The Greatest Risk of All

Risk is a tricky topic—a “squishy” term that means different things to different people and situations.

The dictionary defines risk as:

“A situation involving exposure to danger.”

In financial terms, risk is defined as:

“The chance that an outcome or investment’s actual gains will differ from an expected outcome or return.”

Risk can be both absolute and relative. It involves math, history, and even a little philosophy. The Fed might raise interest rates that send the stock market into a selloff. A company you are invested in may go bankrupt. One of your employees may quit on you unexpectedly. There are countless risks we face throughout our lives—some big and some small. Then there is what I believe to be the greatest risk of all … the risk of missing the point.

It’s not often a phone call changes my life. The vibration in my pocket has become an innocuous part of my day. But sometimes it’s more than that. There have been a few calls that have changed my life forever. One was when my wife called me in the spring of 2015. I stepped out of a meeting and answered to screams of joy. That summer we moved to Orange County for her to start PA school.

Two years later I got another phone call. This time from my mom. I was standing in the lobby of a Bay Area hotel. I remember the tone of her voice—the calming reassurance of a mother about to break her son’s heart.
“Matt, it’s not good. It’s cancer. We have to do some more tests. But it doesn’t look good”

The words just hung there. She spoke softly—telling me over and over again, “It’s going to be ok”. I didn’t speak for several minutes. I couldn’t get words out through my sobs.

That phone call changed my life forever. My wife graduated six weeks later. I quit my job and we packed a truck to head back to Utah. Without a job, I had lots of time to be with my mom. I was able to be with her for almost every chemo session—holding her hand while the chemicals pumped through her veins. We talked about life. We laughed and cried while sharing memories. I will forever cherish those quiet moments we had together in the hospital.

My mom died this past June after bravely battling cancer for almost four years. She was 62 years old. She was the ultimate friend, daughter, sister, wife, mother, and nana. She was my best friend and my hero. The sorrow at times has been crippling. I try to hang on to the joy I felt when she held my infant son (her 15th grandchild) just weeks before she passed. A painful reminder that life is both brutal and beautiful.

Author, speaker, and financial advisor, Carl Richards, defines risk as:

“What’s leftover when you think you’ve thought of everything.”

I like that definition the most. You may have the perfect financial plan or investment strategy. You might think you’ve thought of everything. And maybe you have. But then something happens you didn’t see coming. And that’s when the greatest risk reveals itself. The risk that you’ve been missing the point—taking the only things that mattered for granted, not embracing every little moment—good or bad, happy and sad. They all count and they’re all we have.

It’s critical to have plans for the future, but it’s more important to live in the present. You should be thinking about your savings rate, retirement plan, and investment strategy. Just don’t let those things come at the cost of enjoying every moment with those you love along the way.

I try to remember that in the end, few things in life actually matter. The few things that do, matter a lot.

Here’s to making money matter!