6 Lessons in 6 Months

Monday Morning Quarter-Buck

By: Amy Irvine, CFP®, EA, MPAS®

Corning, New York

Parrish, Florida

Throughout the past 6 months, a variety of experiences, both personal and professional, have taught me some significant lessons about my planning approach. Since my approach is always important to our clients - and to Rooted Planning Group as a whole - I wanted to share these lessons with you.

Lesson #1 - Comparing is Dangerous
Having taken a trip out to Valliant, Oklahoma last week to visit with one of our planners, Kerrie Beene, I was comparing the similarities and differences between the two areas. Like the Finger Lakes area, there were lots of green trees and large fields full of hay. They too have been struggling with getting in the fields because of the rain; putting them far behind where they would "normally" be this time of year.

Saying the word "normal" reminds me of the terminology we often use in talking about performance, "past performance does not guarantee future performance." We have to remember it's the average of all outcomes that create the "normal," in other words the law of averages.

Here's the thing, we seem to often compare ourselves to what is normal; but perhaps we are supposed to be the individual that is outside that box. Perhaps our normal isn't the same norm of our neighbor or our circle of friends. Earlier this year, I found myself comparing the growth of the business to that of my peers, it made me feel very anxious and frustrated; why wasn't I more like them? Clients will often say, I don't understand what we are doing wrong, we see our friends going on vacation after vacation, but we only go on one, "what are we missing?" They too find themselves frustrated. In both situations, we are looking at how other people value their business and/or money, not how we value and save it.

My lesson - don't let what's important to others drive what's important to me, or you.

Lesson #2 - A Spoonful of Medicine
In May, Brent and I went back to Florida for a few days. It was an evening flight out of Elmira, so Brent had been mowing the lawn all day. He didn't realize how much his allergies had been acting up, but when we began to descend into St. Pete, he developed a horrible headache above his left eye. Once we were on the ground, it wasn't as bad, but enough that he still took some ibuprofen. For the next hour, he seemed fine. But then all of a sudden he didn't. The pain returned full force. Neither of us wanted to use the words, but we were both thinking aneurysm, blood clot, stroke.... It was about 1 am and I was about to call 911, but wanted to make sure I told them exactly what was going on, so I asked Brent to describe exactly what he was feeling and I happened to Google it (I do not recommend doing this!). What came up was Aerosinusitis, the symptoms were exactly what he was experiencing. This is not "normally" something people experience on a commercial flight, but it certainly seemed like that was what he was experiencing. He took some decongestants and a hot shower to break up the sinus pressure.

Although this wasn't as serious as we thought it was initially, I'm sure you can imagine all of the thoughts that were going through our minds. I was terrified that something very bad was happening to my husband. The Financial Planner in me kicked in and I was mentally running down the checklist of health insurance coverage, our Health Savings Account balance, thoughts around what if he needed care, what if we had to extend our stay in Florida. However, the wife in me was downright SCARED!

My lesson - the next day, knowing everything was going to be okay, I told Brent that I think we just received a small "spoonful of medicine." Even though we had planned for such financial emergencies, the emotional side is never really planned for and I would know in the future what it felt like if a clients spouse was experiencing a medical crisis.

Lesson #3 - Too Much on Your Plate
Towards the end of 2018 we, as a firm, set some 1st and 2nd quarter goals. These goals were mostly internal, but would long term provide better service to our clients, as they were very important to us. Thus when the 1st quarter was coming to a close (which is also the end of tax season) and it looked like we were not going to achieve a few of those goals, I piled up the plate wanting to achieve our goals (I am the most competitive person against myself).

Have you ever put too much food on a paper plate? How does it usually end? Something inevitably falls off the plate, or you need to put a second plate underneath it to support the weight. This has not only been a theme in my life, but I've noticed it a lot with my clients. They are busy with kids, work, parents, and community activities. The "to-do" list plates just keep piling up and then 3-months have gone by and you feel the need to push through the list. This made me think of some other conversations I've had recently about goals and that we live in an "I have to have it now" world. The financial cost of our impatience is taxing many households with significant debt.

