Hannah: Well, thanks for joining us today, Stephen.
Stephen: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you for asking.
Hannah: Yes, well, I am so excited to have you on this podcast, and really introduce the listeners to a lot of your thoughts and thought leadership that you have around financial planning. But to give the listeners an idea of who you are, you have been a financial planner for 30 years, and specifically, a financial life planner for 30 years. So for our listeners, what does it mean to be a financial life planner?
Stephen: I think the simplest definition when I look at it, and it’s the one I use with consumers all the time, is that financial planning focuses on the money and the dollars and the investments and the estate planning and those pieces. And the client is really on the outside. Financial life planning differs in that the client is at the center. Their values, goals, money stories, functional and dysfunctional, and everything about them. And then the money is simply on the outside, is the details to support a life well-lived. So to me, that’s the most practical definition.
Hannah: And in practice, what does that look like? How, in practice, is your practice different than somebody who just does traditional financial planning?
Stephen: Well, I actually have a very defined process, and actually I believe tomorrow, an updated version of that will show up in the next Journal of Financial Planning under the title of Inspired Financial Planning. But the reality is that I probably spend about 15-20 hours doing what I call discovery, awareness, and clarity, which is the first quadrant of my process. And that’s really learning who somebody is today and why, both on the internal and external, working to create an awareness of what they want their life to be and what they want it to look like, and a big part of that is pulling out what Steve Covey called the secret place. As individuals, we have our public face and our private one, but then there’s that secret yearning inside that never comes out. So the awareness phase really focuses on bringing that out.
And finally, clarity aligns all of that with their both human and financial capital and resources to create a vision of what’s possible. So you’re looking at 15-20 hours worth of work back and forth between … before we ever really get to what we’re going to do with the money.
Hannah: Okay, so 15-20 hours face to face with a client?
Stephen: Meetings normally are scheduled for two hours apiece, and in that first quadrant, meetings take place no farther apart than every two weeks. What I’ve found over the years is that two weeks is that perfect time to still maintain the momentum of what you’ve been doing, and the energy, while allowing seeds to root, if you will, that we’ve put in place at the prior appointment. So that two weeks allows the client to show up for the next appointment different than the person they were prior.
Hannah: So interesting. So do you just have a list of questions for everybody? I know I do the money habits cards with clients. Do you have different exercises for every meeting?
Stephen: So initially, my discovery starts with a modified version of a road map. And the road map people are most used to is the one from Bill Bachrach, but I have my own version that I created. So the initial discovery is a very guided and intentional process. And within two hours, I’ve never seen another way to reach deeper levels of trust and intimacy with a client. More often than not, spouses are looking at each other and saying, “I didn’t know you feel that way,” and there are tears, and it’s just beautiful. It’s a beautiful space.
So after that, it’s really a matter of being present with the client and truly understanding what they have and why, where they are and why, and where they hope to be and why. So it’s very much respecting the process and patiently moving along with the clients. I look at it as a mastery process. You don’t move from one topic to the next until you’ve really sorted it out. And that way, you’re really always on firm footing moving forward.
Hannah: Yeah, that seems like such a long time, even to me. But the reality is for … I know personally in my life, there’s really no other place where I could dive that deeply into asking those big questions. So to really provide a space for that, I think, is a really cool thing.
Stephen: Thank you, thank you.
Hannah: You’ve talked a lot and you’ve done a lot of research around the essential leadership role of a financial planner. On one piece, one place where I’ve seen you write, you’ve said that planners need to be aware that clients instinctually assume, ascribe, and expect a certain set of traits and behaviors from the planner. Can you expound on this? What traits and behaviors do clients assume that we financial planners have?
Stephen: Well, I think what I’d like to do is take a small step backwards in that conversation, and one of the things has to do with something that’s called role theory. And everybody in their life as an individual takes on certain roles. Some statuses are ascribed, such as being a father, a son, an employee, a friend. That type of thing. And then other statuses are achieved or worked for, such as a spouse, or being a planner.
