Investing

plant coming up out of the ground and growing.
Image by eko pramono from Pixabay

The other day I went shopping at Costco.

As I approached the bank of cashiers, I was faced with the typical decision of choosing a line. I selected one that appeared relatively short and settled in to wait my turn. As it turns out, the person ahead of me was having “issues.” I don’t know exactly what unfolded, but it required the intervention of a supervisor and quite a bit of time. At one point, I pondered switching lines. There were a few that looked to be moving more quickly. However, I decided not to. In the back of my mind, I was telling myself that I had “invested” in this line, so why give up now? Even though my investment was only a couple of minutes, it was enough to keep me from changing course.

When you hear the word, ‘invest,” you probably think of money. This makes perfect sense, as this is the primary term associated with financial portfolios. We invest in many things that have monetary value, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, collections, art, designer clothing, fancy cars, and more. Nevertheless, the term “investing” actually has broad application, representing any circumstance in which we dedicate time, space, energy, resources, focus, thoughts, and/or emotions to an endeavor. Furthermore, the investments we make often have a profound impact on our energy, productivity, confidence, decisions, and overall mood.

If we stand back and consider the concept of investing in this wider sense, we become aware of how important it is to invest wisely. The last thing we want to do is waste whatever time, talents, and assets we have.

In order to become wise investors, we first need to observe a few truths about investing.

1. We make investments all day long, every day of our lives.

An investment is any choice we make with how to use our time, talents, and resources. Some of these choices will feel significant, such as buying a car, choosing a career, and selecting a mate. “Big” investments are the ones we tend to make with great intention and care, the ones for which we instinctively understand the gravity of our decision. We crunch the numbers, evaluate options, consider scenarios, pray, solicit input, and otherwise focus on making a decision that will “pay off” in the long run.

In contrast, we tend to be less measured when it comes to our smaller, daily investments. We spend little time considering potential outcomes, believing the consequences are too small to warrant careful thought. Practically speaking, this is necessary. We don’t have the margin every time we shop at Costco to gather data and perform calculations on optimal line selection. Instead, we go through our day making quick decisions, on the go, with whatever information we can easily access.

2. Once we make an investment, we will be reluctant to withdraw from it.

Regardless of whether an investment is large or small, it is important to acknowledge that once we begin down one path, the decision to switch gears may be difficult and costly. This could be a financial cost, such as having to pay a penalty for early withdrawal from a financial instrument. It might also mean lost time, such as when we have to abandon an errand we had begun when we realize that finishing it will make us late for another appointment. There may even be social or emotional costs; for example: we might make someone unhappy with us when we decide to exit a volunteer project.

Sometimes, we are simply too stubborn to admit we’ve made a poor choice. Our pride keeps us stuck where we are. In my Costco example, I felt that it would be a form of surrender to give up and switch lines. I kept thinking, “I’ve already waited so long, I can’t give up now!” We don’t like to lose the “value” of what we have put into a given initiative. Our emotions keep us tethered to our choices, and we rationalize staying put.

3. Not every investment we make will be successful.

No one makes perfect decisions, even “experts.” Renowned investor Warren Buffett talks openly about choices he made that didn’t work out as he had anticipated. In 1993, Buffett purchased the Dexter Shoe Co. for $33 million with stock from his company Berkshire Hathaway. In a 2007 letter to shareholders, he explained that he had made a poor decision, and admitted that the deal cost investors around $3.5 billion, which was around 1.6% of Berkshire Hathaway’s net worth at the time.

Buffet wrote,

“To date, Dexter is the worst deal that I’ve made. But I’ll make more mistakes in the future — you can bet on that.”

Warren Buffet

There is a freedom in acknowledging the reality everyone will make some investments that are duds. Most of us won’t lose $3.5 billion, but we are still likely to lose money, time, and self-esteem. It is comforting to know that this is par for the course. A student may invest a large amount of time studying for an exam that he still ends up failing. It happens! A hospitality manager may spend countless hours and money planning an event that ends up being cancelled by a raging novel virus. Who could have known? A driver may make swerve to avoid hitting a deer and end plowing into a telephone pole. That’s why we carry insurance.

No matter how conscientious we are, how much we plan, and how much advice we solicit, we will still make some investments that don’t work out.

