This morning I took a hike with a friend through the hills along the California coast. My friend is a thoughtful, deeply intellectual academic, and our conversation turned to the topic of what legacies we hope to pass onto our children.
Reflecting my current preoccupation, I said that I hoped to pass onto my kids the keys to achieving financial independence - the ability to recognize the distinction between needs and wants, so that they might fulfill the former and master the latter. This, I thought, could free them to focus on the top of the pyramid of Maslow's Needs Hierarchy.
My friend, ever the diplomat, said something to the effect of how that was surprising, and that the topic would not likely have been on the top ten list of legacies he hoped to impart.
I can see how I might have sounded like a materialistic jerk.
What I meant to say was that thankfully, our kids seem to be making age-appropriate progress in most dimensions of their growth. They enjoy school and the friendships they’ve made there. They share our love of books and read nightly before bed. They have close relationships with extended family. Thus far, any health problems they’ve encountered have permitted a full recovery. They are growing up to be people we are proud of, who share our values and who pursue their curiosity.
In light of the fact that they're doing well, I’ve been brainstorming skills that I might cultivate in them to increase their autonomy and flexibility as they age. Obviously I seem to be projecting my middle-age concerns onto their elementary school lives. And yet...
If I could only give them a blueprint that frees them to pursue their curiosity, they could start out at least a decade ahead of where I am now financially. This is where learning early on to be a saver when those around you are spenders; developing the financial literacy skills to invest and purchase wisely; and ingraining the patience necessary to practice delayed gratification can lay the foundation for financial independence in adulthood.
This is what I tried (and failed) to explain to my friend.
Is this a shallow pursuit?
If taken as an end in itself, I’d have to say yes.
If used as one of many tools to design a meaningful adult life that is less beholden to financial stressors, I would hope on further reflection it might be a contender for my friend’s top ten list of legacies.