So we all carry multiple roles. Those roles are about us and our stories, but when a client shows up in front of us because of who they are, they have expectations coming in to what they hope, to see what they hope to happen, how they hope to be treated. So when we look at a client and they’re across the table from us, we’re the ones who are responsible for moving them forward. We’re responsible for making sure that they end up in a place, through proper facilitation and everything that goes into being a good planner, of being able to make progress with real change.
So when we look at the traits and behaviors, there are a lot of them. Simply, and I guess in its first iteration, talking about that, what I would say is … What I’d like to do is state a quote from John Quincy Adams. And his quote was that if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
So given the role of a financial life planner, if we were to look in the mirror, don’t we, as financial life planners, want clients to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more? I would say, 9 out of 10 people would say yes. So first and foremost, you then become a leader by default. It’s whether you recognize it, and what are you willing to do with it.
So if you look at all the different roles that we fill as planners, being a coach and facilitator and advisor and technical expert and money manager and designated adult and mentor and change agent, and there are 20 more. When we look at all of those things, that’s being a leader. But then when we look at the characteristics that are related to doing really good jobs with clients and creating engagements in a way that create deeper and more meaningful engagements, there’s a set of research and a doctoral dissertation and papers that talk about having a certain set of skills.
So while there are a lot of them, they generally fall under the topic of the planner’s way of being. And spiritual intelligence, and good listening skills, and inspiring, and intuitive, and motivational, and self-aware, and non-judgmental, and calming. And Hannah, there are just a lot more that follow. So I think those traits are we put forth, or we hope to put forth, and what the client wants. But whether that actually happens or not is a different question.
Hannah: Okay, so this is interesting. Just a list that you listed off, like the coach and facilitator and all these roles. It can be overwhelming, especially as a young planner, trying to figure out, how the heck am I supposed to do all this or get better at all this, ’cause there’s so many aspects, what our roles are as financial planners and financial life planners.
But I like what you’re saying. You’re saying that the common characteristic is leadership skills. So if we can focus on our leadership skills, these other skills will naturally come about. Is that what I’m hearing?
Stephen: So I think the first general comment is, if we as a planner can understand our predominant role as being a leader, and in that way being a facilitator, I think that clears the path for a lot of things being done better, because if it’s about me facilitating or leading, then I’m not concerned about doing to the client. I’m not concerned about having to be the expert. I’m not concerned about all of those other areas. What I am concerned about is being present with the client, checking in with the client. Making sure I don’t get in the way of where the client goes.
One of the really fundamental tenets of financial life planning is, if you do it well, you ascribe to the fact that the clients know the answer. The clients know what they want. Our job is to help peel back the layers, hold up the mirror, and help them discover what it is that they’re looking for. So if you truly take that role, I think it does help you be a better leader.
Hannah: You talk about the four different types of leadership. So can you walk us through what are those different types of leadership, or maybe ways to show up as leaders? And then, how do they apply to financial planning? How are those made evident in our day to day?
Stephen: So, tiny little background is that my doctoral work and my dissertation was in the field of interdisciplinary leadership. So when you look at leadership from an academic standpoint, there are probably 10-15 legitimate theories on leadership that have a lot of research, that have been proven over time. And what I found in my three years of research is that there are specific leadership theories that really just walk hand in hand with being a financial life planner. So while there are some other ancillary ones, these four really are the main ones.
The first one is adaptive leadership, and adaptive leadership in its simplest form is about meeting clients where they are and responding appropriately. So the general iterative and evolving process in adaptive leadership is observing events and patterns, interpreting what is being observed, and designing intervention based on those observations. So we do that all day long as planners. But you have to be able to be with the client, be flexible, and be present. And then with adaptive leadership, the collaborative task really becomes for us to discover what their answers are in order to bring about change. So in a lot of ways, in a lot of circles, that could stand up to define financial life planning all by itself.
