It’s December and there’s snow on the ground outside George Kinder’s office, a couple of blocks from Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So you can’t help but smile at the dreamy expression that comes to Kinder’s face when he starts talking about his other home base, Maui, where he is about to head for now that the Bay State’s climate is growing harsh. But whether he is working out of Hawaii or Massachusetts, Kinder follows a routine that includes a special time. Sometime between noon and 2, Kinder strolls out to a secluded spot–a cabin near his Massachusetts house and a beach close to his home in Maui–and whips out a small white notebook and starts to write. “Sometimes it’s poetry or a play,” he says, “Sometimes it’s a work of fiction. Sometimes I take a digital recorder and compose music, or take pictures with my digital camera.”
In following this routine, Kinder is doing exactly what he has counseled his many clients, readers, and students to do over the years: “Live a creative and spiritual life.” However, this means anything but the life of a hermit. Kinder, in his softspoken way, has given himself permission to live the busy life of an entrepreneur at the same time he nourishes his soul. In so doing, Kinder is the embodiment of the life planning movement that he, along with planner Richard Wagner, founded in the early 1990s. As he wrote in his 1999 book, The Seven Stages of Money Maturity, Kinder has fashioned a life “based on a deepened understanding of your power and purpose.”
But since Kinder thrust life planning into the public consciousness with the formation of the Nazrudin Project and then the publication of Seven Stages, the movement has matured. Advisors wishing to follow Kinder’s precepts are no longer struggling alone in the wilderness. They can now avail themselves of a widening array of courses, workbooks, and Web-based training programs. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards even granted $5,000 to a group of life planning adherents recently, including Susan Galvan, CEO of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning, to identify specific communication skills that foster trust and commitment between planner and client. In a further sign that life planning is entering the mainstream, the yearlong study will be conducted with the collaboration of the Financial Planning Association.
In a two-hour interview, Kinder explained how his concept of life planning has evolved over the years, and gave some hints of what he has up his sleeve–as well as in the pages of his ever-present white notebook. Here are some excerpts:
Where is life planning today? We’re now in an environment where life planning has pretty much been defined. We think of it as an art and a science. It’s terribly important that the public understand what it is and who’s available to practice it.
How well is the discipline catching on? I love Thoreau’s quote that people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” What I am surprised by is that everybody keeps revealing that their lives are incomplete.
So why isn’t life planning ubiquitous? In the life planning process, all these obstacles to actually executing that life plan come up. We short-circuit the process in the planning stage. So many of them [clients] have excuses. My wife didn’t like it. My parents won’t let me do it. I can’t afford to live the life plan and pay the mortgage. We’re the only professionals who can help them cut through it. In Dante, in the First Canto [of the Inferno], he sees up to the top of the mountain, through the forest of materialism. He starts to climb the mountain, but three beasts chase him down. Then Virgil comes out of the woods and says, “You can’t get there that way.” He takes him through hell and purgatory, through the anxious place.
Life planning takes clients through the anxious place and through the purgatory of structuring their lives. We are playing the role that a therapist or spiritual advisor may play, but we can make [clients'] dreams happen.
You have been giving two-day life planning workshops for years. What else are you doing to get more planners to understand this process? We are trained academically in five or six disciplines, but we’ve never been trained in dealing with the client. You need to know how to keep the torch lit, provide the inspiration when they are afraid they can’t make it happen. You need to know how to ask questions that don’t stop the client’s dreams and block the client’s flow. Why hasn’t this happened before in the CFP community? You can’t do it unless you’ve been through it yourself. What we are doing [at the Kinder Institute] is a five-day training program in life planning and then a four-month mentorship. This is virtual teaching, which we will limit to 12 people at a time. We have five people doing the training right now. Planners come in and have to choose someone they don’t know to be their life planner for the five days. You learn from the inside out. You also conduct a series of meetings in front of the other students and teachers. You are critiqued and reviewed by everyone, but primarily by the teachers. I don’t think anyone has left our five-day meetings without having their lives transformed. Life planning involves challenging ourselves to live what we are most passionate about.
What does this program cost? Typically, $5,000 for the five-day intensive and four-month mentorship. People are clearly making a big commitment to their practices to do this.