“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
I lead a double life.
Half my professional life is spent working in a remarkable collaborative team with highly-successful families. This work is richly rewarding and deeply fulfilling because we get to the very core of what matters to our client families and as a team we have the skills and the means to do something about it.
The other half is spent providing training, tools, and support to financial advisors, estate planners, and philanthropic professionals who are experts in the art and science of growing, protecting, and distributing wealth. In this role, I get to rub shoulders with some of the brightest minds and biggest hearts in the business. This work too is hugely satisfying.
From these dual vantage points, I have discovered a significant omission in traditional advisor/client services and a corresponding opportunity for Master Planners and Level-Three Advisors: I think there is tremendous business potential for professional advisors who can masterfully address the growth, protection, and distribution of their clients’ wealth and then help them discover greater enjoyment of life.
Growing, protecting, and distributing wealth are means to an end, not the end itself. The real purpose of our work is to help our clients live life more abundantly.
Unfortunately, the process of growing, protecting, and distributing our clients’ wealth usually breeds substantial complexity in their lives. It spawns clutter, uncertainty, and dissonance, which make it harder for them to enjoy lives of greater abundance.
When professional advisors help their clients grow, protect, and distribute their wealth but don’t press forward to help them enjoy life by reducing the resultant complexity, clutter, uncertainty, and dissonance, both they and their clients are often left with an aching sense of hollowness, as in “Is that all there is?”
I see this empty space as an opportunity rather than an obligation. We planners are not responsible for our clients’ happiness — that would infantilize them and unfairly burden us. But visionary advisors may want to consider the potential of building their practices by helping clients deal with the complexity resulting their own planning and that of other advisors. I think it makes good business sense to do so.
It may be useful to consider a quick example from another field. The gifted carpenter, cabinet maker, or painter who fails to clean up the dust and debris of his work is never likely to earn the full-fledged goodwill of his customers or their enthusiastic endorsements to friends and family. “He does great work, but he leaves a mess,” they are likely to say. On the other hand, the builder who is both a master at his craft and who leaves the scene neat and tidy and livable earns higher revenue and more referral business from appreciative customers.
So just how do we help our clients enjoy “the simplicity on the other side of complexity” that Oliver Wendell Holmes said he was willing to give his life for? How do we turn this yearning he described into a business opportunity? In my own practice, I have developed a three-step formula that is based on certain real-life experiences:
About a dozen years ago, I met with a very successful surgeon at his opulent lakeside home in one of Orlando’s wealthiest neighborhoods to show him several tax-saving, asset-protection, and wealth-building strategies. Near the end of the meeting, he leaned back, put his hands behind his head, sighed audibly, and in an apologetic and resigned tone said, “What you say makes sense, but I don’t think I will follow your recommendations. My financial and legal affairs already feel so complicated that I can’t keep up with them. I’m no dummy, but I can’t understand half the stuff I have already. Doing what you propose would make it even more difficult to get my arms around it all. What I think I really need is someone who can just help me get all this crap organized. Do you know anyone who can do that?”
- Step 1: From the financial and legal clutter of their lives, I help my clients create order, organization, and simplicity. I help them feel they have a handle on their possessions. I help them find assurance that if something happens to them, their family and associates can find important documents and information (including passwords) quickly and easily. Relieved of the weight of the clutter of all their stuff, they are then free to soar.
Some time ago I conducted a Priceless Conversation with a man whose father and grandfather had both been highly successful, professionally and financially. He shared with me the swirl of growing up with virtually every possible option in the world open to him. He said his whole life felt like drinking from a fire hydrant, and he like the hyperactive cavalryman who “jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions.” He asked me to help him narrow the range of potential choices, so that things that were more important to him weren’t pushed aside by things that were less important. He wanted me to help him find his bearings in a tsunami of possibilities.
- Step 2: From the uncertainty that comes from having too many choices, I help successful clients find clarity about what matters to them most. I help them discover what’s still missing from their personal definition of success, and I help them uncover what makes them come alive. Together we turn overwhelming into manageable, we identify top priorities, and we focus first on what’s most important.
Identifying values and priorities is one thing; living true to them is quite another. I’ve learned that doing so is the only way to live more abundantly. Mahatma Gandhi said it this way: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” About seven year ago, I began working with a couple in South Florida who wanted to transfer their businesses to their two daughters. They had failed to pull it off a couple of times previously because the husband wouldn’t stick to their agreement, but instead kept giving in to the manipulations of the younger daughter. I intervened by guiding them in creating a step-by-step game plan in which every action item was consciously aligned with their core priorities. I followed this up by reinforcing that game plan with a consistently monitored support structure. With persistence, we were able to achieve a successful result.
- Step 3: I help successful clients develop action plans that are consistent with their values and priorities. Then I help them implement those plans through kind but steady encouragement, reinforcement, accountability, and follow-up. Over time, as they experience the satisfaction of being true to themselves and their bedrock principles, they discover for themselves one of the truths I live by: “Life is good when you live in harmony.”
This business opportunity of taking clients from successful to simple is not for everyone. But for discerning advisors, this could be a path of great potential and professional satisfaction. I know it is for me.
“Simplicity, clarity, harmony: These are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy, as they are also the marks of great art. They seem to be the purpose of God for his whole creation.” Richard Holloway