One of the other quotes that I love about adaptive leadership comes from Beans. From a gentleman named Bean, he says that adaptive leadership is courageously asking the questions no one else is willing to ask, and committing to finding the truth. That’s just such a beautiful quote for what we do every day with clients. So, adaptive leadership is the first one.
Second one is authentic leadership. Authentic leadership is showing up as your real self, and it’s knowledge-based about yourself. It’s a matter of the reflective practices that you do. And what we talk about a lot in financial life planning and doing deeper work is you can only take clients as far as you’ve gone yourself. And authentic leadership really falls under that category, ’cause we authentically have to be willing to understand our own money stories and our own biases and judgments in order for them not to get in the way in our work with clients.
So the really four components of authentic leadership are self-awareness, understanding your own values and identities and emotions. Having an internalized moral perspective, so we can regulate what’s going on. Be able to have balance processing and analyze what’s going on, because when we work with clients, it’s on the internal and external, and we’ve got to be able to balance those. And then the fourth one is relational transparency, being really open and honest.
Hannah: So one of the things that you said, and I hear this a lot, but I think this can be expanded on. You say we can only take clients where we’ve gone ourselves. So, I’ve never gone through retirement. I’ve never … Especially as a young planner, dealing with a lot of older planners in my day to day of work, how does that apply, especially looking at generational differences?
Stephen: So, I think that’s a great question. Without question, if you go through certain stages of life, they’re all moments to collect wisdom. So if you’ve never bought a car before, helping someone buy a car is a little difficult, or not as easy as it could be. So I think you’ve got a good point there, but at the same time, we’ve got to be comfortable enough in our own skin to be able to know, we are not responsible for all the answers. We are there as facilitators of the process.
So, correct. You may not have gone through retirement, but if somebody is talking about what they want and you’re facilitating them through exercises to be aware of what they want, how are you being at that moment? Are you uncomfortable, are you present, are you emotional? What did you see when your parents went through retirement? Those types of things, as you experience people who are transitioning from one part of life to another, how are you being there for them?
So while the experience may not be directly the same, you’ve got to be comfortable enough in the moment and be present enough in the moment where you’re not one moment ahead, you’re not one moment behind, but you are truly sitting hand in hand with that client. So in that regard is how you have to do your own work.
And a classic example is, if you happen to go through some questions and run up to a story and a client starts crying, are you going to say, “There, there,” and just keep going to what your topic was, or are you going to stop to be there with them in that moment, knowing that that crying’s okay? That crying is just a bell of awakening going off, and that’s inside that person. And the message is, something’s going on. Pay attention. If you as a planner have never done your own crying or your own searching, and you’re not comfortable with those emotions, then you’re not going to be able to facilitate that really important, pivotal moment for the clients. So that’s what I mean by that.
Hannah: A couple things come to mind really quick. One of them is, I remember, I do a lot work around transitional planning. Like the Susan Bradley Sudden Money program. And back where I used to work, I remember telling somebody about this and working with widows, and they’re like, “It’s a great market. You can make a lot of money in that. The key is to make sure you have the client sign the paperwork before they cry, so they can just leave when they start crying.” Isn’t that terrible?
Stephen: That’s horrible!
Hannah: But it’s this fundamental difference of saying, are we really willing to engage with our clients with everything that they bring into our offices, or do we just have our agenda that we need to get the client to sign the paperwork before we move on?
Hannah: One of the things … So as you were talking, and I know we’ve had some off, not recorded conversations … So talking about life planning and this idea where you can only take clients where you’ve gone yourself, and I hear you saying that it’s more of … Are we emotionally aware of what’s going on within ourselves, that we can be aware of what’s happening within our clients?
But this idea of … I’ve had friends that have gone through the George Kinder program and things like that, and they’ve made … After that program, they’ve made significant life changes, as in quitting jobs, moving across the country, things like that. Do you think that financial planners have to be living their own life plan, if you would, in order to do this work? Or do they just have to be aware of where they want to go?
