I got my first job after college by going to the job fair my senior year. I talked to the guy in the best suit, and he worked for MassMutual. Geno became my first professional mentor and a friend. He talked about financial planning and investing. Helping people make good decisions made sense to me.
I was interested in finance because I’d grown up outside the financial system. My family didn’t borrow money. We grew a big garden, and we fixed our own cars. When I was 8 years old our house was hit by lightning. We rebuilt it by hand over a couple of years with hard work and gifts from friends—about $6,000 if I recall. While that had some non-specialized charm, it was also limiting. I wanted to be part of the larger world, to travel and meet more people. It takes some money to expand your scope.
So, I thought it would be nice if I could get an education in finance and get paid to do it. That first job was tough. I was so naïve, honestly I didn’t understand that it was more of a sales position than an analytical/ advisory role. I had just gotten married at 21 years old, with no money. I wanted to do well, but I struggled to see myself as a salesperson and to hit my numbers by selling life insurance or annuities.
However, I worked with ethical people who treated their customers right, and I got some professional experience. Those two years taught me that I liked markets a lot better than insurance, and that it was tough sledding approaching prospective customers with specific products to sell. I wanted to be independent.
Over the course of my career, I and my team have taken a number of steps towards independence. To be free to speak. To recommend the right investments. We really only can “sell” what we believe in, we sell ourselves, our best work, our best advice. The most persuasive voice is an honest perspective from your window to the world. How do you see things? What are the needs? What should we do about it? We’re in this together.
Offering counsel is a better role for me than kissing up. If you know me, you know you’re getting the truth from my perspective, whether you want it or not: Here, chew on this. Tough, eh? Lots of fiber. Keep chewing, you’ll get to like it. I tend to attract people that want some back and forth, some productive debate. Or people that want help with difficult things. I’m also constitutionally incapable of saying the “right thing.”
Unless it’s extremely important to show compassion, I’m asking you to deal with the facts rather than shrink back from things you don’t know how to answer. Have some courage. Have a little more. Courage is usually what’s lacking, not smarts, not good intentions. Courage. For goodness sake, look at things. Know them. Eat the apple. I’m doing the devil’s work over here.
The first half of life (or maybe, most of it, who knows) has taught me to share my truth, listen to other perspectives and to face the challenges of life with enthusiasm.. Most of what we know comes from sharing knowledge, from an exchange of ideas. You take some lumps when you take responsibility for knowing things. You take some more lumps if you want to be free. Well, fine. I accept it. What are the alternatives?
As far as I can tell, the meaning in life is: where is my body right now? Who am I with? And what are we trying to do together? That’s it. That’s what the money is for. For putting your body near the people you love in a place you’d like to be.
There are seasons of joy and prosperity. There are seasons of suffering and scarcity. Who you’re with and how you approach it is everything.
Jeremy L. Strickler, CFP®email@example.com