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Life Health > Life Insurance

That's Big of You

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When February doldrums strike, people’s most curmudgeonly tendencies seem to emerge. The more you want to hunker down and hide until brighter days arrive, the likelier you are to feel pessimistic, deprived, and distrustful of those around you.

What’s the antidote? As a firm believer in the power of practicing the non-habitual, I recommend enlarging your horizons. Expansiveness and inclusion, rather than exclusion and narrow-mindedness, may be just what the doctor ordered. I’m reminded of that old rock ‘n’ roll song: “C’mon, people, now; smile on your brother…. Gotta love one another right now.” Hmm–maybe those folks were onto something!

I’m a former stockbroker who has “seen the light.” About a year ago, I joined a new financial planning firm and began doing life planning. Whenever I run into any of the brokers I used to work with, it’s difficult for me to feel comfortable with them. I can hardly believe that I, too, was once totally focused on selling stocks and closing the deal. I think I’m overreacting, but what can I do about it? Like a convert to a new religion, your newfound passion for life planning has cut you off from any memory of positive qualities and talents in your former colleagues. This sort of temporary “fanatic” phase is natural, but if you want to see the world clearly from your newfound perspective, excluding your peers will narrow your view in a way that limits your effectiveness.

Try to practice tolerance, and deeper wisdom, by turning your mind back to earlier days when you were enthusiastic about being a broker. Remember the strengths you offered the clients who consulted you then. If memory fails, consider inviting one or more of your former cohorts to lunch. Share your enthusiasm for life planning, and ask what excites them about the work they’re doing.

If you can broaden your perspective to combine what your former colleagues have to offer with what you now bring to the party, you may end up feeling somewhat less superior. But by paving the way for more appreciation of your peers’ strengths, this process can also give you greater wisdom and a deeper sense of groundedness as you pursue your new career.

After we met while working toward CFP accreditation, my husband and I started a practice together. However, it’s become obvious that we are completely opposite in our personalities and perspectives. He’s a detail guy; I’m a visionary. He likes crunching numbers; I like helping clients with their deeper needs. Things are fine when we’re home, but I’d much rather work with a kindred spirit. Should I break up our business partnership and look for a more like-minded planner? It may be way too early to bail out, especially when it’s possible that your complementary qualities are really a business strength. A “planner” and a “dreamer” in the same firm can be a very creative combination.

Ironically, it’s not unusual that you are only now perceiving yourselves as polar opposites. In my experience, when opposites don’t attract each other right off the bat (and they usually do), they eventually end up at different extremes anyway. Couples who have mutual respect and good will toward each other need to take time to appreciate their differences, learn how these distinctions help balance the relationship, and be willing to move toward the middle–at least on occasion.

In this case, I would suggest getting together with your spouse to talk about your differences, first the upside and then the downside. Strategize ways to make the most of your disparate strengths.

If you continue to feel lonely in your work, perhaps you need to consider hiring someone who is more like you. However, I would caution you against surrounding yourself only with others who think the way you do. This can cause a kind of myopia that will limit you professionally. Also, be aware that working with new people of like temperament may lead to a honeymoon where everything seems ideal. Like all honeymoons, though, this one will end, perhaps with irritation as the similarities begin to grate on you. At that point, you will probably appreciate more fully the different perspective your partner provides.

After being an insurance agent for 12 years, I now have my own planning firm. I feel my experience as an agent has given me an invaluable understanding of what makes clients tick, but some of my professional colleagues put me down because of this background. At one meeting, other advisors avoided getting into an elevator with me, making jokes about being trapped with an insurance agent. I feel hurt and angry, and I’m beginning to want to distance myself from these insensitive jerks. What can I do? Instead of disappearing, make yourself larger than they are. There are many ways to do this. For example, you could get together privately with colleagues whom you admire, trust, and respect. Talk to them frankly about their misperceptions of the ethics and talents of dedicated insurance professionals.

