January 14, 2008
I was cornered yesterday by a fifty-eight year old man named Terry who heard that for twenty-five years I had been a financial advisor. He launched a speech I’ve heard many times. “I suppose I need one of those,” he sighed, “but I have no idea how to choose the one that’s right for me.”
Then he complained that many claim to be financial advisors and most of them, it seemed, come with a self-serving agenda that has little to do with the real needs of the client. Mostly their advice benefits the advisor, he postulated. So what’s one to do? It’s a jungle out there, I said flatly.
Just that morning, he continued, he and his wife had an animated conversation over the whole issue. She thinks there is undone business. He thinks they are doing just fine. Point/Counterpoint. So it went. The longer they talked, the higher the heat.
“What’s the undone business she’s thinking of?” I asked. Oh, it had to do with things like portfolio management and estate planning and retirement issues, he said. She’s not confident that he’s got it under control.
This is hardly an unfamiliar tale. It made me glad, frankly, that my career as a financial advisor is behind me. I smiled and commented that it appeared as though he was a competent do-it-yourselfer; that he can manage his portfolio just fine on his own and that the living trust documents are readily available on the Internet for free and that he must be up to speed on the tax consequences of his choices. But then a more interesting issue came up.
Earlier, he heard me tell about a friend of mine who had little time for church, was happily retired and living what appeared to be a very good life. I asked him one day, “What are you doing that brings your life purpose and meaning?” A simple question. But I’ll never forget the long silent pause.
Looking back, it was clearly a turning point for my friend. Since then, he’s realigned his priorities. Made some firm commitments. Today, his life is way more than rounds of golf and aimless airplane hops (he’s a private pilot). He is making a difference in ways that have surprised him and the people who care about him.
Terry thought about that story, and then he made a fascinating confession. “Yep,” he said, “I think I’ve got the nuts and bolts of this retirement thing pretty well in hand… but that other stuff you talked about…” Clearly he was referring to the purpose and meaning thing. His sentence drifted off into temporary silence.
“If you were to ask me the same question you asked your friend,” he paused again. He looked back at the chair he’d been sitting in. He pointed to the chair. “There I sat, just today, age fifty-eight, and if you’d asked me that question, uh… well,” he scratched his head. “I flat have no answer for you on that one. I don’t know what to say.”
“And that’s the big one,” I said.
“The big one,” he nodded. I smiled.
Then he told me more. He’s got some “health issues.” He’s a new grandfather.
(Mortality is closing in, I thought.)
But more important; significance is closing in. We laughed over our high energy pursuit of high octane performance back in our forties when we were convinced that we had all the tools to be sitting in the top spot. And laughed more about how most of that just doesn’t matter anymore. We’ve crossed the line. We don’t care so much about success as we care about significance (to borrow a phrase from Buford in Halftime). But what does that mean?
I understand Nickolson and Freedman have a new movie in the theaters. I like the story line. Two guys, one (Edward Cole – Jack Nicholson) fabulously wealthy, the other (Carter Chambers – Morgan Freeman) a working auto mechanic. The first has burned through several marriages, the other still happily married to his childhood sweetheart. Both heard their oncologist announce the same conclusion: it’s cancer. Inoperable, pervasive, terminal. Cancer.
Ed and Carter find each other in a hospital room.
The movie becomes a pursuit of undone business. Two strangers. Two separate world-views. Some of it, I’m told, is the standard stuff of extreme adrenaline. Some of it, the need to see far-away places. But ultimately, it comes down to the reawakening of the relationships that really matter. Before they “kick the bucket.”
So they call their wish list – “The Bucket List.”
* * * * * * *
It’s Monday, er… Tuesday morning. You are a leader. The New Year brings new perspective, built on lessons learned, from successes that firm up the foundation and mistakes that have lingering consequences. It‘s a changing world.
And for you it signals one more turning point. It’s yet another passage.
You may not be thinking about kicking the bucket – but if you’re like me, you have a bucket list. Like my friend who probably won’t be talking to a financial advisor any time soon, you are probably considering the things that go well beyond nuts-and-bolts all the way to the stuff of significance.
It’s a New Year. Why wait?
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2008