In the early 1970s, my generation was experimenting with competing lifestyles. Rock and roll had morphed into heavy metal, and many moved to the beat of Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Some of my friends were dangerously using illegal, even lethal psychedelic drugs such as LSD, heroin, and speed. Others had escaped from the confining cage of parental expectations; instead, they hit the road to explore America! Hair was long; beards were full, muslin tunics, wide collars, and bell-bottomed pants were avant-garde. An unpopular war raged in Southeast Asia. Society’s tempest waged war against oppression and cultural biases. Many of my peers served in Vietnam. Some did not come back. Though many Vietnam vets returned to productive, meaningful lives, a few touched down on U.S. soil emotionally broken and confused.
During those tumultuous years, unprecedented numbers of my generation entered seminaries and prepared for ordained ministry. Most chose that way for good reasons. All did so with the belief a life of service was the needed salve to heal our fragmented and hurting society. In 1972, I too felt a calling—a divine nudge to train for and become an ordained Christian minister. Long hair, bell-bottoms, and wide leather belts notwithstanding, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. Therefore, I said “Yes!” to a life of ministry.
In time, I came to question my ability to function at the highest level my role required. The calling to be a compassionate leader evaporated under an institutional hot sun. Unaware of my vulnerability, I professionally burned out. After 25 years I said, “Enough!” My family and I have volumes of warm memories from the five congregations I served. We experienced a level of respect and affection few ever know. The congregations we served loved us, and in turn, we loved them. But by the time I walked away, I was so far removed from those early, passion-induced, idealistic dreams that I had almost forgotten what they were.
The life-story that has brought you to choose an advisory career may have vague similarities to mine. You too may have stepped away from another profession where energy and optimism died. Perhaps it was a calling that no longer felt right. Cynicism, regret, or disenchantment may have taken you down unimaginable roads. My assumption is that all of us step into the advisory business because we want to assist others in bettering their lives. It is a ministry of sorts whereby we create a satisfying and rewarding career for ourselves. As my first manager taught me, “You never really help another person without also helping yourself.” Despite the rewards, soon—and in the financial services business, very soon—your practice obligations take precedence. You must develop a flow to your work, onboard assets to manage, grow your client base while remaining current with industry regulations and market perspectives: all this takes time. Early idealism gets lost in the balancing act of building a profitable business while meeting the expectations of clients. You might ask, “Is there enough of me to go around?”
Now, with nearly a decade in the business, and drawing on nearly 40 years of pastoral work interwoven into the multi-colored tapestry of my life, here I am, in this good work of being a financial advisor. Each of our stories is unique to the life we have lived. That said, I assert that every advisor, regardless of his or her history, wants to serve caringly those who look for direction beyond a monthly statement or annual review. A voice within us whispers unceasingly an invitation to ask our clients the more profound questions and to listen attentively for the answers. Repeatedly given to us are opportunities to peek through the dark veil of a painfully worded sentence as we intuit our clients’ need for the warm and caring touch of someone who hears them.
Allow your story to resonate throughout the halls of your life and practice. You may find yourself on the road Robert Frost so memorably described as, “the one less traveled.” It might make all the difference.