3 Keys to a Better Life

Life is complicated, most of the time.

Technology is supposed to make it easier, better, and faster. However, I’m not so sure it does. When I look around my office at work and then my office at home, I’m convinced that the idea of the paperless office was invented by the paper companies to sell more paper. There is paper everywhere.

In an attempt to improve the situation, I subscribed to Evernote and even got a scanner. It helps because after I scan a document or a business card, theoretically I can through it away. One problem is that I’m not as diligent as I should be at setting up the topic and file folders in Evernote. The result is that the scans are a visual representation of the piles on the desk. 

(1) Reduce Complexity

Now there are words of wisdom. Not only is my life complex by just getting out of bed in the morning, but somehow I amplify it more. One of the ways this shows up is in writing. Have you ever written a few sentences, got called away only to return and re-read what you wrote thinking, "What was I trying to say? Whatever it was, it sure did not come out right!” Then you go to work on the sentence, paragraph, or page and do what? That’s right, simplify.

My father used an acronym saying, "Bruce, use the KISS approach." I remember asking him the first time, “What does that mean?” and him replying with a wry smile, “Keep it simple stupid.” I asked him where he learned that and he replied, “In the Army.” My dad was a Ph.D. and University Dean. I did not expect either the answer or the source of the advice. Clearly, I've never forgotten the admonition. By keeping it simple, there is increased clarity and therefore reduced complexity. 

One of biggest compliments I’ve received has been when a student or seminar participant has come up to me after a session saying, “I really appreciated how you kept it simple. Usually, when I come to these kinds of seminars they make it so complicated I can’t understand it at all.” I also remember my mother’s words of advice the first time I gave a speech as a 12-year-old. “Bruce,” she said, “Remember to keep it simple, keep it short, and tell a joke.” Not bad advice both then and now.

In a similar vein, I asked Jerry White, former CEO of The Navigators, how he collected his thoughts when unexpectedly asked to say something. He thought for a moment and replied, “Well I keep it simple and always start with Jesus.” Now that is great advice. Listening to Billy Grahams preaching at a conference, he shared his formula for starting a conversation, “Always start with Jesus.”  Nothing complex about that advice and I follow it to this day. 

One last example of another way you can reduce complexity. My wife of a few decades, Judy, is a master of simplification and reduced complexity. In contrast to my habits, she is a “thrower-outer.” If you have one in your life, be as thankful as I am. Once every ten years or so she throws out something I wish we'd kept. During the other 9 plus years, she reduces the complexity of our lives and keeps it simple. Weekly I come home and find she has found one more way to implement my dad's KISS approach. Oh yes, it means…..keep it simple, stupid!

(2) Reduce Risk

Managing risk is the biggest challenge to investing of any kind. We think of the challenges arising when we take a risk. Managing and reducing risk is even more important. When we match the risk with the capacity to accept loss and celebrate gain, we are managing risk. Some manage risk by taking none. Others manage risk by researching and determining the very best way to accomplish a task, thereby minimizing risk.

Having spent 30 years in the Retirement Planning world, managing long-term risk is a big part of the job. It is critical to be able to identify risk, and then manage or mitigate it. Everyone knows the old adage of “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” This adage makes intuitive sense knowing that having some eggs left if you drop a basket is better than losing all the eggs from one basket.

In the investment world, and many other life situations, we reduce risk through diversification. That is the essence of the egg story written above. Often a neophyte retirement plan participant will ask one of our staff to pick out the very best fund for them to use. As you know, there is no answer to that. One of the issues to be examined is determining the amount of risk the young participant can handle.

Risk is measured by the distance between the best thing that can happen and the worst.

That distance, that metric, is what defines risk. For example, if in the investment world over the last 5 years, a mutual fund has a high of 75 and a low of 25, the risk is 50. If on the other hand, an investment’s low is 25 and high is 35, there is very little likelihood that the second investment will make more than the first. The likelihood of it surpassing its high of 35 is very low. Amidst all those numbers, you can figure out that in order to make more you will have to take a commensurate risk. Risk commensurate with the reward. 

The host of the wedding feast in Judea during the time of Jesus took a big risk. He lost and they ran out of wine. Much to his surprise, there was a risk mitigatory, a plan B and it was Jesus. One lesson here is to always have a plan B whenever there are high stakes or even medium to low ones. A plan B reduces risk.

(3) Enhance Relationships

We’ve talked about reduced complexity and reduced risk and now we will balance the scales with Enhanced Relationships. Life is all about relationships. There are three key ones: relationship with God, relationship with ourselves, and relationship with others.

When those relationships are in place, you reduce one of life’s great complexities. You also reduce the risk of pain and sadness. When relationships are broken, there is only one reality—pain. When relationships are humming an all cylinders, life is challenging but good. We all know what it takes to enhance a relationship. You spend time together. You attack struggles together. And you love each other all the time, even when it's tough. Knowing how hard those things are to do, it makes God’s love for us even more amazing. Almost incomprehensible.

Many years ago, I found three priorities that make a difference in my daily life. Love God, encourage others, and spread the Word. When I put these concepts with the three I mentioned above, it makes a very powerful support system. Reducing complexity makes it easier to see and implement the three priorities. When risk is reduced so is complexity. And enhanced relationships are what allows me to encourage others and spread the Word.

Bruce Bruinsma