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What My Great Aunt Nina Taught Me About Perspective on the Future

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m feeling a little nostalgic this week, but like many of you, I’m in the process of packing up my son for college. I’m incredibly proud that Devin is setting out on his own path to study engineering at the University of Missouri - Science and Technology, even if there’s a tiny part of me that’s a little sad he won’t be stepping into the firm here at Keen Wealth.

Of course, whatever career Devin ultimately chooses isn’t as important to me as his happiness, and his character. I think we have done everything we can to prepare Devin and our other children to make good choices and be good people. But we can’t control what the world around Devin is going to be like. In just the last 18 years of Devin’s life, the world has changed so dramatically.

That got me thinking about my Great Aunt Nina, born in 1901, who lived a full and eventful 100 years. It’s truly amazing to think about all the incredible things Aunt Nina saw in the course of her lifetime. But I also think that looking back can provide some perspective, and some reassurance, to anyone worried about the future.

On today’s show, Devin joins us in the studio as we talk about his future, Aunt Nina’s amazing life, and what we can learn about the future by considering the past.

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Insights from Today’s Podcast on How the Past Can Provide Perspective on the Future

Here are three big thoughts I had when thinking about what Aunt Nina’s life might tell me about Devin’s future:

1. The world is going to change in ways we can’t predict …

When Aunt Nina was born in 1901, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii weren’t yet U.S. states. Women couldn’t vote. It would be more than ten years before Henry Ford’s assembly line introduced cars to the masses. Indoor electricity was a still a relatively new technology. Two World Wars and the Civil Rights movement lay ahead.

Flashforward to 1969. Not only is Nina bouncing her great nephew Bill (that’s me) on her knee, but she’s voting, she’s wrapped up a successful career as Personnel Director of Kansas City’s historic Emery, Bird, Thayer department store, and she’s watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on her black and white TV.

I don’t know if anything I’ve experienced in my own lifetime is as dramatic as the shifts Nina lived through, but if you’re a part of my generation, then you’ve seen the map redrawn more than once as countries break apart and come together. We’ve gone from working with pen and paper and typewriters to computers, and done our best to figure out this newfangled internet thing. Heck, even Devin, born in 1998, remembers a time when always-on technology and cell phones were not a part of our daily lives.

At each of these developments, and countless more, there were always naysayers, fearing short-term disruption, who worried that the country, or the world, wouldn’t survive. But Aunt Nina’s life is a helpful snapshot of the long-view. Just as she grew from a baby riding around in a horse and buggy into a successful, modern businesswoman, the arc of history tends to trend upwards.

2. … but the economy is resilient.

The same is true of the long-view of the economy. Again, think about some of the things Aunt Nina lived through: the Great Depression; Pearl Harbor; the Cuban Missile Crisis; JFK’s assassination; Watergate. Each of these events rocked the markets, and made some investors very, very anxious about the future.

But, in the end, the markets always bounced back. Aunt Nina retired with a pension, investments and savings that supported the lifestyle she wanted, Social Security, and Medicare.

Our own, more recent history proves that the long-view continues trending up. I remember being a very panicked college freshman on Black Monday in October of 1987, scrambling to check in on my own modest investments – and without the internet! It took less than a year for the markets to bounce back from the biggest one-day drop in history. Since bottoming-out in March 2009, the markets have been off to the races. As I write this, the markets are pushing record highs.

The lesson, as we’ve discussed before, is that volatility is a price that investors pay for the wealth-building that markets create. In 2008, investors who were allocated properly, kept their spending in check, and kept their sights on the future made it through the turbulence. Remember that when the next crisis hits.

3. Knowing when to let go.

College isn’t the only big development in Devin’s life. I’m proud to say that Devin inherited his father’s love of flying, and recently he earned his private pilot’s license. Cool as that is, I have to admit that when you see your own son, 18-years-old, taxiing out and going full power on the runway, rotating, and taking off, lifting off, soaring away into his own future … Yeah, my heart rate was up just a little bit until he circled back around a few times.

Sometimes in life, you just have to let go, and accept that there are things you can’t control. Imagine all the leaps of faith Aunt Nina had to take when world events changed her outlook on the future!

Whether you’re watching your children grow into adults or planning for your financial future, the best thing you can do is learn as much as you can, make prudent decisions about the things you can control, and trust that progress will continue to move in a positive direction. It certainly did in my great aunt’s life, and I’m hopeful the same will be true for my son.    

Bill Keen on Perspectives on the Future ...

“The history of the markets, and of our progress as a society, points towards a promising future for our kids."

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About Bill

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.

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