Stephen: I think they have to be on the journey. They have to be in a place where they are purposefully spending time in reflection to grow and develop in a predetermined way, because if you’re showing up for somebody as a financial life planner, and some people, in deference to Roy Diliberto, is … Financial life planning is nothing other than financial planning done well. So in deference to that, you have to be authentic with that client. You’ve got to be emblematic of somebody who’s on a journey.
One of the wonderful things and one of the awful things about being humans is that we never have the answer, and where we are is never exactly where we’re going to be a day later. And all of those things are okay, if you work with them and if you’re comfortable and you understand them. But if you’re constantly fighting that, then you’re not going to be able to do that for a client.
So one of the amazing things, when I interviewed 25 of the top people in financial life planning in the country, is all of them, down to the last person, described one of the main characteristics of being a good financial life planner or financial planner, being that you’re somebody who always is working on growing, developing. You’re not stuck. You’ve never arrived. There’s always more and something else. And I think having that internalized, ongoing inquisitiveness about what’s possible and what life can be shows up in front of a client.
To me, one of the amazing examples is a financial life planner who talks about living a balanced life, yet he’s happy to take phone calls on a Saturday when he’s in the park with his kids. I’m sorry, but to me, that’s out of balance. And at some point, a client’s going to look up and say, “You keep preaching to me about this, but you took that call.” So I think there’s an authenticity issue, and it’s about being able to look in the mirror and yourself and say, “I’m a work in progress, just like my clients are.”
Hannah: I like that. And I like the idea that, when we say we only take clients where we’ve gone ourselves, really tying that back to the journey. I think that’s, whether you’re 22 working with a 65 year old, or 64 working with a 65 year old, it’s what connects us.
Stephen: Very much so, very much so. So if we pick up on those other two leadership characteristics, or types of leadership, the next one is servant leadership. And servant leadership is huge, and I see it so much in our industry, because servant leadership begins with the natural feeling that you want to serve, that you want to be of service. And when you talk to the really good people in our business, while they want to have a good living and they want to have time and money freedom, they want to be able to make a difference.
So that’s a huge area of leadership, and one of the characteristics of servant leadership taking place, and this quote is from Greenleaf, who’s the father of servant leadership, is do those served … In other words, do the clients we serve grow as people? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants?
And I think when we deliver to our clients a level of freedom, and that comes from George Kinder, they turn around and they help others find their own freedom. So servant leadership is a big one. And when you look at the planner practically as a servant leader, another quote from Greenleaf is, is that servant leader one who seeks to draw out, inspire, and develop the best and highest within people from the inside out? And Hannah, you know that’s what we do with clients.
Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephen: So that’s another area. The fourth area is transformational leadership, and that has to do with our capacity to develop and promote values and goals. So, do we want for our clients, to help them to rise above low-level transactional considerations? It’s not just about the mutual fund, and instead pursue a higher-order sense of morality and purpose. We want them to live into that ideal life, and that’s really what a transformational leader does.
So when you look at those four academic theories of leadership, they all sort of describe what we do and what so much of us aspire to do.
Hannah: Well, and so with these leadership … There seems to be a lot of crossover. Would you agree with that?
Stephen: Very much so. And actually, transformational leadership is often paired with authentic leadership for its own theory, called authentic transformational. So there is a lot of overlap, and that really became apparent in my research. So there are nuances to each of those that tie into directly what it is that we do and what we aspire to do for and with clients.
Hannah: For the planners who are listening, who are like, “Okay, I bought into this, how do we become better leaders?” Especially as young planners. We don’t have the years of experience or decades of experience as a lot of other advisors. Is this an experience thing, or how do we be good at this?
Stephen: So I think the way anybody becomes good at it is, the first thing they do is look in the mirror and say, “I’m a leader and my clients are counting on me. And it’s my job to help facilitate, so it’s about co-creating, but my job is to help facilitate and co-create where it is they want to go.”
