by Mitch Anthony

The greatest investment challenge facing us is not about how much to save for retirement or how to obtain material resources, but rather how to invest our lives. The bucket of time carried by most of us has a noticeable leak. Many of us feel that we are constantly under stress—having more personal time has become a top priority albeit a relentless challenge. When our “time” bucket becomes less than half full—in other words, as we age—this leak becomes more noticeable, resulting in an acute awareness of our own mortality. As a result, most of us want to spend more time devoted to family, leisure, and activities that give us a sense of connectivity and meaning. Many midlife professionals complain about being tired or having to defer satisfaction to a later date in life. Some are just starting a second family—having seen the price one often pays in all-consuming careers.

Advisor and author Karen Ramsey (Caring for Your Soul in Matters of Money) has captured this sentiment:

“Few people are able to find total satisfaction and contentment in work alone. We also need relationships with others in our lives—and the time needed to invest in those relationships. We often find ourselves too busy to spend time with those we love, and the rewards of our long hours of toil are rarely sufficient to fill the resulting void. To find harmony and balance in our lives, we may need to implement changes. That may mean doing what we want, rather than what everyone else expects.”

A job can be defined as a trade in which we exchange our time for someone else’s money. The fairness of that trade should be under constant scrutiny. The impact of that trade on other important aspects of our lives should be a point of perpetual examination. When we say we are feeling stressed and need more balance in our lives, we are really admitting that we have surrendered the locus of control of a precious commodity—time. Would you give up control of your material assets and complain about the resulting stress and hopelessness of your predicament? Wise investors understand that time and energy also contain the seeds of compounding wealth. What is the point of putting your money in aggressive growth funds while your time and energy are in the equivalent of passbook savings or, worse, a losing enterprise?

It may be cliché, but there’s more to life than just money, and we need to occasionally remind ourselves of that. Author Mark Eisenson (Slash Your Debt) discusses how the investment metaphor cuts incisively to the soul of the materially focused but perplexed individual:

“Quality of life means different things to different people—each person’s definition is unique. But the important thing to realize is that your life is multifaceted and each facet contributes to the quality of life you experience. Each facet is an integral part of your “life portfolio” and your investments of time and energy are how you make that portfolio grow. Are they experiencing the “value” for your investment that you should expect? If not, it’s time to reevaluate and rebalance your portfolio. In the same way that a Wall Street investment appreciates in value, you want your investments of time and energy to offer high yields. They should make you feel good—happy, satisfied, energized, or relaxed. If you’re really lucky, they may even make you money.”

Like a sense of balance, our sense of meaning is also affected by our time investments. The word meaning can be abstract and difficult to define, leading to deep philosophical questions such as, “What is the meaning of life?” However, in terms of financial life planning, the more practical question is, “What is meaningful to me?” In other words, as clients design their future, the top criterion for investing time should be to spend time in a way that is meaningful.

Whether paid or unpaid, it is especially important that each individual’s work enhances his self-worth and personal identity. Do you know of any advisors who, although successful, are not enjoying what they do? Such demeanors are often symptomatic of a disconnect at this level. Author Barbara Sher (I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was) explains that the first step to finding work that “fits” you—in other words, matches your skills, interests, values and preferences—is to understand the connection between doing what you love and doing something worth doing. At that intersection you will find meaning:

“When something really matters to you, you must bring it into your life. It’s a tribute to the success of our culture that so may of us have freedom to search for our own life’s work.”

Those who do not possess this freedom have also compromised their freedom in the realm of financial decisions. By borrowing and spending too much, by making ill-guided investment choices and strategies, and by neglecting to bring their financial lives under analysis and control, these individuals have delayed or abandoned their quest for meaning. This is where you—as a financial life planner—can make all the difference in the world:

  1. Help your clients think about locating the intersection where meaning will be found.
  2. Help your clients align their financial lives with the objective of reaching that destination. Without a clear vision of the destination, the process rings hollow and will be compromised by every impulsive whim and wind of influence.

Aligning our financial matters with our best intentions is a central plank of the ROL (Return on Life™) approach to life and money. We can invest without alignment with our priorities in life and just hope our most important priorities come to pass, or we can determine those paramount priorities up front and direct money toward them intentionally. That is the difference between living with hope and living with intention.

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Adapted from Your Clients for Life: The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Successful Financial Life Planner, Second Edition by Mitch Anthony. (©2006 by Mitch Anthony)

© 2014 Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony is the founder and president of Advisor Insights Inc.and the Financial Life Planning Institute, the leading provider of financial life planning tools and programs.

For almost two decades, Mitch and his team have provided training and development for both individual advisors and major organizations throughout the world. Mitch personally consults with many of the largest and most-recognizable names in the financial services industry on both financial life planning and relationship development.

Mitch has been named one of the financial services industry’s top “Movers & Shakers” for his pioneering work, and is interviewed by the media on a regular basis. The Institute is partnering with both Texas Tech University and the University of Georgia to develop financial life planning programs for their undergraduate programs. Mitch is a popular keynote speaker, columnist for Financial Advisor magazine and Journal of Financial Planning, and host of the daily radio feature, The Daily Dose, heard on over 100 radio stations nationwide.

Mitch is also the author of many groundbreaking books for advisors and consumers, including perennial bestseller StorySelling for Financial Advisors, cited by “Financial Advisor” magazine as the number one “must-read” book for financial professionals. Mitch’s other books include The New Retirementality (now in its 4th edition)From the Boiler Room to the Living Room, Your Clients for Life, Your Client’s Story, The Cash in the Hat, and The Bean is Not Green. For information on these books and more resources, click here.