Some Holiday Thoughts on Effort, Results, and Control

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Happy Holidays! I hope that everyone reading this is enjoying time with family and friends in their own tradition. This is a time for reflection, but my interest in diving deeply into financial topics has been low recently. As I sit amongst a pile of used wrapping paper and cookie crumbs, allow me to reflect on something else.

By chance, my wife recently met a nurse that worked in the pediatric ICU at the same time that our youngest daughter spent some time there. Nearly exactly four years ago today, she experienced sudden, unexplained seizures that lasted on and off for nearly 48 hours. I’ll never forget the uncontrollable screaming and violent movements, the cage that she was put inside to keep her from climbing out and hurting herself. The feeling of complete helplessness. I won’t go into detail, but the short version is that after years of behavioral and speech therapy (and ongoing anti-seizure medication twice every day), she is now at a mainstream kindergarten school. She is a happy, hilarious, spunky little human. She is a fighter.

Where the nurse comes in is that she remembers both our daughter and another child that came in with the same starting conditions, but for the other child the seizures didn’t stop and they never recovered “normal” brain function. This other child has been on my mind. Both of their lives could have been very different. They were equally innocent. We were lucky. I was overcome again by that same feeling of helplessness.

There is so much we can’t control. I couldn’t choose the country where I was born. I couldn’t choose my parents. I couldn’t choose my genes. I couldn’t choose my gender or race or sexual orientation or decade that I was born. I couldn’t choose to have working eyes, ears, or nervous system.

Yet I crave control. Take this site. I want to control how to make more money. I want to control how to spend less money. I want to find the best way to invest that difference into ownership of businesses and other assets. I want these money factories reliably provide me a stream of income. I want to be be able to walk away from bloated corporations, the blind following of metrics, and self-enriching executives. I want spend my time doing something meaningful and fulfilling. I have worked decades for this ability. I have been very fortunate that for the most part, more work has equalled more results. Yet I would give every single penny up if I was the parent of the other child, in order to switch situations with my child.

So that’s the paradox that I’ve been thinking about. We need to respect that we can’t control the cards of which we’ve been dealt, and neither can anyone else. There would be much more grace and forgiveness in this world if we all remembered that. However, we also need to play our own cards as well as we possibly can. So many people don’t feel like they have a chance, so they don’t bother trying. I feel it is critically important that everyone feels they have a chance. Even if effort and reward are not always directly linked, we need to act as if our efforts are worth it. How do you help encourage yourself and others to keep up the effort?

While trying to work this out internally, I appreciated these quotes from Mahatma Ghandi:

Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.

Glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it.

You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.

Change yourself – you are in control.

Here’s the remarkable story of another amazing child who made the most from what he was given. Even though it was prematurely ended by tragic accident, he lived well and I am both humbled and inspired by his story.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this honest, introspective piece. I’m a few years older than you and, after spending much of my life accumulating and maximizing, I am now a nursing student. It’s a very humbling experience! The young women (and occasional old men!) who work tirelessly to bring us and our loved ones back to health at our most vulnerable times are generally not wealthy. Nor have they thought through the risk-reward of engaging in activity with a really high risk of litigation. Often they must sublimate their personal needs to their professional lives. But I was completely dumbfounded by the innocence and goodness of this refreshing attitude.

    Happy holidays to you and yours!

  2. Wow, this is a powerful post. You are sure right that we all need to remember that we and others can’t control the cards we are dealt. And that we need to do the most we can with our advantages. Very wise advice.

    I’m very glad that your daughter is doing well.

  3. Hi, Jonathan. I really needed this perspective today. Thank you for sharing on a more personal level, and thank you for sharing your knowledge throughout the year. Happy Holidays!

  4. Thanks for sharing the story. In this rat race world We tend to focus on things that keep us away from more appreciable things in life. Its good To take a step back and introspect. Thanks again

  5. Mike Cortopassi says

    Beautiful. Glad your girl is doing well.

  6. A beautiful story! Happy holidays to you and your family.

  7. Italiangirl says

    You stated this point do beautifully. Thank you for all your good advice over the years. May we all have enough so we can give to those who need our help, not necessarily monetarily but with good thoughts and actions.

  8. Jonathan,

    Thank you for sharing this experience. As a reader since 2007 and pursuing financial independence for a couple decades, we are in somewhat of a difficult and similar situation. I have also spent countless sleepless nights thinking about many of what you wrote about in today’s post. We wish all the best for our kids and ones we love. And for that we have to keep trying and pushing. I remembered a quote from Churchill, “when you are going through hell, keep going”.


  9. Thank you for your very personal post Jonathan. 2023 will be my 35th year of being a Registered Nurse. At my hospital and in several others, I can see a lot of attending physicians and bedside nurses leaving the field. Hospital work is extremely demanding, particularly now. A lot of hospital workers would benefit from hearing your daughter’s story. This year, my wife was diagnosed with a rare cancer. Even with my knowledge of the ins and outs of my hospital workplace, the entire experience was overwhelming and just like you, I too felt “helpless” at times. It’s that extra bit of human kindness that hospital workers provide to support you through such touch times. I agree with you that you can’t control everything but planning for contingencies help. That contingency planning doesn’t only include Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts, it also includes your investment in people – showing your appreciation for their hard work and making sure they feel that they are valuable and are needed. Speaking of which, thank you also for all of the great tips and bonus referrals I’ve received from your brilliant website over the years. Keep up the great work! Best Regards and Happy Holidays, Ron

  10. What a touching story during the Holidays. Thanks, Jonathan!
    You remind us to keep track of the big picture and not get so lost in the details you can not control.

    A famous quote I like and remind myself when thing are not going so well: ” And this too shall pass”

    I have been a reader of your website from the start, it’s kept me and my family on track both finance wise and health wise. Thank You for all your hard work. Happy New Year!

  11. Thanks for sharing your personal experience and perspective on life. I am glad your girl is doing well.Happy holidays!

  12. Thanks for sharing this Jonathan. Just a couple months ago, I was hospitalized for seizures and they discovered I had a brain tumor. I just feel lucky that it happened to me, and I didn’t have to witness my kids going through what I am going through now… So sorry to hear what your family had to go through, but I am glad to hear that your daughter is doing better!

  13. Thank you all for your positive thoughts. We are very lucky and fortunate in so many ways, and wish you all the best in your efforts for the new year!

  14. powerful message that we need to keep reminding ourselves.

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