As you know, with a lot of young planners, they come in in the beginning. They think their sole value is to provide the answers. This is the answer to this and this is the answer to that, and that’s how you beat the market, and all of those types of things. That’s not their value. Their value is their heart. Their value is showing up and actually hearing clients.
So I think the first thing is to recognize that. And then what any planner can do, no matter their level of age or experience, is dedicated themselves to following a guided and intentional process. So for me, I’ve got my process. I know what the steps are. My job is to not get in the way of the process, all the while honoring the process. So I’m not going to take shortcuts that are about me, I’m not going to try to implement something before it’s time. I’m going to slowly and patiently be present with the clients, and facilitate and lean on that process til we get to where we need to go.
So I think that’s not about necessarily experience, but it goes back to the old Disney quote. When your values are clear, your decisions are easy. If I value that process, and I’m committed to following it through, then my decisions are easy. The client that walks in and say, “Well, I need to invest that million dollars today.” Well, because my values are clear and my decisions are easy, I know I can’t ethically or morally do anything with that money until I know them. And the only way I know them is to follow my process. So no matter what the age, the process is what stands in front.
Hannah: Maybe I’m projecting on some of my assumptions, and again, these have changed over the years, but especially when I first started out. This idea of financial life planning and really diving in deep, actively listening to the client, all of those things … I don’t know that I ever would have put process around that.
And so what’s exciting for what I’m hearing you say is we can dive deeply into our clients’ live and have structure around that. It’s not just this skill set that’s like, good luck. Go fill however many hours of talking about what’s most important to your client’s life. Can you talk maybe more about that process, or maybe what … 15 hours seems like a lot, but what have you seen other planners do in respect to that process?
Stephen: Well, I think the first piece is, you have to decide whether you want to do it on your own, or whether you want to go get training. So for me, I came through the Kinder Institute as a registered life planner, and that’s a very big part of how I do things and how I process. I did a lot of work with Bill Bachrach, who’s got unbelievable processes for discovery and awareness. And then as a student of Ed Jacobson and all of these people, for me the way to do it was to take a little bit from everybody and put it together and make it mine.
For somebody that’s new that doesn’t even know where to start, I would say, go find the training from somebody, whether it’s George Kinder or Susan Bradley or Carol at Money Quotient. Or just go up to somebody who seems to have it going on, if you will, and talk to them about the experience.
But one of the things that was really clear from my research is, your process has to be guided and intentional. It should pretty much be the exact same process every single time. But where people get caught up is, they think if they do that same process every time, it’s cookie cutter work. The reality is, is by doing the same process every time, you free yourself to be present with the client, and the results are different and unique based on each client.
So I think you start with somebody helping you figure out what it looks like. So for me, my process, I wrote a book 10 years ago now. And it’s called The Ultimate Guide to Connecting Your Money and Value. It’s called, What Your Happiest Friends Already Know: The Ultimate Guide to Connecting Your Money and Values With Your Life. And my process is in the back of that book. But as you know, with our financial life planning community, anybody can walk up to anybody and ask for help. And somebody’s always going to step up.
Hannah: That is so true. People love to share and especially with young planners, they get so excited. Again, it’s like what you talked about earlier about this, they’re always looking improve themselves, and new planners bring such energy and fresh ideas that these more experienced planners just love to engage with.
Stephen: Well, I think for us old planners, what we really look at is for most of us, the work we’re doing is the work we were put here to do. For us, it’s a calling. It’s when we’re in flow. And with that kind of understanding comes a stewardship obligation. We understand that we are using the gifts and talents that have been bestowed on us in a way that we’re supposed to be, and with that comes a responsibility and a humility that it’s not ours to keep, it’s ours to share. So I think our community takes that really seriously.
Hannah: It just makes me think back to Dick Wagner’s To Think Like a CFP, what does it mean for us to be a profession? And there is a sense of calling. If you go talk to doctors, there is a sense of, this is who I’m supposed to be. And that bigger sense of calling.
Stephen: Very much so.
