Life is a Journey Not a Destination with David Bahnsen

Do you believe that life is a journey, not a destination? David Bahnsen makes the case for going full time in every aspect of life!

Jan 28, 2024 | Podcast

About the Episode

We focused on the forgotten wisdom that life is a journey not a destination, the true value of work and why we’ve lost sight of it, why so many of us are struggling to find meaning, and how to make retirement worthwhile, with David Bahnsen, CIO of the Bahnsen Group, economist, author, and thought leader.       

Listen to hear a difference-making tip on the question to ask yourself to know if you’re in pursuit of a destination, or enjoying the journey!

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George Grombacher

George Grombacher


David Bahnsen

David Bahnsen


Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
David to get us started. Give me two truths and a lie, please.

David Bahnsen 0:07
Okay, number one is that I am a diehard USC football fan. Okay. Number two is that I never went to college. Number three is that my father has three graduate degrees.

george grombacher 0:28
Right? Those are excellent. David, those are excellent. And you would think that as the host of the show, I would know where you went to college. But I am unaware. I didn’t I don’t know if you are a USC, there’s so many things that I ought to know, but I don’t. So I’m going to say that your father does not have three graduate degrees.

David Bahnsen 0:50
My father has a Master’s of theology and a Master’s of divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and a Doctorate of Philosophy from USC. So my late father does indeed have three graduate degrees. And I am indeed, a huge USC football fan. But as my father died when I was right, in the starting off of college years, I never went to college. And here I am today, a USC football fan, but not a college degree holder. Well, life

george grombacher 1:27
is a funny thing. Like, is it anything? Excellent. Well, those were three excellent ones, you stumped me. Great job, you can add that to your list of many, many accomplishments. I don’t know where it’s going to fall, you know, towards the top towards the bottom. That’s neither here nor there. Appreciate you coming back on the show or coming back on this show for the first time. It’s great to talk with you what is what is top of mind for you right now, David?

David Bahnsen 1:51
Well, that, you know, there’s a lot of things happening in the world. 2024 is gonna be a very interesting year. I think in the markets, there’s a lot of questions about what the Feds doing and not doing how the what the real state of the economy is or isn’t, obviously, a lot of the country has their eyes glued on the election, what will come out of the election results in November, between now and November, it’s probably going to feel like an eternity even apart from whatever the outcome ends up being. I suspect there’s a pretty incredible roller coaster ahead. I have a new book coming out in early February. So there’s a lot of things on my mind and a lot of topics on the table.

george grombacher 2:36
It does feel like it’s going to be a very, very, very, very active busy year. Are you? What are you nervous about? When you think about the year?

David Bahnsen 2:49
Well, let me let me get the right caveat. Because you know, I’m not I’m not looking forward to how this election is going to go. I’m not sure that I’d use the word nervous just in the sense that I tend to not get nervous about many things. I’m, I had to get old for that to be true. And my younger years, it was not true. But I do kind of have a strong resolve that the various things that are really an unfortunate, sometimes unacceptable, that are also sort of part of life. You know, if somebody wants to be a political junkie like I am, you’re gonna have bad elections, weird elections. Our whole country right now, this isn’t a new thing. It’s not a 2024 story. It’s been going on for a number of years, but it’s a very divided country. And so yeah, I don’t want to be literal it because it is very unpleasant. And I don’t like it. But I don’t think I would call myself nervous about it. I’m just aware of it. And I hope it changes. But I think that the uncertainty around the election result is not much of a market story. I think that markets know, the country is a pretty 5050 country, the markets No, we’re not likely to know who won the election until November. And the markets also know that that’s not the only story that there’s the house, there’s the Senate, there’s the White House, and the nature of our divided government is an important component for markets. It makes me less nervous, because you don’t really have the let’s say there’s one Canada wants to do bad things for markets, hypothetically. That doesn’t mean that that candidate winning enables that to happen. There’s a hedge in markets via our constitutional form of government and so I get less nervous by that the type of stuff so I don’t want to see riots. I don’t want to see you know, blue states and red states, you know, hating on each other. I wish people could be politically disagreeable without so much venom. But no, it doesn’t make me nervous.

george grombacher 4:53
Fair enough. So the new book is full time work and the meaning of life. What was the motivation there?