My lesson - don't let my "to-do" or "to want" list drive my stress level. Although we did get the projects completed, the extra pressure put unneeded stress on me and the entire team. In hindsight, it would have been much better to push some of the projects off until after tax season, when the mind is clearer, patience is greater, and resources are more available. This is also true of taking on debt, sometimes waiting and saving for what we want puts less weight on the paper plate.

Lesson #4 - The Benefits of Confidence
I've never been an overly confident person. I'm sure there are a host of reasons why, but when you see something go "right," it certainly helps to build that confidence. This Spring, I spoke at the YWCA of Elmira and Twin Tier annual Tribute to Women luncheon. I was not feeling confident leading up to that event because I kept wondering if the story I was going to share would be worth the attendee's time. The event was meant to raise money for a wonderful organization and I did not want to let them down.

It was also a very personal story, one that I have shared with only a few people. Would putting my story out there cause people to think about me differently? I've spoken publicly countless times and felt fully confident, because many times before, the presentations had gone well. But those presentations were about topics I had studied and felt comfortable talking about. If you'd like to watch the video from that event, click here.

When I teach the class on Psychology of Money we talk about the "self-esteem" connection to money and how some that have low self-esteem can sometimes overspend to "appear" to wealthy. However, there are some that revert back to "safety and security" and won't spend much because their self-esteem is low and they think they will never be able to earn enough to keep them from "bag-lady" status (I'm the latter).

My lesson - when your confidence is low, reach out to your true friends - this doesn't cost you a dime. I will say I was very lucky, the team and Brent really pumped up my confidence and it didn't cost me a dime!

Lesson #5 - Coaching a Coach
I can't believe it's been 4-years since I went independent! Yes, it was May of 2015 when I left my prior employer and started the independence route. The business became our child. Just like any child, we focused on the development of the firm and the wonderful clients that started working with us. Fast forward to 2019, I realized that I really didn't have much of a life outside of the business. I love what I do, so it makes it easy to spend my spare time working on and in the business. But when I realized I wasn't running/training or spending time with friends like I used to, I realized I needed to take a step back. That action sounds so easy, but it wasn't.

So I hired a coach, yes the coach hired a coach. I needed an objective point of view and for someone to kick me in the pants and tell me like it is. Someone to help me start new habits and make the changes that I wanted to make, but couldn't seem to do on my own. Someone to talk me through areas that I was struggling with. I have the knowledge to do this but I'm too emotionally attached. Sound familiar? I know that once a month my coach and I are going to meet. We are going to work through a particular topic and I need to do my homework before that meeting.

My lesson - sometimes to move forward, a little outside influence to talk you through it can help.

Lesson #6 - Asking for Help
You know that phrase, “you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others?” I'm the one who really enjoys helping others but sometimes forgets her own oxygen mask. Over the years, I've heard Brent tell countless people, "she doesn't have an off switch, just a dimmer." I just laughed it off, but he does have a point.

This isn't just an adult phenomenon, as a child, I would have said: "give it to me!" For some reason, I've always wanted to try to do it myself. I always felt like I had something to prove. But the spoon full of medicine, overwhelming plate, and coach have all woke me up to something - when you ask for help, people are willing to give it, and they respect you for it. Especially when it's something new for them to learn.

My lesson - I couldn't be more honored to work with the awesome team we have at Rooted Planning Group. I'm sorry to say that one did walk away this past month (Matt Fizell), but he is moving on to bigger opportunities and we couldn't be more proud of him. When it was determined that he was leaving, I had to ask for help from the team. This started the conversation around our workflows, client service, and improvements we could make. Without this challenge and had I not asked for help, we would not have made the improvements. As the owner of the firm, I sometimes feel like everyone is looking to me for the answer, similar to how you feel as a parent or grandparent, but I've learned that when I say, "I need your opinion," or "I need your help," some pretty amazing things happen!