Beware the Hooks

When my kids were little we watched a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants—so much so that my now 18-year-old still calls up references to it in everyday conversation. SpongeBob aficionados will get this reference.

It is just a cartoon, but the subtle messages are often very deep and very real. I tell you all this upfront because the tone of this post takes a darker turn and I don’t want my reference to a cartoon to trivialize the matters herein.

In this episode, the main characters (small underwater sea creatures) find themselves in a field where human fisherman on the surface above have cast their lines. Grabbing “The Hooks” results in a sudden, adrenaline fueled “ride” to the surface, where they can let go, and drift slowly and safely back down to the bottom. But only if they let go before being pulled out of the water.

The symbolism should be apparent now. “The Hooks” in real life take so many different forms it’s difficult to know exactly when we’re being lured. From the slower, more insidious dietary or overspending variety that could kill us or drive us to bankruptcy, to the more sinister, and immediately threatening, illicit and dark. While we may not be completely conscious of the lure, at some point soon after we begin thinking about grabbing the hook, our instinct tells us we should turn away from it.

When a celebrity dies, especially at a young age by taking their own life, we all mourn publicly in social media because, in a small way, we knew them. When that friend from years ago dies too young from their vice, again, we mourn. Succumbing to temptation is human, and so are the feelings of shame and self-degradation that stem from it. Of course, this doesn’t always lead to suicide or death. But it can. Some might argue that thoughts of suicide themselves are a form of temptation. Non-celebrities die from overdose, war veterans commit suicide, and we all play on the hooks. Every day.

We eat the garbage, take the drink, gamble, or just spend the money, when deep down, we know when we shouldn’t. The gleam of the pointed barb underneath that enticing lure warns and hypnotizes us at the same time.

You might say I’m stretching here. This is a personal finance blog after all, and I’m talking about personal vice. Two counter points to this claim. First, there are no lawyers on a broker dealer payroll scrutinizing everything I say. So it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want. Second, I’ve played on the hooks all my life, and while I may rationalize and live in denial about my own, I immediately recognize when one of our clients is playing on them. Money is emotional, and yes, the money hooks do lead to suicide or death for some.

In fact, much of what concerns our clients and leads them to our door in the first place can be traced back to the hooks. One of our primary responsibilities is listening to what concerns them. After we’ve done that, we give them an honest read back of what they’ve just said to us. I am not afraid to tell a client when I recognize the situation, and sometimes my telling them to beware the hooks is enough to convince them to turn away. Not always, but sometimes.

Whatever your personal hook might be, there is no debating one fact. There will come a time when you are open to a message from within or without that you need to stop. Or there won’t be, and you’ll be hooked forever. Being open is the key phrase in that statement. So open yourself to that message. And beware the hooks lad. RIP Cubby.