Often, new clients come to us mired in the minutiae of one or two aspects of their financial life but without having a good grasp of the big picture. This is partially a result of the media, be it advertising, pundits or articles, focusing on minutiae and not necessarily accurately. So we labor to refocus them on the goals and the life they envision for themselves and their loved ones. Without goals we couldn’t construct a plan at all. Imagine going on a road trip having packed the car, and pulled out of your driveway without having decided on your destination, how long you wanted to take to get there, and what you planned on doing once you were there. Maybe you focused so much on the minutiae of preparing for a trip that you neglected those other things!
The past six months or so have brought about tremendous personal change and perspective for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been at this profession for more than three decades, but I couldn’t help to see lessons in it that I could try to share with others.
Last fall, having been awakened by my cat about 3:00am one morning, I noticed my phone light up with a Facebook notification. Through bleary eyes I read a Facebook message from one of my brother’s friends trying to contact my family to let us know my brother had passed away. John was 56. As I arrived in Los Angeles the next day, I was shell shocked. We spent the next few days making arrangements and meeting many of his friends. I don’t think a week has gone by since that I haven’t felt those few days shaping my thoughts.
As trusted advisors and planners for hundreds of families, with thousands of family members, we witness life-changing events continuously. Some are very happy events – new children/grandchildren, job promotions, retirement parties, – and some are not happy events. But all offer opportunities for perspective. We remind our clients often to consider what the goals of their plan are. Worrying about short term fluctuations in the value of our investments is not a goal that will lead to a happy life. Trying to die with the most dollars you’ve ever had won’t make you happy (and it probably won’t make your heirs appreciably happier either). Creating a life with reduced worry and increased focus on family and friends could lead to a happier life. In all the years we’ve been at this, no one has ever expressed regret over spending too much time with friends and family. No one has ever said to me “If only I’d spent more time watching TV news.” On the contrary, all too often we have heard regrets about not spending more time with loved ones and regrets of spending too much time sweating the small stuff.
Since receiving the news of my brother’s passing, I have had the opportunity to visit friends who have health issues inhibiting their travel. This helped me refocus on maintaining my health as best as I can. We recently traveled on the 16th Goodlife Cruise with clients and friends, and I felt the absence of several long term cruising clients who have since passed away. What would they tell us if they could? I think it would be something like: “remember to make the most of every day, as tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us”. We know this in the back of our minds, but we often lose the focus on the big picture.
On a recent trip to Ireland, I couldn’t help but notice the Dublin skyline was filled with construction cranes (I stopped trying to count them all at 60). An unmistakable sign of economic growth, I enjoyed pointing that out to various locals who were not convinced that the Irish economy was doing very well. At the same time, I was able to see the country through the eyes of my fiancé, Amy, for the first time, and came to appreciate many aspects I had taken for granted on previous visits. I was also able to connect with two of my cousins, one of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. This proved to be an enlightening and healing reuniting.
A final lesson I learned from my brother has led to why I am marrying Amy in the coming days. Before he passed, she and I were content with our relationship as it was. I was an important yet unofficial stepfather to her kids, but hadn’t seen a need to make things more formal. After all, there was plenty of time for that, right? Rethinking everything, I asked myself what was causing me to wait. Wait until the kids graduate from high school? Wait for divine intervention? I had never been in a more comfortable, loving relationship with someone, yet was not moving it forward. Like so many of us, in both financial matters and personal matters, I think I was mired in the minutiae of life. John’s passing clarified much for me.
Now, more than ever when we say to focus on what’s important and block out what won’t matter later, we mean it. Take some time today to enjoy a sunset with the people you love.