Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wealth Management (Having Doesn't Mean Anything)

I spent a couple weeks this month house-sitting at a gorgeous house in a nice part of town.  A house with an outdoor Jacuzzi, a well-stocked fridge, a turret that you can climb up into, and two cute (though high-maintenance) dogs.  A house so great that I think of it in capital letters: The House.  Woe is me, life is so hard.  Seriously, I love my life.

Near the end of first week, one of the occupants of this house popped back in for a couple of days (to do some work), and we ended up having a series of intriguing conversations.

This guy - I'll call him "B" just in case he doesn't feel like appearing in a yoga blog - works as a wealth management consultant.  I'm not sure that I've got the title correct, but I got the gist of what he does: he works with people who are super-wealthy (a very technical term referring to people with so much money that you use at least 8 digits to describe their wealth) and he helps them figure out how to manage these frankly ridiculous amounts of money.  (This explains The House.)  B is a sweet, thoughtful guy, and although his wife (a regular student of mine) has not yet persuaded him to make an appearance in the hot room, he is curious about the whole concept of yoga and Bikram yoga and What Do You Do To My Wife In There.

So B and I poured some wine and got to talking.  He told me - in very general terms, of course, no confidentiality breached - about some of the clients who he's been working with.  One client recently inherited an 8-figure sum of money.  Wow, right?  Well, B was visiting with this guy in the hospital after he had pretty significant, life-threatening heart problems.  The client is only in his 50's, he's got more money than most people even dream of in their lifetimes, and he's lying in a hospital bed.  And B is convinced that the money is what put the client in that hospital bed - the stress of it!

Now let's think about this, seriously.  Beyond, "Oh, boohoo, cry me a river."  What's really wrong with this picture?

B told me that some of his clients are well adjusted and handle their wealth beautifully - giving to charities, doing good works, raising happy families - but many are not.  They are so overwhelmed by their financial wealth that it starts to overshadow everything else.  He said that when he first meets with a client, he makes sure to ask them some simple questions: What are you doing to take care of yourself?  (Are you eating properly?  Are your kids happy?  How are your grandkids?  How's your stress?)  Are you healthy and happy?

He says that these questions will stump the new clients every single time.  They haven't thought about it. "Or maybe they just never expected me to ask them those questions."

Wealth management!  What does it mean, really?  What is wealth?

These are such great questions that are so easy to overlook.

Here's the yoga perspective.  First, let's just suggest that "stress is the root cause of all diseases, even communicable ones."  I believe that's from Bikram's guru, Bishnu Ghosh.  Very old idea, definitely relevant to the questions.

Second - and I know you've heard this one before, but that won't stop me - "Having doesn't mean anything if you don't know how to use it."  That's from Bikram.  All Bikram teachers - and many Bikram students - have heard that line so many times that sometimes it almost loses its meaning, going all singsong like a nursery rhyme.  Boss calls out, "Having doesn't mean anything if you don't know how to...?" and every teacher trainee still awake shouts out "Use it!" with varying degrees of enthusiasm, depending on how many hours she slept that night and how many times Bikram has already asked the same question that week.  (Yes, of course this is primitive brainwashing.  "I wash your brain!  It is filthy!")  End result: we can all repeat those words in our sleep.

And still, that statement is probably one of the truest things ever said.  We have everything - food, clothing, shelter, water, possibly $15,000,000 - and still we're stressed and unhappy.  In other parts of the world, the people have almost nothing, and many of them still manage to be happy.  What are we missing?  We have everything we need, but we don't know how to use it, so we still see problems everywhere.  I told all of this to B, local neighborhood wealth manager, and he was nodding his head in absolute agreement.  He'd never heard it before - all news to him! - and he thought it was spot on.  From what he'd seen with all his clients, all these lost souls with incredible bank account balances, he had pretty much figured out the same thing.

What's the answer?  If you want to learn to use everything you have, what should you do?

Well, that's easy: yoga.

I am a yoga teacher, what did you expect.

But seriously.  It doesn't have to be yoga, but you have to do something to take care of yourself.  That's first and foremost.  If you're not taking good care of yourself, then you'll be no use to anyone else.  Forget about self-sacrifice and just be good to yourself.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that your problems will all be solved if you can just get something else - some more money, a different job, a new relationship, a new apartment.  Yes, some of those things are great.  (I got a new job and it changed my life.  I'm moving to a new apartment and I'm very happy about it.)  But you can't keep waiting to be happy tomorrow, because then you'll always be waiting.  Stop that.  You have so much already, I guarantee it.  Wherever you are, whoever you are, you have something.  Most likely, you already have everything you'll ever need.  You have your body.  You have your mind.  You have your spirit.  Those three things will be with you for your entire life.  That is your wealth.

Just figure out how to use it.

Didn't I tell you in the beginning that I love my life?  I meant it.  I really did.  I have a job that doesn't feel like work.  I have amazing friends, family, and teachers.  I have a great spine.  I have a messy apartment with some used furniture.  I have some ice cream in the fridge (mostly gone).  I have blue car (a Toyota Corolla named Callie), and in the trunk I have a hula hoop, a beach chair, a grassy towel, some road maps, cashews and Pedialyte (in case of emergency) and a kite.  I have a sunburn from a weekend on a boat.  I have a gig in Rhode Island at the end of this week and some new CD's for the drive.  What more could I ask for?  I have everything.

So do you.

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