The Never-Ending Then

Some people live their lives in the past. Think of the guy who wants to relive the glory days or the person who can’t mentally escape a traumatic event that has come to define them. Either way, these people are frozen in a prior time.

Some people live their life in the present. They enjoy each moment they have, but are too carefree to consider what comes next. While they fully experience the here and now, their decisions will have serious consequences later.

And some people live their life in the future. They are always looking ahead to a better time. A time with more—more money, more success, more everything. I am one of these people. I suspect you, the reader of an investment blog, might be too.

The problem with living in the future is that you tend to overlook the present. You can’t fully enjoy something when you are always thinking about what’s next.

Since I was a child, I’ve been like this. Back then, I wanted to be an adult. I didn’t want other people telling me what I could and couldn’t do. I craved independence.

Nevertheless, when I finally came of age, my gaze was still directed toward the future. Graduating from a great university wasn’t enough for me. Now I had to earn money and become successful.

In the first chapter of Just Keep Buying, I wrote about my forward-focused obsession right after starting my first full-time job at 23. Despite only having $1,000 to my name, I ran all sorts of investment simulations and was neurotic about what I should do with my money. Though my neuroses around money calmed with time, my obsession with the future never subsided.

I noticed this last week after announcing that Just Keep Buying had sold 100,000 copies worldwide. Despite the outpouring of support I received online, I didn’t feel any more satisfied than before I made the announcement. Instead, I found myself thinking “What do I need to do to get Just Keep Buying to 200,000 people? What tactics should I be following? Should I write a second book?”

There is nothing wrong with thinking about the future, but if you can’t enjoy the present when you achieve something beyond your wildest dreams, then what’s the point? Why shoot for 200,000 sales or write a second book when I will just be thinking about “the next thing” when I eventually get there?

I call this “the never-ending then”. Once I sell this many copies then I will be satisfied. Once I have this much money then I’ll feel secure. Once I have this kind of relationship then I will be happy.

But this line of thinking is a mirage. Because if you are constantly chasing your future, then the future never comes. Every time you catch up with it, you end up pushing it further away.

It reminds me of the story when John D. Rockefeller, the richest man on Earth at the time, was asked by a reporter, “How much money is enough?” and he responded:

Just a little bit more.

I wish I could tell you that there is a simple solution to this problem, but I’m not so sure. I came to this realization after listening to a recent podcast episode with Scott Galloway where he talks about his personal financial struggles. When asked whether he feels financially secure, Galloway responded:

I don’t. I passed nine figures a long time ago and, by any objective measure, I’m financially secure yet I have huge financial anxiety. It’s something that is hard-wired into me.

If $100M+ can’t solve your financial anxiety, then what will?

I’ve previously made the argument that you should feel wealthy if you’re in the top 10% of wealth globally (i.e. if you have a net worth exceeding $100,000). However, I know that this argument is fundamentally flawed. While we might theorize based on absolute wealth, we live in a world based on relative wealth.

And when I see people with far more relative wealth than me talking about their financial anxiety, it makes me wonder whether I should have more financial anxiety as well. If the guy with nine figures is worried, how should I feel as the guy who doesn’t even have seven figures?

You can’t escape these thoughts, but what you can do is try to think less about the future. After all, thinking too much about the future is the root of financial anxiety. If you are constantly thinking about the future, and the future is inherently uncertain, then your future wealth is uncertain too. This logic applies to every other facet of your life as well.

So, rather than living in ‘the never-ending then’, you have to learn to avert your focus elsewhere. You have to enjoy the present a bit more and stop trying to plan your idealized path through life. As I discussed last week, you won’t get that path either way. Something always comes up and sends you on a detour.

Accepting this is hard and something I still struggle with regularly. However, once you do, you will realize that the ideal life is not one that exists solely in the past, present, or future, but one that moves seamlessly between the three. If you can appreciate the past, live in the present, and plan for the future, then what more can you ask for?

As investors, we are naturally inclined to thinking about the future growth in our wealth. But, sometimes, it pays to appreciate the wealth that we already have. Otherwise, we can get trapped in a cycle that can be hard to escape.

Until next time, thank you for reading.

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This is post 363. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data


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