This is one of the most difficult markets in the last 70 years for financial advisors. It is forcing many advisors to do a lot of soul-searching, and to ask the big question: “Is this the right field for me?” Many financial advisors got into this business when it seemed there was a lot of easy money to be made, but it doesn’t look like there will be easy money in this industry in the foreseeable future. And even in great times, most independent financial advisors have not made huge amounts of money: According to CEG Worldwide, a research and consulting organization, only the top 15% of the independent financial advisors netted more than $150,000 per year during the good times. In today’s difficult market, that percentage has dropped substantially.

If you’ve become a financial advisor just for the money, it’s clear you’d be better off doing something else. But for everyone else, how can you be sure you’ve chosen the right field?

Are You Doing What You Do Best?

In a previous career, I was an advertising photographer. Yet when I reached my early 30s, I decided I wanted to do something more significant with my life than take pretty pictures that people looked at for a split second in a magazine. So I signed up for some career counseling.

The process starts with a clear understanding of your unique talents and strengths. There are three primary things that people work with: physical material, data, and people. Farmers, mechanics, and carpenters work with physical material; financial advisors work with data and people. Financial services is an industry that pays people extremely well if they have both strong analytical skills and strong people skills. So think about it: What attracted you to this industry in the first place? Was it to use your analytical skills? Was it to use your people skills? Was it both?

A great way to take a look at your unique talents and strengths is to simply have 10 of your friends and peers write two or three paragraphs describing your strengths. If you want to be more scientific, I highly recommend an aptitude assessment from Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation. The company’s Web site is: http://members.aol.com/jocrf19/. Over two half-days, the test organizers will run you through an aptitude assessment process that will tell you exactly what your unique talents are. They will also tell you how your talents compare to the other people they have assessed.

My strongest innate talent is “Foresight,” a sense of vision and seeing possibilities of what can be. In this area, I rated in the top 1% of all the people they tested. My second greatest strength is “Ideaphoria,” or creativity. I have a strong need to express my ideas, plans, projects, and thoughts. I rated in the top 15% of the survey pool in this area. I use both of these strengths in my roles as a coach, speaker, writer, consultant, and business owner.

According to the test, my weaknesses are that I am tone deaf, have no rhythm, have only moderate manual dexterity, and am terrible at details. Since I’m not detail-oriented, I would not make a good financial advisor.

If you do not have the right skills to be a financial advisor, you may find more happiness and prosperity simply by changing industries.

If you love the financial services industry, believe it is a good match for your skills, and are committed to making this work for you in the long run, then this is the type of market that should encourage you to do some soul-searching. With the right perspective, you can be more successful at your work and feel more fulfilled by it as well.

A Job, a Career, or a Calling?

Career counselors have identified three different orientations that people have to the work that they do. The first orientation is a job. You have a job simply for a paycheck at the end of the week. You do not seek any other rewards from it and it is simply a means to another end, like leisure, supporting your family, hobbies, and so on. When the wages stop, you quit. The vast majority of people who do not attend college have an endless stream of uninspiring jobs that offer few personal rewards and little financial security.

The second type of work is a career. A career entails a much deeper and more personal investment in work. It is typically something that the individual has gone to college for or gotten advanced training in. In careers, you mark achievements through promotions, raises, and financial success. Each promotion will bring you more prestige, more power, and more money. A law firm associate will become partner; the assistant professor becomes associate professor; the middle manager advances to vice president; the wholesaler becomes head of sales; a financial advisor could become a branch manager.

The problem is that as you move up the food chain in any organization, there are fewer and fewer slots. At some point, everyone tops out and cannot move any higher. Because there is no more additional growth or progress, alienation and burnout set in, and individuals typically start to look somewhere else for gratification or meaning.

I have a number of friends who are in this situation right now. They do not like their work anymore and, in several cases, do not like the people they work with. Since they are being paid extremely well and they have established a lifestyle that they feel obligated to support, however, they are trying to tough it out for a couple more years until they can retire.

Unfortunately, these are the kind of people that often turn to Prozac or Zoloft because they are depressed. Such drugs enable them to continue to perform their job functions, even though they believe the work has no meaning. Their prescription drugs play the same role as George Orwell’s Soma, the universally used drug in his novel 1984.

The last orientation people have toward work, and the most important and powerful one, is a calling, sometimes referred to as a vocation. People who have a calling have a passionate commitment to the work for its own sake. Individuals with a calling see their work as contributing to the greater good, and in pursuing their calling, they are able to use their unique abilities or signature strengths. They actually enjoy the work itself, and even if there was no money involved, many would work just for the joy of it.

What’s Your Calling?

Undoubtedly, Mother Theresa and Albert Schweitzer felt that their work was a calling. And yet it is interesting that you can create this same sense of feeling in your work. In fact, depending on the mental models or perceptions that you create and the way that you orient yourself to your work, any job can become a calling.

When you are doing the work that you enjoy with people you enjoy, using your unique abilities or core strengths, and expressing your values with the belief that your work is contributing to a greater good, you will have a tremendous amount of passion and joy for the work you are doing. The money is simply a way to facilitate the process, and make it self-sustaining.

I experienced this personally myself a number of years ago. Initially, when I set up my speaking and training business, I was focused around helping financial advisors market to wealthy clients, and my whole focus was building a career and making money. But over a number of years, making money and helping financial advisors make more money became empty for me, and I started to lose enthusiasm for my work.

But through a process of introspection and research, I started to understand that people who were extremely happy with their work were using their core strengths and expressing their core values through their work. Thus, I developed a personal mission statement and business purpose statement, identified my core values, and created a clear vision of the type of work that I wanted to do and how I wanted to make a contribution to the world. I shifted from focusing on just making more money to helping financial advisors make more money and have more passion, meaning, and happiness in their work. This was a huge turning point for me.

If you are feeling a little bit confused about what direction to take for the future, the first step is to define your core strengths and values and see if they are a good match for this industry. If you truly get joy and pleasure from helping your clients and and you truly enjoy your daily work, you have potential to transform it into a calling.

The next step is to identify a larger purpose beyond yourself. A simple way to do this is to look at your work not as being about selling investments and insurance and advice, but as helping your clients create a brighter future. If your work is about helping people create a better future and a more balanced life, then your work is making a major contribution to the world. This change in perspective can turn what is currently a job or a career into a calling, and can infuse you with more excitement and enthusiasm for your work.

If you apply these techniques, your passion and excitement will return to your work, and you will attract more great clients as well–even in the most difficult market in the last 70 years.