Lessons From The Grand Canyon

Returning from a week of rafting the upper Grand Canyon in early October, the memories are as vivid as the red mud stained on my clothes. What an adventure!

There are parallels between a river trip and our financial life journey.  Both entail knowing what we want to accomplish, how we are going to do it, and what people, equipment and mindsets will get us there.  Our group knew what the “goal” was.  We put in at Lee’s Ferry and the destination was hiking out up the Angel Bright trail.  We had five oar boats, a paddle boat and two inflatable kayaks.  We had five guides, and all the right gear.  Anticipation of an amazing trip and excitement sat in my gut.

Life reminds us, time and again, that goals can provide guidance, but how we handle what happens on the journey will ultimately define a “successful” experience.

We started with blue skies that quickly clouded over and the 30% chance of rain became 100%.  A new campsite was chosen, and the anticipated hike was cancelled because of potential flash floods.  The river water was warmer than the rain coming down and everyone was chilled to the bone.  The guides expertly handled the second day of rain as we navigated the river amidst clapping lightning, rolling thunder and waterfalls cascading over the Coconino Sandstone walls.  Yes, it was a bit scary, but breathtaking as we paddled through – filled with awe.

Likewise, we look down the road with enthusiastic anticipation of what we have planned and what we expect to happen.  We then experience the storms of economic uncertainty, political changes, health challenges, and family dynamics.  Our lives can and do experience weather changes. How do you navigate the life’s financial oscillations?

Buried in the chaos is both distraction and opportunity.  The determining factor is in your personal flexibility and your attitude.  We can succumb to the events that thwart our plans, or we can shift our perspectives, learn from and look at what needs to be done differently. Financially, make the necessary adjustments.  Then, keep paddling!

Reading the river is not easy, and neither is reading life and the financial implications.  We got out and scouted Hance Rapid.  It is a class 8 and considered one of the hardest and longest rapids in the canyon.  The guides talked about how the run changes based on water flow and there were plenty of large rocks that needed to be navigated and holes to be avoided.  They reminded us of what to do if we found ourselves outside the boat.  As a seasoned boater, I laughed when Jed shared “you will, and you will again” (find yourself outside of the boat).  If you spend enough time in the water, it isn’t a matter of if, just when.

What financial boat have you been thrown from? You bought a financial product, stock, or piece of real estate that was supposed to carry you through.  You have a business or other investment that isn’t performing the way you thought it would. You have experienced a death or divorce or other “life-quake”.   What do you need to do to pull yourself back into the boat?

We had one guest that kept asking about the hike out.  Jed quipped “don’t go down the river without your boat”.  Yes, we need to plan for tomorrow, but we need to live fully today.

We need to trust the process, not the plan.  When I talk to people about what financial life planning is, I start with what it is not.  It is not a Map Quest formula, incorporating your starting point and your destination, spitting out the quickest route.  The value in true financial life planning is looking at where you are now, understanding that where you are going is always moving and changing.  Somewhat like launching the boat at put in, it is a matter of continuous course corrections to keep you navigating an ever changing river.

Adaptability is as important as preparation.  Adaptability has as much to do with our attitudes as it does with our financial acumen.  The same way we want to have the right gear and guides for whichever river expedition we have planned, you want to have the proper financial tools and tutelage for your life journey.  You need to how they work for you when things are going smoothly.  When life happens and changes course, how can they be evaluated, refined, reworked or replaced?  We also need to be adept at adapting and adjusting our attitude to whatever lies around the bend. On the river of life, gather family, faith and friends in your boat, don an attitude of gratitude as your PFD (personal flotation device), perseverance as your paddle, embrace the adventure and enjoy the journey!

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