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Life & Money: The Cost of Holding On

Life & Money: The Cost of Holding On

April 15, 2022
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There’s a famous Zen parable that I love, captured nicely by Jon Muth’s book, Zen Shorts:

Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles, and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk; she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.

“That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then, she didn’t even thank you!”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”

This is an old story (we don’t tend to carry people around in sedan chairs anymore), but the message is still relevant.

I find myself coming back to this idea of “holding on” again and again. There are so many bad investments we get stuck holding onto. An argument with a friend, something a spouse did or didn’t do, the person who cut you off in traffic. None of these things provide any sort of positive ROI in our lives. And yet, we can’t seem to let them go.

If there was an investment in your portfolio that was giving you nonexistent or negative returns each quarter, you’d eventually let it go. Right?

Why not do the same thing with bad emotional investments, too?