"It's the heart piece that's been missing," remarked the young planner who has blazed a dazzling career path. Smart and experienced, he has built a business that has been successful beyond the wildest dreams of most of us. He has the knowledge base, the entrepreneurial and management skills, the team-building expertise, and a genuine warmth that leads to client hugs on a regular basis. But at the peak of his career--still shy of 40--he's already noticed that something is amiss. Others, older in age and with more years in financial services, nodded in agreement as we neared the end of our five-day life planning training. Yes, it's all about finding the way from the head to the heart.
Like many of the financial planners who participate in our training sessions to become life planners as an expansion and deepening of their financial advising role, life change was already underway for our accomplished planner. Riding the crest of success, he had come to realize that it was no longer about the money. Not that he wanted to diminish the cash flow; it's just that he was feeling more and more disconnected from what it could do for him. He found himself yearning to shift his roles within the business, to free more time for the work he really loves--working with clients, helping them plan for the present and the future. It's the relationships he's created that he values the most.
Yet to energize his own shift, to give it real impetus, he needed to better know his own heart first. In the usual flow of 12-hour days, with evenings devoted to a young family, there was no time for reflection, let alone a relationship with a skillful ally or partner who could help him explore both what was missing and what to do about it. So he came to an intensive training in life planning for financial advisors, to find the partner and the mentors who would guide him on the journey to knowing his own heart--and how to bring that into a business that has succeeded in every other way. He got "life-planned."
We have discovered that, for most of us, realizing our "dream of freedom," whatever it may be, is not a self-help project. If we could lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, we would--and would have done it long before we find ourselves in crisis in our careers, marriages, families and life.
Crisis, however, becomes the opportunity for real change. Something--career, relationship, health, finances--is no longer working well. Where do we go to find an ally who can help assess the current situation, facilitate a new and more inspiring set of choices, and accompany us through all the obstacles and setbacks as the new path unfolds? Oh yes, and it would be terrific if that ally was knowledgeable about the world of money as well.
There is a whole universe of helpers, advisors, healers and coaches out there: Therapists can help with the emotional issues, clergy with spiritual needs, lawyers and accountants with business problems, life coaches with goal-setting and accountability, and healers with health issues. That's a lot of advisors, each perhaps providing a piece of the puzzle, but where do you go to see the picture on the box? Who can integrate all these elements, and at the same time bring financial acumen to the table so that financial well-being is preserved? Who is that strategic ally who remains at ease in the midst of highly emotional situations, who supports your dream of freedom of spirit and soul, who understands your need for fiscal health and stability as well as physical health and stability, and who will accompany you through a process that connects you to your own heart, awakens your dreams and brings them to full realization?
Our answer to that is very simple: Your financial planner! And if you are one, you still need to have one. Better yet, you need a life-centered financial planner.
Financial planning is the one and only profession that touches every aspect of a client's life. Many comprehensive financial planners serve their clients by coordinating and integrating the resources they need by collaborating with therapists, coaches, attorneys and accountants. These are the external resources that support a well-structured and successful financial plan. But what of the internal resources that are just as essential? The "soft side" of planning, or, as our planner noted, the heart piece? How do we help clients find the passion or peace, the satisfaction or happiness that becomes the magnetic center of the financial plan, holding all the pieces together in a way that works?
A life-planned and life-planning financial advisor is the strategic ally who can guide the client into a life truly worth living. Having been through the process themselves, armed with a relationship skill set and a methodology, financial life planners have learned how to deal with the emotional stresses, the places of fear or doubt, and know how to light the client's torch toward a more fulfilling future. Not only that, this ally can accompany the client, now a client for life, through all the vicissitudes and transitions that lie ahead as the dream of freedom is realized and as life continues to unfold in unexpected ways. Why would any client ever want to go anywhere else? If you had that kind of ongoing alliance, would you?
What is the skill set that prepares advisors and planners to engage in a transformational relationship with the client? The list sounds simple, and yet these skills require both training and practice to be effective:
o External and internal listening skills
o Ability to challenge--gently
o Creative, outside-the-box thinking
o Authenticity (having done the work first on oneself)
o An ability to see the whole, to integrate
o Willingness to bear witness to the heart
We live in a world of thoughts and ideas, streaming through our awareness as continuously as a television set left on in the other room. Yet the solutions to our dilemmas, the solace for our pain, and the vision that unifies and inspires are all to be found in that most intimate chamber--the heart. We engage with the truth of who we are and what we long to create in our lives by entering through the doorway of our emotions, not our thoughts. As we navigate this tender--and often scary--dimension of our human experience, it makes all the difference to have a companion and guide who knows the way, is at ease with and confident of success, and has the map and all the necessary tools--that is, a strategic ally, a life-centered financial planner.
This is what our young planner wants to bring to his clients as he lets go of the "building the business" phase of his career. He wants to help them find their way to the "heart piece," knowing that as he does, he enriches himself in ways that money can never provide.
George D. Kinder, CFP, is the founder of the "Life Planning" movement and author of The Seven Stages of Money Maturity: Understanding the Value and Spirit of Money in Your Life.
Susan Galvan, MA, is co-founder of the Kinder Institute (www.kinderinstitute.com) and an educator and trainer.