Universally in financial planning, of all the pieces in the initial information jigsaw that marks the start of a new adviser-client relationship, the expenditure breakdown is always the last one to be slotted in – if indeed it’s not declared eaten by the dog and gleefully abandoned altogether. It’s not the homework, but what it reveals that’s unwelcome. I learnt the hard way that asking someone to contemplate what their spending says about their life inspires more terror than asking them to contemplate their or their partner’s possible death.
In the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s lectures, delivered just after the Second World War, and later published as Leisure: the Basis of Culture, he wrote: ‘there can only be leisure, when man is at one with himself.’ We tend to overwork, he pointed out, as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence. Busy-ness, he contended, was the true laziness, a failure to engage fully and responsibly with oneself and the world.
An ambitious agent aims, usually over many years, to achieve something difficult and perhaps important. Nonetheless, the pursuit is not, with respect to value, a learning experience: she is not, as she proceeds, coming to a better and better grasp of why she is doing what she is doing. An ambitious agent’s behavior is directed at a form of success whose value she is fully capable grasping in advance of achieving it. Hence ambition is often directed at those goods—wealth, power, fame—that can be well appreciated even by those who do not have them.