4. Our investments can (and should) change over time.

I was an adolescent of the 1980s. One of the popular hobbies of the time was to go to the arcade at the mall and play games. If memory serves, the “hot” games of the day were PacMan™ and Asteroids™. If you wanted to be a good gamer, you spent a lot of money and time standing in front of these machines and practicing. (Confession: I never was any good, but I was always impressed by those who were.)

Today, gaming is completely different. No longer do we drop quarters into a machine at the mall. An entirely new set of equipment and skills is required, and odds are it will continue to evolve. Perhaps in another decade games will be programmed into a chip that we insert into a slot behind our ear!

It is a common tendency to hold onto habits and belongings simply because they were important to us at one time. Unfortunately, it is hard to live freely in the “now” when we are saddled with the baggage of the past. Markets are fickle, tastes change, technology evolves, and trends come and go. We may have invested time, energy, or money on an endeavor in the past, but few investments hold their value forever.

***

If these principles are true, how can we be wise investors, not only with our money, but with our time, space and belongings?

FIRST: Invest your resources with your eyes wide open.

Don’t jump into anything without thinking through how it will impact your broader life.

For example, if you are asked to take on a new role, ask yourself, “If I accept this role, will it interfere with other, more important responsibilities? If it doesn’t work out, will it be hard to extract myself in the future?”

Consider questions such as:

  • Where will I store this?
  • What will happen if this takes longer than I anticipate?
  • Will I have a hard time letting go of this if I don’t end up liking/needing it?
  • What are the odds I will regret this?
  • How might doing this now derail the rest of my plan for the day?

SECOND: listen to your “inner voice.”

Often, we have an instinctive feeling about how we should proceed in a given situation. For instance, we have a moment of doubt about whether or not we have enough time to squeeze in a phone call before we need to head out the door. Unfortunately, we frequently rationalize ourselves away from these “gut messages,” and it ends up hurting us. If that little voice is telling you that you lack necessary time, space, energy, or resources, listen to it and don’t invest!

THIRD: be willing to exit when an investment sours.

When an investment we’ve made fails to pay off, we should feel free to cut bait and take our losses. Clinging to a poor investment only results in greater damage. Instead, we should show ourselves grace and give ourselves permission to change course.

A ticket for Titanic’s maiden voyage was a bad investment, but refusing to acknowledge the ship was sinking, and climbing into a lifeboat, was fatal.

***

Does this idea of “investing” resonate with you? Can you think of a time you should have walked away from an investment you made?

20 thoughts on “Investing”

  1. Actually, you made me think of the most recent time I went grocery shopping. I decided to take my chances and invest my time in waiting in the physical deli line instead of ordering head on the app to just to pick up. I got there and I was #12 and they were only at #7. I waited patiently for my turn and just as it was my turn the deli counter person skipped me as I apparently didn’t say here quick enough and the lady that was #13 jumped very quickly to jump ahead. I had to decide if my invested time was worth saying something or aborting. I chose to speak up and was thankfully taken next after the lady that jumped ahead of me. But still, that invested time wasn’t worth leaving and coming back at a later time. So, in this case, maybe I should have walked away, but still, I felt I needed to see it through to get what I stood on that line for.

    1. That is a perfect example, Janine! Once you are in the line, you don’t want to walk away. That lady hopping in ahead of you, though… no good! The deli can be brutal LOL!

  2. In a way, I equate the word investment with commitment. Such as we invest in or commit to our relationships. We invest in or commit to our professional development etc. Especially if we take time to evaluate whether we want to “invest,” it can be even more challenging to shift direction. And to some degree, once we decide, it makes sense to go with that decision 100% to receive the full benefit. However, as you pointed out, there are times when the decision needs to be questioned. Perhaps the result didn’t come to fruition. Or maybe other things in your life have changed, making the path irrelevant or not the right fit. So with commitment and investment, we need also to maintain a certain amount of openness and flexibility. It may not mean that you have to leave a situation completely, but you might need to rethink things or alter them slightly.

    1. You make a good point about it being worth it to hang in there 100% to receive the full benefit. Sometimes we bail out too soon, frustrated by difficulty or slow progress. It can be hard to know what is the right thing to do! Being a mindset to be open to tweaks and shifts can help. Just being aware that we have invested, and the impact that is having on our thought process can be advantageous, right?

  3. I enjoyed reading your post as all of those situations apply to me at one time or another. The biggest challenge for me is to let go of a bad investment. I feel I should work harder and I can make it a good one. That is definitely not true for all cases. I also like the term investing and I think we are getting tired of the term making choices especially in the organizing world. Putting a new spin on making choices and describing it as investing will trigger new ways to think about our decisions.

