mad in pursuit journal


Faith, Doubt & Determination

Faith, doubt and determination: three essentials, I'm told, for Zen practice. Excellent, I thought. Then I thought, hey wait a minute — those are the three essentials to engage in the practice of just about anything: religion, art, employment, parenthood, investing... life.

You need faith to follow a path, faith that your path will lead you to some expected outcome — health, wealth, enlightenment, happiness. I have faith in Wall Street (oy), or better, faith in the team of people who manage my retirement nest egg so that I can live a humble life — due to the fact that I lost faith in my former employer. I had enough faith in me, my husband, and my financial manager to walk the plank of independence. To take the leap.

Doubt. It's straightforward to have faith in the stock market. The results are all in the numbers. Maybe a little harder to keep the faith during a volatile week when you have to remind yourself to think long-term. Things get a little queasier when you start digging in to the corruption and mismanagement below the surface. When you start reading about things like the current real estate implosion and realize how an entire sector has been run on desperation ("0 down, 100% financing!!!"), cynicism, and short-term greed, you have to start asking some questions.

But Wall Street is not such a great example of this trinity of faith, doubt and determination. I believe, I doubt, but it doesn't take all that much determination to stick with it. My other choices — like taking all my money and buying an organic peach orchard or a little coal mine — are way riskier.

Over my life, most of my faith has been in myself. Faith in my ability to learn and to adapt to new situations. Faith that my internal gyroscope won't let me wobble too far out of whack. Oh, there's been doubt a-plenty. I think of how horribly anxious I was about our trip to Ireland — I died a thousand psychic deaths anticipating meeting new people and driving new roads.

Faith in yourself, I'm thinking, also requires faith in the basic good nature of people. Going out on a limb not only means faith in yourself but also means faith that others are rooting for you and won't chop the limb off. Faith in your own driving, yes, but when your car goes into the bog, faith that someone will stop to help you out. From my first summer away from home in New Haven, Connecticut, through landslides and martial law in Pakistan, to our road trip in Ireland, faith in ourselves and faith in others to show us the way has rarely been betrayed. (I say this about individuals — I have severe doubts about the behavior of institutions where basically good people start hiding behind the curtains of power.)

So, determination? The larger the leap of faith, the louder you yell "Oh, shit!" when it hits the fan. Learning curves are never "fun." Robert Frost said the best way out is always through. Or like the old song says, "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again."


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