An Important Japanese Word

by: Russ Thornton

The words we use are important.

And simple words are always better than one of those six-syllable, three dollar words, if you ask me.

That’s why I was excited when I stumbled across a great new word recently.

The word is “shoganai.”

Now I don’t speak Japanese. And I’m guessing most of you don’t either.

My very brief exposure to the Japanese language was limited to a dojo where I practiced Aikido for a time several years ago.

But this Japanese word, shoganai, has particular appeal and application in the financial advice I provide.

According to this article, shoganai literally means “it cannot be helped.”

The article goes on to explain, “However, it is not discouraging or despairing. It means to accept that something was out of your control. It encourages people to realize that it wasn’t their fault and to move on with no regret.”

It would be fantastic if there were an equivalent word in English, but apparently there isn’t.

So back to “shoganai.”

If you’ve been reading my articles for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with an idea that I touch on regularly. The idea of focusing on the things within your control.

And just as important, letting go of or ignoring things that are out of your control. Or at least making an attempt as this is often much easier said than done.

In doing a little research for this article, I read that the word shoganai is sometimes used to describe Japanese culture, thinking and values. I also saw it described as essentially being a philosophy.

And I think it is a great philosophy to adopt in your financial planning approach.

Consider all the things that are truly in your control or over which you have direct influence.

When it comes to your money, the list is pretty short. As I’ve covered before, it really boils down to:

  • Time

  • Cashflow

  • Risk

Everything else is just noise. And noise can be confusing. Noise can cause anxiety. Noise can distract you. Noise can drive you mad.

But if you’re able to identify and accept the things that are outside of your control for what they truly are — just noise — then imagine how liberated you can become.

You can ignore mass-produced financial information and entertainment.

Jobs reports? Fed meetings? Who cares?

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting you’re a rudderless ship destined to be tossed about in the vast ocean of life.

If you’ll simply revisit the explanation of shoganai above, it’s described as “not discouraging or despairing.”

In other words, this isn’t a license to play the victim and blame your circumstances (good or bad) on the uncontrollable world around you.

Quite the contrary.

When you embrace shoganai and focus on the things you can control, financial or otherwise, I think you’ll find it to be an empowering concept. Instead of feeling like a victim, you have the power to change your circumstances for the better.

The only person responsible for your happiness is you. The same is true of your financial situation.

And by adopting the “philosophy” of shoganai, you’re arming yourself against whatever life throws at you.

Even though most of it is simply noise.

Nowhere is this concept more important than in my work with women who are dealing with divorce or widowhood. Just imagine the storm of anxiety, uncertainty and fear coupled with some important financial decisions that will need to be addressed.

For these women, this is an opportunity to take control of their lives.

But my fear is that this is also an opportunity for some of these women to be taken advantage of by others.

If you or someone you know is dealing with divorce or widowhood, please consider the Japanese word “shoganai” in your future financial and lifestyle decisions.