As you receive this, we have entered the zone when new resolutions are made for the coming year–a ritual that is observed more by breaking promises to our-selves than by any actual improvement in our behavior or lives. For some reason, we–and I think I mean all of us–seem to think it's okay to break promises to our-selves, even if we wouldn't think of doing this to others.
This is obviously not an ideal strategy on a variety of levels, and it suggests that we don't always take our own welfare and improvement seriously. There seems to be a human tendency to look after the needs of others before we look af-ter our own–and financial planners seem to be more prone to this behavior than most.
What can we do about this? I think what's often missing is a sense of ur-gency, of realizing that you and I and everyone else is unique, with a unique skill-set that will never, ever be duplicated in the history of the universe. That means we each have something unique to contribute to the world–and (this is the part I think we lose sight of) we have only a finite amount of time to make this happen.
If you truly have one life, and if the clock is ticking and every moment you have less time to do whatever it is the world needs from you, then it becomes eas-ier to see how much waste and drudgery and unproductive activities and distrac-tions we allow into our daily existence. A friend of mine recently talked about "conscious eating," meaning holding an awareness of the consequences of every-thing he put in his mouth. It sounded exhausting, but he said that it had become merely a habit, a process that was difficult at first and eventually went on auto-pilot. I think I'm arguing here for "conscious living," being aware of the conse-quences of the decisions we make, having an auto-pilot mechanism that recognizes the value the things we do and the things that get in the way.
The new year's resolutions that we make reflect a one-time awareness that there are changes to be made, but then the awareness fades, and so, too, do the resolutions. If, this time around, we could manage to hold onto that awareness, if we could recover a sense of urgency about our lives and the importance of our journey, then the effect might be longer-lasting and more profound.
This represents more than just the beginning of a new year; it is the beginning of a new decade, what may (if you believe the conclusions of the first article in this issue) turn out to be a more productive, focused, serious stage of the profession's evolutionary history. I'm inviting you, here, to take yourself more seriously than you ever have before, to recognize your own importance to your community and the world. Many of you have embraced a weaker version of that challenge; now it's time to find, in yourselves, the stronger, deeper commitment to excellence, effi-ciency, success, happiness and fulfillment.
And, of course, you know these things. The key to making this a better dec-ade is not the knowing, which you already do, but the remembering, the ability to hold this important information in your awareness on a consistent basis. This sim-ple thing–conscious living, remembering the important things on auto-pilot–may be the simple, not-easy-to-achieve key to a successful life.
As I look back over the past ten years, and ahead to the next ten, I feel more excited and optimistic than I ever have in my career. Over the past 120 months, the financial planning service became more personal (with life planning services moving from fringe to mainstream) and more professional (with the not-always-smooth ascendency of the CFP designation and a very healthy debate about more effective management of planning practices). When TV analysts and talking heads were screaming to buy more tech stocks, financial planners were the voices of rea-son; when the brokerage firms sold the worst sort of junk to their customers and nearly brought down our financial system, you and your community represented an island of professional sanity.
The challenges ahead are visibly daunting. Fiduciary advisors are under at-tack from the brokerage community and its lobbyists in Congress, and also from the regulatory authorities who have been captured and made subservient to the large Member Firms. We don't know yet if the investment markets have returned to stability, or whether the tail end of a secular bear market lurks in the near future.
My belief is that if you decide to up your game and take seriously your role in the future, none of these challenges will matter very much. My own pledge, for the new year and for the decade, is to recognize the importance and value of what you do, and to keep this awareness present, to carry it with me as I work and travel. This will help me stay focused on finding ever-better ways to support the profes-sion in this next, interesting, possibly glorious stage of its development.
Thank you for facing the new challenges, the new year and the new decade as part of the Inside Information community. Let's promise ourselves, together, that the future will be brighter than the past, and let's remember to keep this promise–not just for us, but also for the profession, our communities and for the world at large.