You could also write an article on this subject for a trade publication, or give a talk about it at an industry meeting. Choose a provocative title–like How to Survive Being Trapped in an Elevator With an Insurance Agent.

This hurtful putdown reminds me of what a popular financial author (and ex-stockbroker) used to say when her fans asked whether they should consult a financial planner. Her answer was something like “Don’t bother; there are so many crooks out there. Just read my book!” I was horrified that she would trash her past profession, which is populated by so many honest advisors, just to market her book. In my view, such disrespect usually reveals more about the trasher than the trashee.

Be that as it may, I applaud your success as an insurance professional and a planner. You obviously have a tremendous amount to contribute, and I hope you will find more and more colleagues who are open-minded enough to learn from you.

Whenever I use a particular outside CPA as a tax expert in presentations, she blows away the client with her expertise. I’ve tried to get my partners to involve her when clients consult them on tax matters, but they give me excuses that all boil down to fear: “She’s a competitor; she could steal our business.” I think they’re missing an opportunity, but how can I open their minds? Unfortunately, some minds are just too narrow to open. That said, I would encourage you to engage your partners on this issue so you can figure out what’s behind their fear. Do they honestly think there’s not enough business to go around, so their clients need to be shielded from all potential competitors?

Once you’ve listened to their feelings, make a calm and rational case for collaborating with this talented specialist. If your colleagues aren’t smart enough to learn from your positive experiences, keep involving the CPA in your own client plans. Your modeling of this inclusive approach may catch on once they see how successful it is for you.

Years ago, I had a similar experience when I was expanding my therapy practice to include stress management work with businesses and organizations. Hoping to learn more about organizational development, I invited two professionals in the field to meet with me, one after the other.

The first “expert” treated me rudely, wanted me to hire her to tell me what she knew, and dissed me for not being completely clear on what I wanted to accomplish. By contrast, the second resource person was giving, inspiring, and energizing. Meeting with her totally validated my work and my interest in this field. When I asked how I could repay her generosity, this professional said, “I ask only one thing: if you find some good ideas in marketing or business development that work for you, I’d appreciate your sharing them with me.”

This woman, Maggie Bedrosian, obviously believed there was enough business to go around. For more than 20 years, she has been a respected leader in the field. By contrast, the first individual seems to have disappeared. I believe her deprivation mentality must have cost her much more than the unpleasant hour it cost me.

In a zero-sum game, no one can win unless someone else loses. But life isn’t like that. A new client for X doesn’t necessarily mean a lost client for Y, and A does not have to fail in order for B to succeed. If you see everyone else’s potential gain as your loss, it creates a sort of tunnel vision that restricts your ability to think clearly on your clients’ behalf. On the other hand, a belief in abundance (sometimes called “prosperity consciousness” when it involves dollars and cents) may lead to greater creativity in finding solutions to business and personal challenges.

Whenever you hear yourself or others waxing judgmental because of narrow-minded preconceptions, take a few deep breaths and practice “radical acceptance” (the title of a wonderful new book by therapist and Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach), expanding your consciousness to embrace what you formerly feared or avoided. The richness of this more open and gentle view of differences will enhance your ability to grow, restore yourself, heal rifts, and create new collaborations and partnerships.

It’s unfortunate that many people spend their lives expecting the worst. Some time ago I read a spiritual essay called “The Superstition of Pessimism,” which discussed the false belief that expecting bad things will serve as protection against something bad actually happening. In real life, it’s usually the opposite: when you expect the worst, you’re likely to get it.

The essence of good planning, I believe, is to be prepared for the worst but to expect the best. Though it may be necessary and vital to be ready for periods of contraction and loss, it’s equally important to train your mind and heart to expect the best. Expanding your expectations in this way can actually help inspire the best in yourself and in others. That itself would be a priceless gift that will benefit your clients, colleagues, and loved ones alike.

Olivia Mellan, a money coach and money therapist, is the author with Sherry Christie of The Advisor’s Guide to Money Psychology, available through the IA bookstore at E-mail Olivia at [email protected].


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