be driven by coping mechanisms that deal with unresolved childhood issues. Investment choices are affected by familiarity or availability. No one knows how long they’ll live or how their life will change. My life has taken dramatic shifts frequently, despite spending a lot of my life in stable and conventional environments. My personal finance solutions are plural because they change as my life changes.
I am hearing lots of people working their way through money choices. The underlying fear from the Dismal Decade persists, but they are beginning to act so maybe we are entering the Decisive Decade. When anyone asks, and I point out the benefit I received by working through the Nine Step program developed and popularized by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. I followed the version in the original Your Money or Your Life (and am actually in the new edition.) What I liked about that approach is that it recognizes the human part of personal finance. Math is involved, but so are values; and values are personal. Following imposed values can lead to a dysfunctional life. Personal values are much more powerful. They may be hard to initially recognize, but recognizing them and living to them is engaging and empowering. When personal finance becomes an expression of personal values then personal finance is met with enthusiasm. No drudgery allowed – except for filling out taxes.
Of course I am a fan of the Nine Step program. That may be why I am Secretary for the New Road Map Foundation that acts as its repository of tools, examples, and community. The steps alone can transform your relationship with money, but I found that editing out every human except the individual misses an opportunity. My friends have similar concerns, but none of them have identical answers because they are individuals. Diverse community provides diverse examples. The Simple Living Forums are another group of like-minded people who work with each other to progress through the confusion. And sometimes it pays to work with a professional. I’ve mentioned my friend Mike Brady before because he is a good example of a portfolio manager who doesn’t impose solutions, but rather works from a person’s passions. Undoubtedly there are others out there. If you want help, ask for it. I am not a certified financial anything, but I have helped friends and businesses make choices – partly based on mathematics, but more strongly influenced by their values, goals, and circumstances.
One of the aspects of my book, Dream. Invest. Live., is that emotion can be an element of personal finance. Managing money doesn’t have to be reduced to math. Humanity can be involved. I don’t think investing shouldn’t go to the other extreme either. Investing purely based on emotion is simply gambling. My recent results haven’t been comforting, but I also know that over thirty years of data have convinced me that allowing emotion to have a voice also allowed me to identify very profitable opportunities that others overlooked. If nothing else, allowing a bit of humanity to seep into the equations makes it easier to be interested in what’s happening.
Punditry reduces the populace to statistics. People are grouped and their situations are generalized. The subsequent debates deal in abstractions, or absurdly exaggerate anecdotes and assume that everyone has to deal with the same issues. They tune me out.
People are individuals. The uniqueness of each individual is the ultimate diversity. While I may edit humans out of my nature photos, I don’t think we should edit us out of anything else. Why edit out something so wonderful?