Maybe the most nagging issue we face as professionals is squaring what we hope people think about us with what we know about ourselves. Perhaps this struggle is best illustrated by the photograph of the little duck calmly cruising a pond, head focused, feathers all in place, while beneath the water, his little feet are frenetically paddling with all the gusto a duck can muster. The caption? “I may look calm on the surface, but underneath, I’m paddling like hell!”
Christians right now are entering the holy season of Lent. Whether you are a person of faith or not, all of us would be wise to walk through a season of introspection from time to time asking ourselves if the person clients see on the water’s surface is congruent with the person inside. For example, you may find it difficult to talk candidly with clients about being financially prudent when you know your own financial house is not in order. Believe me; I know how easy it can be to put off to some distant tomorrow what screams for attention today.
A couple of years ago, having looked at my beautiful CFP® certificate, I realized the planning process through which I put all my clients was not a journey my wife and I had taken ourselves. Oh, I can be quite persuasive when it comes to taking a new client through the financial planning process. But somewhere along the prospecting “yellow brick road,” I had failed to do that very hard work for myself. Within a few days, I gathered all our financial data, carved out a few late hours at home, and walked my wife and me through our financial plan. Sobering? At times. Troubling? Somewhat. Required? You bet!
We might say the same about funding our own 401(k) or being on top of the debt monster before it leaves childhood, or making sure our estate and advance directive documents are in order. If appropriate, we may need to take out that long-term care policy we hope all our clients will purchase. The bottom line stares us in the face: we work in an advisory environment where those we serve believe we practice the disciplines we preach. When we fail to do that, no matter how we appear on the outside, something inside just doesn’t add up.
You might think I have all my “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed. Think again. Every day I face the same demons. Like you, there are times when I am tempted to take a due diligence shortcut that is not in my client’s best interest. Like you, the temptation to close some piece of business may speed right past the risk tolerance we determined appropriate. And like you, I must look my face in the mirror every day and have a little talk with myself about doing the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reason.
At the end of the day or even a career, the only currency we have is our integrity. In all candor, underneath the calm surface of our well-manicured exterior is a pair of legs trying to keep our business moving forward. My feet, like yours, are made of clay. So perhaps this week, as March begins, we all might do a little spring cleaning and take a quick self-test to check the integrity pulse of our lives and businesses. And when we do, let’s remember that nothing is worth the sale of our souls, not even for a commission, a client, or another step up the proverbial corporate ladder.