Good, Bad, Best

Someone wiser than I offered me sage wisdom years ago, that I pass on to you. Lost in memory is the specific moment in my much younger life when I heard this sentence, but its precision and power still walk the corridors of my soul. “The most difficult decisions in life,” my mentor observed, “are not between what is good and what is bad, but between what is good and what is best.”

Each day, we weigh decisions in both private and professional realms. If we were fortunate to have been blessed with engaged and mature parents, teachers, clergy, and extended friends, we learned right from wrong, truth from falsehood, and the ability to define what makes life meaningful. This business will test all of that and more as clients sit with us to share their hopes, dreams, fears, values, and concerns. The “fiduciary standard” goes beyond what any agency or rule can define. In a word, integrity must inform every syllable of advice we offer, tempered with generous humility.

That commitment begins when we choose to invest ourselves in those we serve by listening both to words and all the implications around the edges of clients’ gestures and tone-of-voice. The easy decisions are those that pit “good” and “bad” against each other. But simply scoring a client’s risk tolerance from three or four answers to expected questions is only an initial foray into the longer journey of knowing the client. It may satisfy compliance to have all those boxes checked, but the nagging, uncertain feeling you have when you know your client has more baggage to unpack does not go away once the paperwork is approved.

Good, bad, best. That choice, with the client sitting in the center of all other decisions, is pressing past “good and bad,” to the most important question of all: What is best for this person or this couple or this family who has entrusted their very lives into my care?

To answer that question requires deeper discovery, perhaps a visit to the home or business, a conversation about their childhood and how money was discussed around their kitchen table when they were 10, and how one spouse’s understanding of wealth, values, and security differs from the other. That takes time. Such ventures into the sacred spaces of our clients’ lives take courage. And most of all, this deeper, more caring quest to find what is best demands a commitment to ourselves and those we serve that is not negotiable.

Every day, we make both easy and difficult decisions. I challenge you to join me in framing the word “BEST” and hanging it on a prominent wall in your mind.  When you make that choice at every turn, your work will become more satisfying, your soul more energized, and your awareness of what matters most the guiding principle of your life and work.

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