James is a 36 year-old surgeon who had just completed multiple Fellowships—his career was just beginning to flourish. He was quick to wax poetic on his love for his wife, his three kids, his work and his motorcycles.
“As this is our data gathering meeting, we would like to understand about your insurance protection so that we can help assess its adequacy.”
James’ wife Rebecca squirmed, as if knowing what will come next.
James’ eyes flashed and the intensity level rose measurably in the room.
“I don’t believe in insurance. It’s a waste of money. If something happens, things will work out, I have no doubt.”
“OK,” I started, trying to stuff down my surprise, “so help me understand. If you, God forbid, fall off your motorcycle and can’t work, how will you provide for your family? Or if you are killed, what then?”
“I believe it will all work out. I cannot see spending money that is just a gamble that something bad will happen. I will not live that way. It’s like betting against myself.”
(Trying not to sound judgmental at such a surprisingly arrogant answer was a challenge.)
Pete, a 64 year-old attorney, proclaimed his desire to retire in no uncertain terms.
“I want to stop working, I can’t stand it anymore. I just want to play golf and enjoy my life. My wife and I both love golf and that’s how we see our lives and frankly, I want it now. Can I do it based on our numbers?”
Turned out, Pete’s numbers would not hold up to allow him his vision of a quiet life on the links. Work was a necessity but his golf vision never faded. Fast-forward six years.
“Hi Pete, how are you? It’s been almost a year since we last met. How was your year?”
“To be honest, it was a horrible year. I have had two back surgeries and a significant number of vertebrae fused. I am finally able to work more than two days a week. Your words keep reverberating in my head from our meeting six years ago when I told you about our goal to retire and play golf. I remember your telling me that I needed to think of a Plan B, in case something happened and I couldn’t physically play golf with the frequency that I had imagined.
Well, here I am and I might never swing another club again. I am now confronted with having to restructure my thinking and what will bring me happiness. I have to tell you, it’s been a very hard year.”
False optimism—a cousin of arrogance—leads us to act in ways that are unrealistic or outside of what reasonable sense would dictate. James’ decision to ride his motorcycle, work in a very specialized profession and leave his family unprotected is a direct result of how he looks at life and what he values. He decided that living with a high degree of risk without accounting for the impact of his decision on his family was acceptable. Much to his wife’s dismay.
In Pete’s case, he created a mindset that allowed for no other possibilities. Having been the recipient of a very strong dose of reality, Pete has to now reassess his options and explore possibilities he was not even considering until his physical limitations got in the way.
We can be stubborn, closed-minded and go through life with blinders on. Our mindset—what we consider to be appropriate, normal and just plain ‘right for us’—is our guiding mantra for decision-making. The problem is that our inability (or unwillingness) to open our thinking to consider other possibilities limits our overall life satisfaction.
When confronting something that requires a decision, take some time to examine whether your answer is coming from your gut, your brain or someplace further south. Life decisions are best served when you allow the ideas of others to enter your thinking. Ask yourself why you believe what you do. Is it just mimicry of lessons learned in childhood? And do you serve those you value most by making decisions that ignore their beliefs and mindsets?
Sidestepping blind optimism and arrogance is easier than it sounds. Just consider your approach to life’s big questions beyond your narrow area of belief. What’s the worst that could happen? You might just save yourself a whole lot of misery.