Are You Making Progress Indirectly?

Are You Making Progress Indirectly?

If there’s a secret sauce in life, it might be this; you often accomplish things indirectly. In many instances, it’s difficult to draw a straight line between your direct efforts and actual results.

When you go to the gas station to put gas in your car, there’s a clear relationship between an action that you take, (putting gas in the car), and the outcome, (gas in the tank).

Many things that you do in life, however, aren’t nearly as linear.


A couple of years ago, I had recurring shoulder pain and decided to go see a local orthopedist who specializes in shoulders. He quickly assessed that the issue was likely not in the shoulder but rather a cervical (neck) disk problem. This was surprising to me given where I was experiencing pain but ultimately the diagnosis proved to be correct.

Invariably, the first step in achieving something you want is to properly diagnose the problem; to accurately determine where you are now and what specifically is creating the physical, emotional, or financial pain. Only then can you shift your focus toward a solution.

In our information-drenched world, however, it’s tempting to skip over the boring diagnostic step and instead go straight for the treatment or solution. The order of operations is important. Leaving out a step can put you on an entirely different trajectory.

In my case, the MRI confirmed the original diagnosis which left me trying to find a solution. Ultimately, I visited with three different neurosurgeons, and each brought a distinct approach to the issue. One was ready to move ahead with surgery even before trying conservative measures like physical therapy; another thought surgery would be required but wanted to do therapy and injections first. Finally, the neurosurgeon I ultimately selected focused on determining the actual pain generator versus just relying on the MRI. As he said, “I operate on people, not MRIs.”


In the financial world, many investors want to jump over the diagnosis step and head straight for investing. After all, that’s emotionally satisfying with all the focus on investment returns.

It’s tempting to equate investments with solutions but usually this isn’t the case. Investments are just a tool. It’s a bit like sitting in a brand new car with all the nice new car smells. Your senses explode with the supple feel of the leather seats and fancy gadgets. You are transported emotionally to a place that is fun and exciting, but in the end, it might not be where you wanted to go.

We sometimes have inquiries from folks that only want investment management; they aren’t interested in financial planning. They are basically saying they want all the new car smells without actually buying a new car.

French economist Frédéric Bastiat wrote extensively on the concept of “what is seen and unseen.” Investment returns are seen while engaging in the diagnostic financial planning process is often unseen. It’s easy to go only with what you see and ignore the rest.

Sometimes, things in life that attract your eye differ from those that appear only in your mind. Be open to the possibilities of accomplishing what’s important to you indirectly; your future self will thank you. Start there. Ready for a real conversation?