Ghost Story

Lewis Walker |

The first class of forty-two men and women who graduated from the newly created College for Financial Planning in 1973 became the first credentialed Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) practitioners on the planet. This writer, Class of 1975, was the 171st CFP designee, as I joined a small group of newly minted professionals who had a vision about client focused financial counseling, one yet to be defined in terms of details of practice.

Now, fifty years later, financial planning is a respected profession, with financial planning taught in many colleges and universities in America and abroad. True financial planning goes beyond the old concepts surrounding the selling of stocks and bonds by brokers, insurance policies by insurance salespersons, or the use of banking products. Financial planning has morphed into “financial life planning,” using money and your earning and saving power to actualize goals and dreams while recognizing the inevitable ups-and-downs of life, for you and for those you love and care for.

Napoleon Hill, in his 1937 classic tome ‘Think & Grow Rich,” outlined the concept of “Definiteness of Purpose” as a prelude to goal setting. Most texts on goal setting advise clarity of purpose as Step One. Financial planners, dealing with intimate details of a person’s life, know that comprehensive plans cannot be crafted unless they understand the raison d'être that undergirds the life purpose that innately drives the client, and his or her spouse, and perhaps, the family at large.

Business and personal success coach Anthony J. Johnson echoes Hill, emphasizing, “It is much easier to make decisions in life when you have goals.  And it is much easier to set goals when you know who you are, what you stand for, and what you want out of life.” 

If clients come to a credentialed financial advisor thinking that the conversations are to be just about money, investments, estate planning, or some other commonly understood financial planning topic, a leap into deeply personal philosophical realms may seem like a stretch. They may protest, “I am not into that ‘touchy-feely stuff.’” But that “stuff” is important.

Ask a person, “What is your purpose in life?”  You are likely to get fuzzy and general platitudes. To get more specificity, consider a “ghost story” as a conversational construct.

Do you recall the movie “Ghost,” a 1990 romantic drama starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore? After being killed in a botched mugging, a man’s devotion to the love of his life was so powerful that it enabled him to remain on earth and close to her as a ghost. Many remember the film as a real tearjerker.

The following “ghost story” is thought provoking regardless of whether you are single, married, a widow or widower.  For illustrative purposes we’ll assume a married couple. You are concluding a meeting with your financial planner and he or she says, “You leave this office and get into your car to drive home. You pull out onto the road, and as you are driving, you’re talking about the matters that we discussed today. Suddenly you experience a loud noise and a massive jolt just before everything goes quiet.”

“In an instant you are aware that in disembodied form both of you are floating about 800 feet in the air. You look down at the crumpled and smoking wreck of your automobile as people run toward the scene in a futile attempt to help. You look at each other and it occurs to each of you that you may be dead. You peer into the distance and you see your house, knowing that you can’t go home again. You see your children and your grandchildren, and everyone in your life that you love and care about, and you realize that there is no farewell, no final hugs.”

“But,” says the advisor, “God in His mercy gives you one hour to come back and sit at the conference table where you’re sitting now, in complete privacy with those you love and care for. You have sixty minutes. What would you tell them? What would you want them to know?” What would you like for them to remember?

If you are a closely-held business owner, what would you want your business family, your key people, your likely successor and leader, to know?

Take time at home to frame your answers. Talk them through with your significant other. Write down your thoughts. In doing so you will come closer to a Statement of Purpose, a Life Vision. Share it, if you will, with your advisor.

Money and financial strategies are merely tools in actualizing your purpose in life, which will include meeting challenges that may involve issues of aging, health care, and special needs. Many of life’s passions and concentrations come out of negative circumstances that are overcome, needs that are met, and the help you give to others. Goals are statements as to how one’s life vision, one’s purpose, will be actualized.

The movie “Ghost” was a work of fiction. You get but one life. There are no “do overs.” Make the most of it!