I’ve always believed successful financial management was more than crunching numbers, researching the analytics, and applying market principles and applicable tax laws. While there are certainly prerequisites to financial success, the real key to successfully managing your finances is knowing and managing yourself.
Poor financial decisions often the result of not being able to see the big picture, looking at the short field rather than the long horizon, of not having proper perspective. This is certainly true with our personal lives, as well.
Last month, I gained a new perspective on my world when I served with a medical mission team in rural Guatemala. Excited for a new adventure, I agreed to participate without knowing much detail (and without having any medical training or speaking any Spanish). At a pre-trip meeting a few weeks out, we were told not to bring anything that would be upsetting to lose, to pack light, dress down, don’t walk alone or at night, and “try not to look like money.”
Upon arriving, a four-hour drive immersed us into a new reality — heavy air pollution, dilapidated housing, chaotic traffic, loose livestock and an endless stream of people walking on the side of the road all carrying various supplies on their backs, heads and arms.
We set up temporary medical clinics each day in small villages. The typical venue was a rectangular hall in which we strung up rope and tarps to make a couple private exam rooms. We had two doctors, some local translators (Spanish and K’iche’, one of the Mayan languages), and a suitcase pharmacy stocked with basic needs. Guatemalans trust American doctors far more than their own, and for the most part this was their only doctor visit for the year.
One of our team members, a Guatemalan native who immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, helped collect 14 suitcases full of clothing, shoes, hats and toys to distribute. Additionally, we had our 16-year-old “eye doctor” who had collected glasses over the last year and was prepared to test vision and provide a best-effort fit. Both were very popular. Many of the people in these villages do not have running water and electricity, much less these basic daily necessities.
Traditional (Mayan) garb was worn by most women and girls. Boys wore ragged jeans and t-shirts. Most shoes were quite worn, typically with holes. Despite my best efforts, wearing plain gray t-shirts and brown hiking shoes, I still looked like money.
Lots of children hang around unsupervised during and after school. My job on the team soon became keeping the kids out of the way and entertained. Many of them got to throw a Frisbee and (American) football for the first time. We also joined them for soccer, and clearly gave up any competitive advantage.
Our success in life, and how we define it, can often be found by stepping back once in a while and taking in the big picture.