Hannah: We’ve talked a lot about the roles that financial planners have, and the long list of what, really when we do financial planning, well, the roles should be … But does our role change based upon the client who’s sitting across the table from us?
Stephen: Oh, absolutely. And that goes back to adaptive leadership. We never really know what’s going to show up in front of us, and we don’t know whether one moment we’re supposed to be facilitating or in another moment, are we supposed to be the grownup in the room, or are we supposed to be the empathetic one, listening and hearing?
So I think what gives financial life planning so much power is, there’s really nobody that does what we do. We play in the reality of money, which can be different things to different people, but more so, we marry the reality of money with helping people put forth the lives they want to live. I’ve very long described what I do as, my job is to help free clients of financial stress and worry, so we can then actually create and have them live a happier, more inspired, purpose-driven life.
So when you look at just that one simple sentence, there are 15 or 20 different roles in there. So at any given time, I’ve got to have the ability and the flexibility and the adaptability and the willingness to shift roles. So with your experience, I’m sure that you’ve been in the situation where you’ve walked into a client meeting with an agenda, and within 30 seconds, it became really clear your highest and best use for the greater good of that client that day had absolutely nothing to do with your agenda. And after an hour or two, everybody’s a lot better off, and you did amazing work, and you didn’t cover a thing on your agenda. Have you had that happen?
Hannah: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Stephen: So, yeah, I think it’s about being adaptable and being present with the client, and that really flows back to honoring the process and being present, because if it’s not about you, if it’s about the client, and making sure there’s … that you’re going to patiently but persistently make progress, but progress is deemed by where the client is, then you keep moving forward.
So for me, that first quadrant of the process, discovery, awareness, and clarity, is normally, I don’t know, at most, five, six meetings for clients. But I’ve had some clients stuck in that quadrant for two years. But during that time frame, they have made progress. Piece by piece, they’ve made progress. And as long as there’s progress and it’s a high standards environment, and work’s getting done, then my job is to honor that. And during that timeframe, the only money I’ve made is the financial planning fee, and because I charge fairly for my time, that’s okay.
So, yes. You’ve definitely got to be adaptable.
Hannah: So, how do I frame this well? One of my … I think I’ve come to peace with this a little bit in the past, but one of my issues with life planning, especially being a millennial, and realizing how quickly life can change for millennials, especially the people who are listening who want to serve millennials. Life planning, it almost feels like a set it and forget it type thing. Maybe that’s my problem.
But this idea of, when I was back in college, I could’ve never imagined my life where it is today. Even my first couple of years in the business, there’s no way I could’ve imagined where my life was today. You have these inflection points that kind of just take you in a completely different direction. How does life planning manage all of those dramatic life changes that people have, especially young people? People in their 20s or early 30s?
Stephen: I think it’s consistent for any sentient being, if you will. Young, old, any of those things, is that once we get them in that process of discovery, awareness, and clarity, what we really do at that point is we move to the heart of the matter, which is the energy and vigor and meaning and purpose, and all of those things. And then once that happens, we implement around money and meaning. And while you’re doing that, the client experiences those increasing levels of financial security and confidence. And what was financial stress and worry, the focus is now flourishing and well-being.
But like any human being, and one of the great books about this is George Leonard’s Mastery book, is we spend our lives on plateaus with momentary spurts of growth. So while we may hit a place or a patch where life seems to be pretty good and it’s what we want, and we’re flourishing, the master’s journey is really enjoying being on that plateau, but the more you enjoy and live into what you’re doing, the more an upward spiral is going to take place in your life, either intentionally or as a consequence or something.
And then you really get to the evolving nature of being human. We have cycles of plateaus and unpacking and repacking and growth. But throughout most of that cycle, the life planning outweighs the financial planning, ’cause the money literally is just the details. It’s the simplest part of what we do.
