What is your life’s purpose?
I love to learn, share, empower, and enjoy.
How are you living your purpose?
I find my “flow” in indulging my curiosity, sharing what I’ve learned with others, and in turn learning from others. In some ways, I think of humanity as one great conversation, stretching across place and time. I can “talk” with Epictetus and Cormac McCarthy as easily I can my wife or my neighbor, though the rhythm of these conversations varies, obviously. I love being part of the conversation. I love knowing it takes courage to participate and I love knowing muscling up the courage is part of the journey.
I’m in a good spot at present, heading up investor education at a big investment firm. I’ve been given the space and the resources to write and speak about how we can simplify our money lives. I thoroughly enjoy it. I see how overwhelming and confusing money—not just investing but earning and spending and saving—can be. I have a platform to make things a little bit better for a lot of people. All this said, I’m a big believer in the certainty of impermanence. I’ve had many careers (not just jobs, but careers) and I don’t imagine that in my 40s I’m done evolving. Something is next, but I don’t know what.
I’m the author of two books—The Investor’s Paradox: The Power of Simplicity in a World of Overwhelming Choice and The Geometry of Wealth: How To Shape A Life Of Money And Meaning—which simplify the complex world of money. Both suggest that in a noisy world of too much information and too much choice, achieving simplicity is a difficult task, but one that is worthwhile. Money is an overwhelming and stressful topic, but better outcomes are quite achievable with just a few key concepts and a bit of planning.
How did you find your purpose?
Flowing from the previous answer, I’m a big believer in the adaptive self —embracing change as normal and seeing evolution as an opportunity not just for growth but for happiness in the here and now. I could construct a narrative about how my childhood experiences set me off in a certain direction, but I often find those narratives to be more of an excuse for something than a source of empowerment. So here I am, with a few decades of experimentation in who I am, what I do, who I want to be. If anything, I’m really wide open to new experiences and that has created the space to adapt to a world which is almost entirely out of my control.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
It’s possible to overthink, to navel gaze, to get so wrapped up in finding purpose or being mindful or searching that you fail to just experience things, to live. I’ve written some about the four primary sources of deep contentment: connection with others, autonomy over one’s life and narrative, deep competence at a worthwhile vocation, and living with regard and respect to something outside of ourselves. It’s highly likely that someone who gets out of bed each day and engages honestly with the world, including and especially themselves, will find fulfillment along one or more of these tracks. But planning it out, overthinking it, getting stuck in our own heads diminishes the experience. Be deliberate, yes. But also let go and just have fun. And, at times, do nothing. Giving yourself permission, guilt-free, to do nothing is awesome. Many of us are just so hard on ourselves, with nothing – or worse – to show for it. Honestly, there are some days where I just binge on Netflix and eat foods that I know are not good for me. It feels great (in moderation).
What resources do you recommend?
Other than Netflix? (Ha.) I do read a lot and our golden age of content gives me so much to consider. Top websites for my deliberate introspections include Farnam Street, Brain Pickings, and Daily Stoic.
A top book recommendation is Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. But read the classic Stoics, Thick Nat Hahn’s You Are Here, James Stockdale’s essay, “Courage Under Fire,” and just about anything by Brené Brown. She’s somehow super-inspirational without being maudlin.
Another thing I like to do is read books about writing. Even for those who never put pen to paper (which I highly recommend!), we’re always crafting stories, including about ourselves, and I’ll admit to being fascinated by how masters describe what they do. Check out Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
Finally, I’ll say without apology that I think Twitter is a godsend. If used properly, which takes organization and practice, you can curate an amazing treasure trove of not only information but relationships. Two of my favorite follows in finance world that bridge to things much, much bigger are @morganhousel and @patrick_oshag (whose “book club” is outstanding).
Speaking of curation, make sure you have tools in your life that empower you to collect and organize vast amounts of content. Otherwise, this is all drinking from the firehose. For my purposes, I swear by Evernote. And the small form Moleskine notebooks.
Brian Portnoy, PhD, CFA, is an expert at simplifying the complex world of money. In his two books, The Geometry of Wealth and The Investor’s Paradox, he tackles the challenge of not only making better investment decisions but also how money figures into a joyful life. He is currently the Director of Investment Education at Virtus Investment Partners and has spent the last 25 years as educator, investor, and strategist. He holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago and currently lives on the north side of Chicago with his wife and three children.