Taking on a new client
When we agree to do financial planning for a new client, we do, of course, ask a lot of questions. Notice I said, when we agree. The implication here is that we do not take on everyone who comes to us. After an initial interview we can usually tell whether the potential client will meet our standards – i.e. be coachable, be willing to put in the work, and be willing to change behaviors if necessary. Among the first questions are those that identify client goals. Why do you have this money? What do you want to do with it? When? What’s the life you envision for yourself? That last one often trips people up. They’ve been so focused on earning a living that they’ve not yet been able to lift up their eyes to envision what could be. From our point of view, a retirement could easily last 30 years, or 1/3 of one’s life. It takes some careful preparation and thought to be a successful, productive time.
Hmm. So to what do I want to retire? To my bed for the next 30 years? Or to travel? Volunteering? Playing with grandchildren? Getting an advanced degree? Opening a new business? Doing consulting? I find it astonishing that many people simply haven’t thought this far. They get about as far as, I can barely take it another day over there.
Our point of view as financial planners is that we can’t help you if you give us a moving target. Let’s try to nail it down. If we can’t help you with that process, or, more to the point, if you refuse to participate in the process, you’re just not a good fit to work with us.
One of Jonathan’s (my business partner) favorite questions is this: what do you find life-giving? I love this question! Not just what you enjoy, or what you prefer to do, but what actually gives you life? What energizes you? What makes all synapses fire? What would make you leap out of the bed each morning so that you can get at it (assuming the physical capacity to leap)?
As we go through the process of discernment, it is often helpful to first rule out what is not life-giving. Maybe that’s a toxic work environment. Maybe that’s toxic people. Maybe those toxic people are relatives. See where this goes? The changes needed for a successful retirement - or any stage of life, for that matter – include changes other than mere spending habits.
One of the things I especially enjoy about getting older is that a lot of life’s challenges are behind me. Everything I do is my choice. Life takes on a sort of golden patina. Which is why I don’t mind the term golden years at all. I get it. Thinking about it, ultimately, everything I do and have done throughout my life has been my choice. But choices have consequences. Don’t feel like working today? Then don’t go. But you won’t get paid. There’s the consequence. So I have a choice – work or not get paid, so I choose work. That’s how things go.
Talking this through with clients often brings some ah-ha moments. You’re dreading Thanksgiving because you have to be with your toxic family again? No, you don’t! have your own Thanksgiving at home and invite people who wouldn’t ordinarily receive an invitation. Or take a long weekend trip. It is your choice – what would be life-giving? Here’s another example: someone requests my help. I choose to give it. That is life-giving to me and the other person. But that person doesn’t seem to learn lessons, and has sort of latched onto me. The situation is no longer life-giving to either party. In fact, I may be doing what the professionals call enabling.
As I get older I'm becoming more and more aware of the finite number of days left to me. So increasingly I feel an imperative to make each day count! -to make good choices, in other words. I choose activities that are life-giving, and eschew time-wasters and toxic environments. There's just not enough time left for that. If I’m doing something as a result of deliberate choice, then I have no reason to grouse about it. If I’ve chosen it, then I own the choice, and can maintain a good attitude throughout the activity.
Looking back, am I please with all my choices? No, I’m not. But I made them so I own them. That’s a topic for another blog post.
Best to all,
--Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®