How I Found My Calling as a Financial Planner

Sr. Financial Planner

ISr. Financial Planner was sitting at my desk reading an article in the New York Times entitled “The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love.” It discusses some of the reasons people choose higher paying jobs over jobs that could increase their degree of happiness. It is the age-old conundrum… love or money? As I sat back and pondered my own career, I realized how lucky I am to have found my calling as a financial planner.

I am a people person. My first ‘real job’ was working in the “fast food” sector while still in high school and I enjoyed interacting with customers. But I strongly disliked the management’s style and rigid control of the managers and staff. That first job experience made a serious impression on me and helped validate my current management style and my belief in always working as a team.

Through college, I worked at a series of jobs that brought me income, but not the fulfillment I sought. I was born with a servant’s heart and it took some time for me to realize that leaving a job in pharmacy after nine years was the right decision for me. Once I acknowledged I could still utilize my education, quantitative training and my interpersonal strengths in the field of finance, I finally made the decision to change careers and become a financial planner.

I find that being a financial planner and being invited into my clients’ personal lives, fulfills my love for meaningful social interaction. Yes, what we do is called “financial planning,” but in reality, we deal with so much more than finance. We help clients deal with life transitions and quality-of-life issues regardless of what stage of life they currently occupy.

One of my strengths as a financial planner is my ability to remove myself one step emotionally from a situation. That in no way insinuates I am unemotional, in fact, the reality is quite the contrary. It simply allows me to put things in perspective from a different vantage point than that of the person who is currently living it. I don’t think my sense of humor hurts either, as it often releases tension when offered at an appropriate opportunity. After all, regardless of the situation, if you cannot laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

I strive to build trust with my clients simply by being trustworthy. That involves being honest, showing compassion for where a client is, and understanding his or her reasons for inviting The Planning Center into their lives. I share my own vulnerabilities as well, exposing a bit of myself as a human being. And I have a real understanding of the apprehension our clients may face in dealing with the financial planning process. Making a dent in that apprehension signals a client’s willingness to grant me permission to participate in their journey.

A great day to me is any day the “light” goes on for a client.   I relish that moment of realization and acceptance for any client. It’s great to see their reaction when they realize and understand that things are working out according to “their” plan.

In my experience, unfortunately, too many clients make decisions based solely on emotions without considering the consequences of their actions. These decisions can be joyous or tearful ones. Joyous examples might include the purchase of a new home, an automobile, or a timeshare vacation membership.

A tearful decision might be one that results from a hasty knee-jerk decision, based on an irresponsible sentiment shared by a talking head on a nightly news broadcast; it could also be caused by an inability to control spending, or the negative impact on their financial future from their past tendency to “keep up with the Joneses.”

While I might have valuable knowledge and experience I am willing to share, I am but a hired hand, a navigator and the client is the captain of their ship. When necessary, my job is to protect a client from themselves, even though my advice is not always followed. All I can offer is the best navigation I am capable of providing based on the information and data the client has shared with me.

The clients I serve learn from me, but I learn volumes from them as well. I have yet to meet a client – regardless of their net worth – who is completely comfortable with their station in life.  This means they either constantly worry about not having enough or endlessly stress over having too much and it offers a serious life lesson for me daily.

Yes, the love I have for my job means more than money to me. Having been a competitive athlete the majority of my life, I have learned that winning is the culmination of hard work and preparation, enhanced by great coaching. I also know not every effort results in a win…but the odds are always in our favor when we formulate a game plan and work hard to carry it out. I know that philosophy holds true not only in sports, but in the lives of our valued clients as well.

John Longstaff, CFP®, is a Partner/Sr. Financial Planner in the Fresno office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm.

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