A Birthday Reflection – Five Life Lessons
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I’m writing this article on my birthday – for me this is always a chance to reflect on personal and professional goals, wants, desires and areas of contentedness. For this week’s column, in honor of this “personal new year” for me, I’ll share some important insights gleaned from many decades of working in the advisory profession and being both an insider and an outsider:
- Continuous learning matters. In the “driving forces” model, there are 12 core forces – these are what motivate us, or what we value. At one end of the spectrum are intellectuals, which are those people who love to learn and see the world as a big schoolhouse for new information, deeper insights and additional “schooling” in whatever form it might take. At the other end are those instinctive people who value their own experiences, trust their intuition and make decisions most often based on what they know or have already learned. I fall into the second category – although I am a graduate professor and am always teaching others, I rely on what I’ve seen and done. But I know the value of pushing myself to continuously investigate and learn new things. Every class I teach, every training I run and every consulting opportunity I engage in is a new chance to explore, find research, ask questions and dig deeper. This has taught me that learning never stops. Even if you are at the pinnacle, there is something you can learn from someone. Stay open and enjoy the learnings.
- People matter. The human factor should always be at the center of everything you do. This doesn’t mean you have to act like a social worker and take care of everyone you know and work with and care about their every concern. But you need to build relationships. You need to listen with empathy. You need to actively listen and reflect on what you hear. If you are a leader you need to know your team, what makes each of them tick, and how they are motivated to succeed. This takes time. It takes dedication. Too many leaders don’t want to be bothered with this – “just get the work done.” But the research from hundreds of places shows us that people want to matter, they want their leaders to care about them and they want to be known.
- Have a set of values and stick to them. It’s always so interesting to me how financial advisors, for example, do a phenomenal job of helping their clients set their goals and figure out their priorities, but they often don’t do it for themselves. I was capturing some of my important accomplishments today as I reflected on my birthday. While I have done so much and can be proud of many things, I kept coming back to the only thing that matters: having contributed to the development of three of the most amazing individuals I have ever known – my kids. Yes, they are smart, talented and driven, but more importantly they are super nice people who exude kindness and genuinely care about other people. They are open and accepting and seek to understand instead of judge and dismiss. I thought back on how during the time running my business and raising all three of them, I had to make difficult decisions about where to focus and where to spend my time. I’ll never regret the many field trips I made time for, being the room parent, making sure I got back from a trip in time to be at the recital, football game or traveling to the horse shows (even though sometimes I had to spend much of the time working in my hotel room). There was never “balance.” I eradicated the word from my vocabulary. But there was a constant reviewing of what’s most important, where to focus my time and attention and ultimately what I wanted to be “judged” on for my life. Same with making sure I had time to volunteer – now having fostered over 600 animals at my home, working at the dog shelter every Monday morning since 2008 and being “mom” to many animals who have gone on to their forever homes with families that love them, I can look back and say “yes,” I am a successful professional. But it was the other elements that fueled me, kept me grounded and that I am most proud of. Have your priorities in front of you and know what you care about and make time for these things. Life does fly by and you can’t recapture any of what’s gone. Do it now and don’t wait.
- Revise, reconsider and recalibrate how we talk about retirement in this profession. I ran a full-service retirement operation in one of my corporate iterations. We focused on saving for retirement as if that was an end goal. For a long time “the number” was it. Now we understand more about what retirement means emotionally as well as financially, but do we support and guide people to make decisions right for them? I don’t think about retirement as an end time. I want to plan for emergencies if something happens to me. I want to be sure I’ve built something that is sustainable long past my time here. But I love my work. Stopping to go play golf or travel isn’t appealing. Why not travel now? I’ve taken all three of my kids all around the world and continue to do this. I volunteer, have a very active social life, love to teach, enjoy many, many things, and work is part of that. Other people might want to stop working as soon as they are able. We have such a warped view of what retirement means and how everyone is, at a similar age, going to want to segue out and have a totally different life. By contrast, we rarely talk about the elder transition. You might have a few great years between 50 and 70, and maybe longer if you are really lucky (I have many, many people in my life going strong in their late 70s, 80s and even 90s) so it isn’t a given but there will be a time age creeps in and you might need to make some hard decisions. Are advisors talking about how retirement isn’t a “one and done” but rather a multi-transition process here too? Are we acknowledging there isn’t an objective to just save but a need to help people with entire lifetime goals and changes? Let’s take the opportunity to care about the whole person and everything they will experience along the way.
- Be a friend to your team, your family, your friends and spread kindness wherever you can. This is something I learned very, very young (in my late teens), and I have remembered it every year since and certainly recognize it here in my twilight years – no one is going to care at your funeral about how much money you made, the fees you increased, the AUM you are sitting on or how successful you were. No one. They are going to talk about what kind of person you were. Think about your six-word memoir and what you want your guiding statement to be. Be the person you would admire now. Today. It goes back to the priorities I talked about. You aren’t getting younger – no one is. Determine what’s most important to you about how you want to be known and recognized. This doesn’t mean you can’t be an amazing leader in your job, contribute to making someone on your team better, be a supporter of those you work with. I’m not suggesting quit your job and do social work. But in the midst of your busyness and moneymaking, think about how you want to be known and recognized. There is still time, but at some point, there won’t be.
My value set comes through in what I’ve shared here. But at this birthday, I take seriously where I’ve been, what’s been meaningful and where I hope to go from here. Hopefully some of these insights are helpful for you too. As many who read this column might know, this is the first birthday without my dad, and it is especially poignant for me because he was always my greatest supporter and biggest cheerleader. I miss him calling me with his deep voice to sing “happy birthday.” It seemed important this year to reflect and consider what really matters.
And a huge HAPPY BIRTHDAY BLESSING TODAY to Hannah Lamb-Vines my amazing editor who always makes these articles better than they started!
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. The firm has won the Wealthbriefing WealthTech award for Best Training Solution for 2022 and 2023. Beverly is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. She is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.
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