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The Point

What is the point of it all?  

This is the sort of question that you find yourself asking in a moment of deep depression, when you’ve been wondering if there IS a point.  But in reality, asking yourself this question every so often creates a path to identifying the core of what you do professionally, on behalf of your clients, and on behalf of the world.  

Something that deep, something that fundamental, is usually very difficult to articulate, which is why you see so many people sleepwalking through their lives.  But if you CAN answer that question in a plausible way, it can open up a way to help people understand why the would want to work with you, and perhaps more importantly, it can unlock your motivation and give it a powerful new direction and focus.

And if you are ever able to achieve that clarity, then you are better able to unlock it in others—which might be the most valuable service anybody can provide.

I won’t pretend to speak for you, but I see the most effective, motivated advisors on a daily basis, and they usually have several things in common.  In many cases, they have a profound life experience—seeing their parents cope with poverty, having a parent or loved one taken advantage of by a less-than-ethical person posing as a trusted advisor, experiencing personal scarcity.  That experience, whatever it is, motivated them to want to improve the state of the world, and made them sensitive to the needs of others around the topics of finance and investing. 

In many cases, they also have a gift that they want to share.  Very few people are naturally conversant in taxes and estate strategies, or have the motivation to want to learn about them.  Fewer still have those skills and also the emotional fortitude to invest in the markets like an adult.  In my experience, financial planners possess a rare skillset, and it often manifests at a young age; they were investing for their own account and giving advice to others in college or the military, and gradually realized that this profession was a natural fit for them personally.

Many of the best advisors I know really enjoy solving complex problems.  How many ‘normal’ people can you say that about?

But beyond all that, at the core motivational level, there’s something more profound that is hardly ever articulated.  Most of you, reading this, have, on some level, recognized that the people around us are almost never making the most of their opportunities, and even less often are navigating the complexities of their (financial and other) lives with any degree of effectiveness.  They haven’t articulated their own purpose, or defined the things they want in life, and even if they did, they aren’t knowledgeable enough, on their own, to act on this awareness.  I’ll come back to the word ‘sleepwalking;’ when you look around with some degree of care, you realize that the human condition, today, in this society, is one of unfulfilled promise and unfocused direction.

So what’s the point of it all?  I think the first and most important step is for advisors (you, reading this) to understand your own purpose, what you want to accomplish, what you want to give to the world, what you want to get out of your life.  Why do you do the work you do with clients?  What is the most fulfilling part of your day, and how can you spend more time doing whatever that is?

And then, the larger point becomes clear.  You have knowledge and skills and great advice to give, but what’s sometimes missing is the client’s appreciation for what these things can accomplish on his/her behalf.  To fill in that gap, you would need to create an increasingly personal relationship with each client, and help them, gradually, over time, find their own core purpose, their own core motivations and goals.  And then, when they’re moved from sleepwalking to full and alert awareness and purpose, you apply your professional tools to helping them fulfill the promise of their unique existence.

I hesitate to refine this into an elevator speech, but if I were talking with a financial planner, and asked that person what he/she does professionally, I would be motivated if the answer sounded something like this: I help people come to a better realization of their core purpose and the profound goals that they may not have articulated even to themselves, and then I help them move forward with all the knowledge and skills that I have acquired over my professional career.

I hear a faint protest in the background; don’t I want to make a good living doing these things for the world?  I’ve answered that question in speeches around the country, and it’s pretty simple: if you are helping people achieve a better life, then they’re highly motivated to pay for that outcome.  If you’re helping people realize these core things that they had never really considered about their own lives, you are delivering incomparable value.  Nothing is more profound or important than seeing a person who has been sleepwalking through life wake up, right there in your office (or on the screen) and see it in their eyes as they come to these key awarenesses.

Many years ago, when the concept of financial planning was born (I was there), it was a flip of the script.  The Wall Street ethos had always been that the broker and the firm should benefit, first and foremost, from the advice that was given out.  It was a business, not a profession. 

The new, emerging financial planning ethos, in its purest essence, was that the largest benefits should always accrue to the client. (In retrospect, it’s no wonder the brokerage firms wanted to strangle financial planning in its cradle.)

It has taken the profession many years to flesh out and deliver on its founding concept, and there is still the challenge of advisors getting to that deep awareness of The Point Of It All so they can operate with maximum effectiveness.  But as they do, and as they share it with prospects and clients, and as they help their clients achieve their own awareness, they have the potential to bring about a truly significant shift in our society, from one characterized by daily drudgery and a background anxiety that something important is missing, to a world of fulfillment and effectiveness.

If there is a bigger Point Of It All, then I think that starts to approach what it is, and what it means for all of us.  I hope, going forward, that we won’t have to take ourselves to the brink of deep depression to think about ourselves and our potential impact on the world.