David Bahnsen 5:01
You know, I think that I talked about the state of social alienation of societal angst. And so I kind of opened up the book and one of the early chapters granting the thesis that we are very divided as a country, and there are a lot of people who are feeling more alienated. And there’s an increase in mental health issues and increase in depression and increase in alcohol and drug abuse. And I believe that what is interesting, if you accept this sort of paradigm I stole from Arthur Brooks, that generally the recipe for happy people is faith, and friends and family and work, that for three of those four things, most people are still pretty agreeable, even if it isn’t the same faith I happen to have. Most people agree that some sort of transcendent some belief in something spiritual, some deeper meaning than just our own personal selves, that there’s some, you know, usefulness in that and one’s day to day contentment and purpose and peace of mind. Obviously, a community of friends matters, obviously, the unconditional love of a family matters. But work seems to be this one where it’s not just that not everyone agrees that there’s the opposite view, that I think what has become embedded into the society is this belief that work is a source of our problem that is adding to stress and attention and economic divide, some people are just achieving and performing too much. And you know, the Atlantic wrote this huge article a couple months back about work ism, that there’s just this sort of phenomena for achievement in big cities. And then it’s leaving behind a lot of regular folk and all this stuff. And I guess my book was written because I take the exact opposite view. I think that in the sort in the in the midst of this alienation and challenges a lot of people are having, I think work is the solution, not the source of the problem. I think that in one’s work, they can find a purpose and a dignity and an activity, it can be a diversion for a period of time to problems. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with diversions. But it can also very much transcend being a mere diversion into something that gives somebody purpose and self worth and meaning. And I, as a man of faith, believe that’s what God made us to do is to work. And I believe economically, it’s the great need of our country. They can talk all they want about reshoring manufacturing jobs from China, restructuring our supply chain, more factories, some form of a CapEx Renaissance to bring semiconductors and other you know, key products back to America, it’s all lovely. If you can’t get workers to show up, if you can’t find enough qualified workers, able bodied prime working age people, it’s all for naught. So that’s the idea of the book, economically, spiritually, societally. I think we need a real resurgence and how much we value, the old school concept of hard work.

george grombacher 8:25
Totally agree, live, that there’s dignity and work. And everything that you have talked about, and laid out is certainly music to my ears. That it strikes me that we human beings struggle with, with with, with success, we, when things are going good, we twist ourselves up in knots and nitpick everything and try to find what’s bad and what’s not working. And that leads to all the problems or many of the problems. You’re talking about depression, mental health problems, alcoholism, drugs, loneliness, all these things. Did we do this to ourselves? Did somebody else do it to us a little bit of both?

