Discipline Equals Freedom

I came across the quote by former Navy Seal, Jocko Willink, and it was one of those quotes I had to repeat multiple times before I could figure it out.  Often times you see or hear words crammed together in a sort of word stew, with no real meaning.  I believe we are conditioned to just that sort of nonsense which is why “discipline equals freedom” caused me to pause. Willink wrote a book with the same title and being a book reader, I will likely add it to my list.

At first blush discipline and freedom live on opposites sides of a continuum. We would rarely put them together.  However, upon further reflection they go together like a hand and glove.

We all want freedom.  We want freedom to do what we want when we want, for however long we want.  In my role as a financial advisor, I have discovered that people crave financial freedom.  Most often when I ask the question of a working client or prospective client, “What is it about retirement that is so appealing?” the answer comes back in some sort of nuanced language around financially being free to do what they want.  The idea of not being accountable to anyone, creating and controlling their own schedule follows right behind.

Of course, you know that I believe financial freedom is a worthy goal (otherwise, what am I doing here)?  But in order to achieve that freedom you will need to earn it.  This often takes a lifetime to fulfill.  You can’t arrive at your late fifties and begin thinking about retirement.  In fact, if you are smart you start working towards this goal in your twenties.  Full disclosure, Joan and I were so buried with life and raising kids in our twenties that retirement was not even in our top twenty things to focus on.  I can’t tell you how many people I have met who waited until their kids left the house to begin thinking about their own retirement.  They truly believe that this is a noble thing, and maybe it is, who am I to judge.  However, if you have ever listened to the instructions before a flight, you will remember the admonition to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.  This notion runs counterintuitively, because it is admirable to help others and put ourselves last, but if you have passed out due to your own lack of oxygen you will be incapable of helping anyone else.

Arriving at retirement prepared for financial freedom requires discipline during the working years.  It is much more fun and rewarding to spend money along the way on lifestyle decisions, vacations, and toys.  This requires no discipline (other than staying current on all of the debt you accrued to achieve this lifestyle).  On the other hand, it requires discipline to make sacrificial contributions to your retirement plan when the cash flow otherwise would provide for happiness in the moment.  It takes discipline to systematically eliminate debt, paying off all creditors, including the bank who holds your mortgage.  Exercising that discipline covers the admission fee for retirement.

I must also share that we often meet with prospective clients who kept their head down, made contributions, paid down debt and they come to us with their retirement account statements and their benefit package from work and wonder if they did enough.  It is impressive the way they remained disciplined and arrived at retirement, dare I say, overprepared. We have to convince them that they are only working because they love their job, work is optional for them.  I confess, that it is on days like these, when we are delivering the good news that I am the happiest in my profession.  They are financially free, and it wasn’t just handed to them, or something they earned by hitting a certain age and feel they deserve to retire.  Sorry, but if you didn’t put in the work, you can’t enjoy the freedom.

So, in fact discipline does equal freedom.  The earlier we start with that discipline the easier the lift.  This is one of the reasons writing my book was so important.  I am passionate about helping young people discover their own path to figuring out their financial future.  I am encouraged by the vast number of them who are on the right track, and I am confident that it will make all the difference for them.

Fear Is Not Your Friend

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” -Marcus Aurelius

Fear is not your friend.  Making decisions in a state of fear will never serve you.”  Brian Ursu

Only one of these quotes is famous, but they both are true.  Fear is a dangerous emotion and leads to poor decision making.  There is nothing wrong with being scared of one thing or another but allowing that concern to dictate your actions or reactions is wrong.  Wringing your hands and trembling in fear will not help you properly assess the perceived threat.

Too often I have witnessed investors make devastating decisions based on their perceived threat.  This could be the result of an election (the last two come to mind) yet the market marches higher despite the frenzy they have worked themselves up in.  Another “external” that causes bad behavior is the passage of this or that piece of legislation.  Granting greater importance to the outcomes of these externals will undermine even the best investment strategy.

I am not, by any means, suggesting that you plant your head firmly in the sand and not pay attention to the externals, but measure your response to them and use your power to revoke them.  Logic and understanding is the antidote to fear.  Consider this quote by noted scientist Marie Curie.  “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”  With limited understanding the threat grows beyond its limits and causes us to fear disproportionately.

Consider the Japanese proverb, “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.”  We are the ones who nurture our fears and not only welcome them into our psyche but nurture them until they grow stronger than our own resistance.  By fixating on that which we fear we give it lifeforce that is undeserving and allow our minds to turn into something that is paralyzing.  To suggest that we just use willpower to defeat our fears is probably not practical or healthy, but the more you conquer your fears, the easier the next one will be to defeat.

