I’m a firm believer that humans are “wired” for connection with each other, for a sense of community and fellowship. Just as we have a basic need for food and shelter, we also have a basic need to belong and to form relationships. I know this not only because it’s been acknowledged by everyone from Aristotle to Tony Robbins, but because I have personally felt it in my core.
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men." - Herman Melville
A couple of years ago, I needed to travel to the west coast for work. My wife and I had just returned from Malawi after having completed the adoption of our daughter, so it was a difficult time to be away, both for me and for my family. At the same time, it was also an excellent time for rest and reflection. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to find time for either of those amidst the unmitigated chaos that can come with having three kids and a multitude of pets. Fortunately, I found the solitude of my cross-country trip to be incredibly constructive.
What I found myself thinking about during that time was the concept of centricity – the things that my life centers around, that I value above all else. The thoughts that made me smile or made me teary-eyed were about the people in my life, not about my car or my investments or even my home. I thought about the gravity of cradling my daughter on the flight home as her grandmother, the only caregiver she had ever known, lay dying in Malawi; wrestling with my two boys or reading them a bedtime story; sharing a bottle of wine and a movie with my wife; my grandmother who homeschooled me as child, but who I now live a thousand miles away from and see maybe only once a year. Being on-the-go with nothing more than the bare essentials made it clear that my most valuable possessions are my relationships and experiences with my loved ones.
I’m certain that we have all wrestled with prioritizing relationships over material gain to some degree. Should you take the job that pays more but will require you to travel four days a week, or should you give up the money and opportunities to be able to put your kids to bed each night? Do you work late tonight or join your family for dinner? Do you go to the conference or to your cousin’s wedding? Do you prioritize your career or your relationships? I think it's a worthwhile struggle.
Money is simply a tool that can be used to accomplish many things. Personally, I love the idea of using money as a means of facilitating connection. For our family and the community that supported us, that translated into adopting our daughter. For you, it may mean something else, like taking a friend to dinner or paying for the guy behind you in the drive-thru, or donating to a local food pantry. Time is often equated with money, so it could also translate to spending time with loved ones or with those who may be lonely.
Lee Iacocca, former president and CEO of Chrysler, reflected on relationships in this way: “Here I am in the twilight of my life, still wondering what it is all about… I can tell you this, fame and fortune is for the birds. A true friend is the greatest of all blessings, and that which we take the least care of all to acquire. When you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life.”
We all come from and make do with different financial means, and our financial circumstances often dictate whether or not we should invest in the capital markets. For the most part, though, we all have the capacity to some degree to invest in relationships. And that, I would argue, is where we will see the most consistent and valuable “return on investment.”