David Bahnsen 9:05
Yeah, that’s a really good question. There’s a part of me that believes and I write a whole chapter in the book about this, that one of the things that happened was our own success. You know, we do live longer. We do have a concept now called retirement that could have never existed before, for the simple reason that people died. And as mortality extended, most of us would consider that to be a wonderful thing. But post World War Two, George, you had two things come together at once that I think began became the embryonic phase of the problem we now have about work, and that is that we started living longer. It’s a great thing. And we had a lot more material prosperity as a country, that’s also a great thing. So Madison Avenue ran with it. You’re now going to have have enough money to retire at 60 or 65. And you’re gonna live to be 7075 8085 You could market the idea of a 20 year vacation a 30 year vacation, and market it they did. And anybody in financial services knows that essentially, they have created a structure where more or less the reason people are supposed to be saving and investing. And so they can achieve a number that when enables them to throw their key back at their boss, and then go to a sailboat, or, or walk on the beach with their wife, or, you know, visit the grandkids three, and it’s it all of those things. Well, of course, no sane person is against any of that stuff. I would hope people in their senior years can have more walks on the beach and sailboats and golf courses. I’m not particularly fond of what’s happened with a lot of these retirement villages that are really turned into kind of, you know, just party zones, they go to bars, and they golf all day. And, you know, I don’t think that there’s a whole lot of real productive and, and meaningful activity all the time being celebrated. But that’s a side point. I think we marketed the idea that work was something you did for the purpose of not having to do it anymore. And I think that was a terrible idea. And now my question is because not only do I not believe a 65 year old, should exit the workforce, just because they have enough money to I think that they maybe their job changes, maybe they they, you know, re construct what they’re doing. But I think going to a point of high degree of usefulness to a point of no usefulness is very ill advised. And also, I think the point of going from high usefulness to some usefulness in a nonprofit way, or in a volunteer way or, or, you know, getting being on a board of directors somewhere. That’s not what I mean, either. Why would someone who knows a particular industry backward and forward, spend their whole 40 years of professional life there, retire from that, so they can go contribute their expertise to something they have no experience in? You know what I’m saying I’m going to turn 50 years old. This year, it’s been a long time since I was in a position where I could retire there, I don’t retire because I have more, I wanted to do more I want to produce. And I believe that it I wish that I had more as a right now 49 year old owner of a business with 63 employees, I wish I had more 65 year olds around. I love my 25 year olds and other my 35 year olds, but I’ll be honest, they’re limited, and what experience and expertise they’re going to have. And there’s a seasoned veteran benefit that I’m being deprived of because so many people exit the workforce. But I want to say that this notion of marketing retirement, as something that has led to a low view of work in our society, the worst victim is not me being deprived of older people’s experience and expertise. And it’s not older people being deprived of that purpose and activity that they used to have both those things are a big deal, though. The biggest problem is the message it’s given to 30 year olds, that hey, if if once you get enough money, this stuff doesn’t matter. Check out and and eat, drink and be merry. And and I don’t I don’t agree, I think that there is a real hole that is created when people exit the world of having something to do every day. I think it leads to bad habits. And I think it is spiritually emotionally, physically existentially. ontologically a very bad idea.

george grombacher 13:51
Really well said. Thank you for that. So you’re not for the financial independence, retire early movement is what you’re trying to tell me, David?

David Bahnsen 14:01
No, I’m not. I’m not I think and yet it isn’t. It isn’t for the reasons a lot of people push back, they’ll push back and say, because people get their number wrong. They underestimate the impact of inflation and taxes. And, and if you redo your pro forma, you’ll see that, you know, leaving the workforce early, might be a little bit less less secure than you think it is. That you know, I look. Obviously anybody can figure out what the right way is to pro appropriately map out when you can be financially secure and independent. And I am and I say this in the book, I’m credibly supportive, people achieving financial security. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether or not the purpose of financial security is to afford uselessness. Is that the objective of financial security to afford retreat ism to afford an escape. I am all for peace. But especially those, there’s so many jobs that you couldn’t do what you were doing the physicality of the job, the toil there, you know, obviously we don’t tell our NBA basketball players, why are you still playing ball at 50 years? You know, there’s there’s realities in practicalities. I’m not naive about this. But yeah, the general concept and philosophy of going into a thoughtless, nothing. I just don’t understand it. And I think it’s done a lot of damage, including damage that is more collateral in nature.

george grombacher 15:34
Do you think that that you would be perfectly happy doing any variety of things? I guess my question is, is this the way? Is it the way that we’re wired? Or Can anybody find meaning in their work?