I often encourage people who are gripped by fear to play out their fear in real time.  For example, if this person wins the election what happens then?  The market will crash.  Why will the market crash?  Because this is the worst person in the world.  Have we had other atrocious presidents elected before?  Of course.  And what has happened as a result?  The market is much higher now then it was back then.  Businesses continued to improve, hired new people, brought new technologies to being, grew their earnings and increased their value.  This has happened during good presidents and the not so good.

Catastrophic thinking is running rampant right now.   Take any issue and those who represent either side of that issue will try to get you to believe that the other side will bring the end of civilization for us all.  I don’t care what the issue, the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes and is not as devastating as we are being led to believe.  The sun will come up tomorrow, there will be more opportunities for us to grow and help others to grow, and the world will not end.

I have learned that the message “Be Not Afraid” appears 365 times in the bible.  It could be coincidental that 365 happens to be the number of days we have in a year, but to me it is a reminder that fear is not helpful or productive and the repeated message is for our benefit.

Overcoming our fears is key to growth and a successful life.  Think of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”  I want nothing more than for you to learn the secret of life.  Facing your fears head on and moving forward regardless of them will make all the difference.

Financial Security Starts with a Vision

What does financial security mean to you?  It is a very simple question, but everyone is likely to have a different answer.  I am not talking about the ad for the unnamed company that asks the pointless question, “What is your number?” like that means something.  You have always been and will always be much more than a number.  You are a real living person with hopes, dreams and fears.

I will be the first one to tell you, there is no such thing as a number when it comes to financial security.  I have met people with over ten million dollars who are unsure if they can retire and on the other hand have also known people who feel that the $250,000 they managed to save will be plenty to last them the rest of their lives.  Financial security is much more than a number or a balance in your retirement account.

To me, it means a “work-optional” lifestyle where you can live without fear of the future.  It is different for everyone based on what they imagine their future to be.  The old model of retirement (when it was a brand-new invention about 50 years ago) was a lifestyle of permanent leisure marked by endless days of golf or fishing.  Retirement traditionally was marketed specifically to males.  So, the images associated with it were things like gold watches, a set of golf clubs, or a fishing boat with a tackle box chocked full of lures.

That idea seems comical to me today.  I know very few people who identify with that notion of retirement.  Most that I know are interested in pursuing passions or hobbies that have long been dormant due to the demands of the day-to-day grind.  They pursue experiences and travel in ways that their previous two weeks of vacation would never allow.  I have also been amazed and impressed by those who actively seek out opportunities to give back through volunteering in their community in one way or another.

Think about it.  In the beginning of retirement, a person retired at age 65 which coincided with life expectancy.  Therefore, very little planning was necessary.  Today, people are retiring younger and living much longer with life expectancies in the early eighties.  In many cases people will be retired as long as they were working, thirty to thirty-five years.  It is estimated that, on average, a person will now have 9,600 days to fill during retirement.  That is a very big number.  How can we make most of those days meaningful?  Believe it or not it starts today.

I know you are thinking, “Brian, I just started my career.  I haven’t even gotten my bearings yet with my new income.  You are asking me to imagine retirement?”  You may not be thinking exactly that but some form of it for sure.  I know, I was once you (although not nearly as smart because I wasn’t reading books then).  What I am asking is that you have an idea of what kind of future you want to live in.  I know it sounds touchy feely and not practical in any way, but please just try and visualize your future self and how you are filling your time.  Be specific.

What are you wearing?  Where do you live?  Who is in your life?  If you had all the time you wanted and no obligations, what would bring you joy and satisfaction?  These are not esoteric questions.  These are foundational questions to point you in the direction of your future.  Be intentional and purposeful.  As you clarify your vision over time (it will take years) you will start to create and manifest that vision right in front of your very eyes.  It is magical.  The alternative to this exercise is to keep your head down, grind it out for 30 to 35 years and pick your head up at the end and hope that you were facing in the right direction.  I have a saying that I use often, “The primary goal of most people is to arrive at death as safely as possible.”  That type of thinking drives me absolutely crazy, yet it is prevalent.  You are different.  You have hopes and dreams.  The best way I know to point you in the right direction, is start you thinking about them and clarifying them right now, twenty or thirty years before you need to.

Financial security is much more than a number.  You are much more than a number.  Spend some time thinking about what financial security means for you.  My suggestion is to work with a financial advisor or coach who can stand with you, gaze in the same direction, see your vision and help guide you to the future that you intentionally create.


Go be amazing.