    1. That is such a great comment, Julie. Sometimes a simple shift in terminology can get us thinking in a fresh way! I agree that it is very hard to walk away from a bad investment. We see this with clients all the time, right? They have a possession that in some way represents a past investment. It is always worth asking how those items are serving us now, and whether they “justify their real estate” in our spaces!

  4. I love this concept as it helps us have a new perspective on where we “spend” time and money “investing”. My perspective is usually “return on investment.” Where will I receive what I consider high return on ways I have spent time and money. It is evaluating as you suggest above before investing at all.

    1. Love the idea of keeping ROI top of mind, Ellen! If hanging in the line for a few extra minutes means you will get out the door with what you need, that might be enough to keep you invested. While it is important to bail out when an investment goes south, it is also to remember that a pursuit may require some tenacity. Focusing on the payoff helps us decide when to stay and when to walk away.

  5. I love the part of David Rock’s book, Your Brain at Work, where he talks about inhibition. Our brains actually work against us when we try to stop an activity (investment) in which we are already engaged. Rock says that the brain’s “braking system” is located in a very neurologically weak section of the prefrontal cortex. So, it’s cognitively easier for us not to start something than to stop it once begun. Ahh, humanity is so much fun…

    1. Wow, that is so interesting Melissa! Thanks for sharing that. Knowing there is a physiological reason for a difficulty is somehow comforting, isn’t it?

  6. You’re right–when we think of investing, our first thoughts turn to money–not time. But our time is finite and without strong decision making skills and the willingness to ‘let go’ when an investment doesn’t work out, how we invest our time could adversely affect our ability to make choices in the future.

    Years ago, I had hired a person to redesign my logo and website and even after many conversations and emails, the person was sending me logos that clearly did not reflect the information I gave her. She kept trying and I kept trying to make it work–probably a little longer than I should have. After a few months of getting nowhere, I paid the person a ‘kill’ fee to stop the project. My confidence took a hit but a few months later, I found the person who would ultimately successfully redesign my logo and website. I invested a whole lotta time into that project and it has truly paid off!

    1. That is such a perfect example, Stacey. You were definitely invested, both financially and emotionally. It is difficult to cut bait, but your illustration shows that sometimes it is the exact right thing to do!

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

    I recently changed hosting companies. I was with this other company for YEARS – since the early 2000s – before WordPress – before many things online. To make the process more seamless, I researched and picked a company that would support my current theme. I also reviewed the plugins to see if they were compatible with the new hosting company. When I went and made the change, I did it myself, and there wasn’t a lapse at all in the transition. I was so grateful that I took that extra time to minimize the problems that may occur.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…26 Days of Your Favorite Things ChallengeMy Profile

    1. Wow, you are my hero, Sabrina! I have been with the same hosting company forever as well. I guess I should add this to my list of “things to research!” Maybe it is time for a change here as well.

  8. I am in the “too stubborn to change direction” camp and I have to work on that every day. I recognize the same notion in many of my clients and I always ask if they like the way something functions or if it’s just a habit they are used to and put up with.

    I really appreciate how you always take a word or a concept and peel the layers back to help your reader deepen their understanding for themselves. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Dr. Phil frequently asks people, “How’s that working for you?” I think this is a great question to ask ourselves (and clients) to help us figure out how to proceed! Thanks for the nice words, Melanie. Much appreciated:)

  9. I just love the story of you on line at the store. ( Just as I always get a parking space, that’s for sure, I always manage to stand on the wrong line. ) Always. And, just like you, I decide to stay put, as I’ve already invested time. So, why change lines now? Sometimes, 20 minutes later, I’m out of the store. I’ll make good use of my time on line and add up how much money I should not be spending in the first place.
    When I think of investment, I mostly think of time, which you can never get back and people. Which you can’t put a price on.
    My great grandmother used to say that her children were the profits of her investment. I always loved that.
    The next time I wait on one of those silly lines, this is going to motivate me to switch. It was a bad investment. I have to say though, when I’ve done that in the past, I hop on the second longest line.
    Ronni Eisenberg recently posted…The Best 25 Affordable Ideas for Holiday Gifts That Will Bring on the Spirit of the SeasonMy Profile

    1. LOL Ronni. I’ve hopped into the second longest line as well. Nothing is a “sure thing,” right? I love your great grandmother’s quote… people really are our greatest investment!

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