David Bahnsen 15:49
Well, it’s a wonderful question. I do believe that the ideal that and again, the world is broken at times the world has fallen, right? I don’t, I don’t think that everybody gets to just go chase their dreams and everything goes perfectly. But I love the idea that in a market economy, in a free enterprise system, where there is free flow of capital, and free flow of labor, and division of labor, and specialization and mutual cooperation, and all the tenants of a free enterprise system that makes me such an advocate of free enterprise of a free society, I believe that you can marry your passions, to your skills. Now, there are times in which people struggle with understanding how that still has to exist in a market economy, that one can be really good at singing, and one can love singing. And that doesn’t mean someone’s going to pay you a bunch of money to sing it, there’s, you know, you’re still limited by the laws of supply and demand. There’s a hell of a lot of good singers, you know, and so, it doesn’t mean some sort of pollyannish view that everyone can just do whatever they want, you know, I would love to have been an NBA star, you know, there’s a lot of things that I’d love to be. But yeah, but the skills have to be there combined with the passion. And yet, when you say Do whatever you want, do I think that starving, you know, aspiring actress, or trying to make it on Broadway, should love being a waitress? I very much do. Because I can say this for my own life, I’m not sure that I’ll ever enjoy something in the future with this business, as much as the journey to get here. You know, there, there is a focus on the destination. So often in our professional conversations, that misses the absolute ecstasy of the journey, and the journey as the hardships, the journey as the experiences. You know, I’m still in a journey, you know, our business is not done. But we did achieve a real critical mass we did achieve real scale, we did achieve, you know, all of my own financial goals and whatnot. And that’s a little different, when the old days where you were still hustling in a way that was somewhat, you know, risky, you didn’t know I was in a play out. And that journey was absolutely exhilarating. I wouldn’t trade that away for anything, if someone told me I could redo it all, and end up at the same place and not have the same ups and downs that I had to get here. I wouldn’t take that trade in a million years. So I think that people can find value in the in the kind of menial jobs they get are stepping stones and other things. And I also believe at the end of the day, that just getting up and doing something that serves others, which is by definition all work, nobody will pay you anything to do something that is meaningless. The work may feel boring, it may be tedious, it may be toilsome. All that’s true. At times there are jobs that can be those things, of course, but if someone’s paying you for it, then it’s meeting some need. It’s some process of producing goods and services that meet the needs and wants of humanity. And finding some value and joy in that I think is entirely doable.

george grombacher 19:31
It’s super profound. And oftentimes, the most true and obvious things are we just sort of forgotten. Nobody’s going to pay you for doing something that’s meaningless. You receiving income for whatever it is you’re doing means that you are providing value and that the work that you are doing is meaningful. Thank you for that.

David Bahnsen 19:51

george grombacher 19:52
Yeah. Love it. Well, David, we’re ready for that difference making tip. What do you have for us?

David Bahnsen 19:59
Well, here is my suggestion since we spent so much of our time today talking about work rather than a market tip or political or economic, On the work front, I think that would be the Good Place appropriate based on our conversation today, as a difference making tip is to ask yourself, are you pursuing a destination? Or are you enjoying a journey? have that mentality journeys have to have a destination, you’re headed somewhere, you have goals, you have numbers, you have KPIs, you have metrics, you have all that’s fine, you know, but what I mean is on a day to day basis is the focus on the journey or the destination, asking oneself that question. It gives a lot of perspective. It can bring a lot of peace, calm, you know, when things get a little shaky and volatile, you can realize no, no, this is this is part of the journey. It can kind of settle you, Senator, you journey versus destination. That’s my takeaway today.

george grombacher 21:01
Well, I think that that is great stuff that definitely gets Come on. I love it. Ask yourself. Are you on a journey? Are you simply pursuing a destination? Ecstasy of the journey, given us a lot of a lot of good ones to chew on today? David, thank you for coming back on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage? Where can they get their copy of full time work in the meaning of life?

David Bahnsen 21:26
Yeah, so the book full time, work and the meaning of life. There’s a website full time Obviously, it’s at Amazon, Barnes and Noble. The website for the book full time. has excerpts and audio and interviews and other other little freebies. So check out the website for the book there for myself From there, you can go to my company, you can go to my investment writing and go to the book. It’s got everything kind of hubbed [email protected] be a HN Sen. That’s my story.

george grombacher 22:04
But if you enjoyed this as much as I did, show, David your appreciation, share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, get your copy of full time, work in the meaning of life go to full time For all things outside of that in the world of David Bahnson go to Thanks again, David.

Unknown Speaker 22:29
Thanks so much. And finally,

george grombacher 22:31
a friendly reminder, there’s never going to be anybody more interested in your financial success than you are. So act accordingly.



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