So I think we work with clients on an ongoing basis to have a life of reflection and discernment. One of the amazing thing, and actually I’m going through this now. I’ve built this amazing routine in life, in my practice. And one of the really interesting things is, as you build in a lot of balance and freedom, while those things are wonderful because it’s yours, eventually you also find that you become somewhat of a prisoner to what you’ve built. And if you look at your life as going down a highway, those walls on the side have become really high. So even though it’s mine and I built it intentionally, after a while, I’m a growing and developing, evolving person, and I want more.
Another way to look at that is, if you’ve ever looked at Bachrach’s, what’s called a [inaudible 00:40:27] conversation. What’s important about money to you. There are a lot of times we’ll go back and redo that conversation every couple years, and the things that were on the bottom, the most basic needs, have fallen off. But there are new things on the top, because we’re seeing life with new eyes. And those new eyes always keep us centered in living an ever-evolving life.
So, Hannah, I don’t think life planning is one and done. I think it’s an ongoing, beautiful, burdensome, pain in the butt, wonderful process.
Hannah: And it’s interesting that you’re talking about it in these terms, because again, what you just described is something that I think most millennials experience even graduating college. And what our clients experience as they’re switching jobs or looking to retire. And to your point earlier, it’s really about this journey, and if we can understand those basic human elements, it doesn’t matter, the age of the person across the table from you.
Stephen: That’s right. And so with that, I put out a question, which is … So as we’re sitting across the table from our clients, is our job focused on their money, or is our job focused on them, their head, their heart, and who it is they were meant to be? And I would put forth that if we look at our roles as becoming an advocate for the greatest life that person can live, then there’s a lifetime of work to be done.
Hannah: And just to put it in such contrast to … I talk to so many new planners, and they’re working in jobs where the client meetings are completely centered on investments, and this is such a counter to that, it’s such a counterweight to that, of focusing on their life instead of just the transactions of investments.
Stephen: Very big difference. But it’s a conscious choice. I’ve got planners that I mentor around the country, and many of them started out with me, where they’re journaling daily and sending me journals. And then journaling weekly and sending me those journals. And when you go back and look at where they were, transaction-oriented, to where they are now, it’s unbelievable. And it’s mainly the perspective of the planner and how they see their role, and what is it that they want to be doing.
Hannah: Is there any final pieces of advice, or what you want new planners to know?
Stephen: I want them to pay attention to that tiny little bell of awakening that’s going off inside of them, saying, “I wish I was doing more. I wish there was something else. I’d like to be doing this instead of this.” I find so many people sadly hear those voices, but they don’t pay attention. And I think taking the time to sit down and truly be with yourself and be mindful and be reflective and to practice discernment makes all the difference, because that’s when you harness the energy and the power and the vigor and the focus of getting ready to make life changes.
The young planners who have inspired me most are the ones that are out there saying, “Just because all you old folks have done it this way, that’s not what I want. It’s fine if that’s what you want, but I want something different, and I’m willing to do the work to make that happen.” So my wish would be that people pay attention to that voice and start a journey, whether it’s reading everything you can get your hands on, whether it’s picking up the phone and calling somebody.
If you want to be the person that instills change on behalf of your clients, you’ve got to be the person who instills change on your own. And whether you do that yourself or with a coach or a trusted friend, doesn’t matter. But just be open and willing to do the work, and trust, and have faith that if you’re going at it with open eyes and an open heart, it’s going to turn out the way it’s supposed it.
Hannah: One thing I just want to highlight in what you’re saying, and I think this is so important, especially for new planners who say, “I think this could be different,” to realize that there are so many older planners who are cheering you on and they’re your advocates. You just have to find the right people to be around.
Stephen: The first time you and sat down was at Naz, and just by virtue of showing up at Naz, you change who you are. Show up at FPA retreat, which is a small, intimate gathering, and find, before you go, find the five people on your wishlist to talk with. And they’re going to be there, so have the nerve to just go up and introduce yourself and say, “Can I talk to you for five minutes?” That’s how we’ve all done it, and it is truly one of the most beautiful things about our community.