Sometimes the Expert is You by Bob Lowry
Whether retired or not, we all tend to gravitate to experts. If we want help managing our money we find a financial planner or adviser. For our health we consult not just doctors, but specialists. There are experts ready to tell you how you save your marriage or put the spark back in your love life. The magazines by the checkout counter of your favorite supermarket list easy steps to solve every sticky problem in your life. Our society worships experts. If someone is an expert, whatever he or she says must be right.
Yet, time and time again, we rely on experts and find the advice doesn’t work the way we have been told it would. Then we question ourselves up and assume we must be incompetent because “it worked for all those other people.” Yet, the economic mess of ten years ago should be proof enough that the experts can be as clueless and wrong as the rest of us.
My non-expert advice: don’t do this to yourself. Sometimes advice doesn’t work because it’s bad advice. Of the hundreds of personal development, financial planning, or retirement books I’ve read over the years more than a handful contained bad advice. The ideas and suggestions simply did not work for me in my situation. They produced zero results or even had negative outcomes. They were not just useless, but potentially harmful to my satisfying retirement.
This doesn’t mean the authors were lying. In most cases I could see a reason why the advice might have worked well for the author but wouldn’t work for me. We’re all different. What works for one person or even a group of people doesn’t always translate well to every individual. We can’t out-source our life to others.
It really doesn’t matter how well schooled an expert is or what studies he has to back up his claims. Unless the author has spent time with you personally be suspicious of any advice that comes from averaging different types of people together. Do studies on “average” people apply to someone who isn’t average? Are you average, or are you a unique human being? Do you completely fit the average mold in terms of your genetics, diet, upbringing, education, finances, family situation, residence, hobbies, etc? Probably not. No one person does. That’s why it is an average. That means the step-by-step approach to solving your specific problem won’t necessarily work like you hope it will.
Unfortunately, there are lots of people who try to separate older folks from their money with investment schemes that are little more than scams. A claim of legitimacy, a fancy title, a slick brochure, a four color mailer, or a well-designed web site is all it takes to separate lots of people from their hard-earned money.
At this point, stop and consider: experts certainly know less about you than you do. They want you to stop worrying and just do what they say, buy what they recommend, and live how they have determined is best. An expert is often self-declared. He may have no track record or experience to have earned that label. She has no idea what works best for you in your unique set of circumstances. Consider that maybe you are the best expert in figuring what is right for you.
Study yourself as an individual, and use expert advice only as a general guide for new experiments of your own. Notice what works for you and what doesn’t. Trust your senses. If the experts say one thing, but your personal experience suggests the opposite, put more faith in your own experience. Stop listening to every talking head. Start listening to yourself. That will take you much farther down the road of a satisfying retirement lifestyle.
How specifically could this apply to you? Without coming across as an expert (!), here are a few obvious examples to make my point:
Health care. If any doctor said I need surgery or a course of treatment that is expensive, possibly debilitating, and risky I am going to get a second opinion. I am going to do my own research on the Internet. I am going to attempt to talk with others who have had the same medical issue. I very well might do what that first doctor suggested. But, not just on his say-so.
Finances. My financial adviser suggests I purchase something, sell something, or consider a new direction. Nothing happens until I have enough time to think about it, research it, and consider other options. It is my money and future at risk, not hers.
Blogging. There are thousands of bloggers ready to tell me and sell me something so I can be a “successful” blogger. They have a plan to add 10,000 new readers in a month, or 20,000 Twitter followers by tomorrow. All I have to do is buy their book or sign up for an on-line course, and I’ll be the next big thing. Or, maybe it is better for me to continue the way I have been: slow, steady growth with plenty of missteps and mistakes. Only I can decide what I want this blog to be and how to get there.
What decisions have you made and steps you have taken that were counter to “the experts?” Do you have examples of some piece of advice you followed that turned out to be all wrong for you? What is keeping us from trusting more of our own sense of what is right and wrong for us?
By Bob Lowry