Joseph was a much better man than me. If my girlfriend or wife were nine months pregnant with someone else’s child and Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring us to spend five days walking up the mountain from Knoxville to Cherokee, North Carolina so we could pay taxes, I suspect I’d take my chances and stay home.
Then, if I had a dream telling me to take my wife and newborn from Cherokee to Charlotte to hide because that President wanted to kill us, I would likely take an Ambien and try to get back to sleep.
There are numerous traditional lessons from the story of the birth of Jesus. God in man, faith, the innocence of a child, the hope in a newborn… but regardless of your religious beliefs, the Nativity story only works because Joseph does what he is supposed to do.
That is my day-to-day, very practical takeaway from Christmas Eve. Do what I am supposed to do. It’s not very magical, but taking care of my responsibilities offers me a secular salvation of sorts. If I want to increase the odds that good things happen in my life, I need to spend my time in personally productive and constructive activities. When I judge, critique or badger others about their shortcomings, I don’t accomplish anything except diverting my energy into irritating the other person.
For Joseph, the right thing to do was hard, but it was obvious. The same is true for us. We usually know what we ought to do, even though sometimes those things are hard. When we claim not to know the right thing to do, we’re usually just hoping a difficult situation will magically disappear. We would rather engage in easy, mind numbing activities than do that which is hard, important and obvious.
Everyone who has ever done anything worthwhile has encountered difficulties. Not to trivialize Joseph and Mary’s travails, but saving money is hard. Avoiding car, house, clothes or boat envy is hard. Resisting the urge to borrow money for a Starbucks coffee is, for some people, apparently hard.
Save money, and start as young as possible. Choose friends you admire, both older and younger than you. Live well beneath your means. Improve yourself every day. Spend more time with your family than your golf buddies. Invest, don’t guess or gamble. Write thank you notes. Defer the maximum into your 401(k). Make checklists. Read more books and fewer Facebook posts. Exercise. Find a job you love. Mentor a young person.
And save money. (It’s worth mentioning three times.) It’s a heck of a lot easier than walking across the desert with a pregnant teenager.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.