For centuries, philosophers and, more recently, social scientists have used archetypes to characterize human behavior. The archetype of the high-performing financial advisor is that of the achiever. We celebrate financial advisors who are industry leaders and qualify for awards of excellence, such as Million Dollar Round Table and Top of the Table.

Successful financial advisors typically have a high-achievement orientation. The United States leads the world in the expression of entrepreneurship. Americans celebrate the successes and tolerate the failures of entrepreneurs much more readily than the citizens of other nations.

In the United States, the values of egalitarianism, meritocracy and anti-statism, among others, provide fertile soil for the seeds of entrepreneurship. Achievement is celebrated; failure is the flip side of the same coin. It is an accepted part of the striving to achieve. Today, financial advisors are entrepreneurs who have chosen financial services as the sector in which they want to serve and make a difference.

The achiever is a heroic figure in American society, yet, as with any archetype, there is a good and bad side to achievement. Sometimes, the drive to achieve leads people to cheat in order to compete and win. We have recently seen a number of examples of executives in publicly traded companies accused of fraud. Large financial institutions have been forced into bankruptcy or brought to their knees through reckless investments seemingly driven by greed. Investor confidence has been shattered by their actions, and those of people like Bernie Madoff. It appears as if their need to achieve caused them to “cheat the system” in order to get ahead.

An archetype represents a model of how we want to live our lives. Much of our literature is based on archetypes. The only difference between an epic and a tragedy is in the choices made by the central character.

In an epic, when faced with adversity, the hero or heroine rises to the occasion and their strengths become manifest. The adversity brings out the best in them. It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about how we express ourselves in our heroic journey.

In a tragedy, when faced with adversity, the central figure falls victim to the situation, and his or her weaknesses come to the fore. It is not the external events in our lives that determine whether we are a hero or victim; it is our response to these circumstances.

For the financial advisor as an achiever, the writing of an epic occurs when the advisor is working for meaning, not money. The purpose of the financial advisor’s work and life is to make a difference and do what is significant.

Conversely, the writing of a tragedy takes place when the financial advisor becomes so concerned with the external trappings of success they sacrifice their integrity, health, family, relationships and faith. They pursue success at any price and end up losing their sense of self.

The entrepreneurial journey becomes an epic when the financial advisor’s purpose is to become a better person and contribute to a better world.

Norm Trainor is the president and CEO of The Covenant Group, a company specializing in practice development for advisors. For further information, visit the website at www.covenantgroup.com. Read Trainor’s updated version of “The Entrepreneurial Journey: A Handbook for Building Your Business” for more on this topic.