This is a difficult business. Any service business is difficult, but when you throw personal goals (financial and nonfinancial) and money management into the mix, you have stressful, complicated relationships that require you to constantly and consistently manage expectations along with financial lives. I figured that if you were still enthusiastic and excited about the job, given the complex nature of the relationship and service required, you must be passionate about the work.
Then I read Cal Newport's new book, So Good They Can't Ignore You. Newport takes a cue from the comic Steve Martin - who, when asked how he became a success, answered, "Be so good they can't ignore you."
Martin has maintained that it took him more than 10 years to hone his craft, constantly practicing and refining until he achieved great success. "Eventually, you are so experienced that there's a confidence that comes out," he has said.
There's a difference in philosophy, Newport suggests: the passion mindset versus the craftsman mindset. The passion hypothesis argues that the key to occupational happiness is to find your passion and purpose, and then find a job doing it. Yet a problem is that many people have unrealistic expectations about this passion and often do not find that perfect place. Further, passion without skills will not take you far. The craftsman mindset is rooted in being the very best you can be, continually focusing on getting better and better at your craft.
While the passion mindset concentrates on what the world can offer you, the craftsman mindset involves what you can offer the world. The craftsman mindset asks you to turn your focus away from the self-centered notion that your job must be "just right" and instead focus on becoming "damn good."
For me, Newport's framing was an epiphany. I realized that, when I started out, it wasn't because I had a passion for this profession. In fact, none of the people we credit with founding financial planning had any passion for it - because there was no profession.
It's only over decades that what started as a vision for something other than a sales-based business has evolved into a profession, where skills and expertise are highly valued and advice is paramount.
Over time, we concentrated on honing our technical skills and applying them to areas that needed solutions. We studied, we practiced, we learned by constant trial and error. We built, in Newport's words, "career capital."
"If you want a great job, you need to build up rare and valuable skills - which I call career capital - to offer in return," Newport argues. This is the core of embracing the craftsman mindset.
Newport identifies three fundamental traits that he says define great work and, therefore, a great job:
Think about the opportunities for creativity you have in your job as a financial planner. First, using your technical capabilities, you continually practice in situations that need solutions. Clients want to maximize retirement and minimize tax impact. They want to send their kids to college or buy a vacation home. The more you practice, the better you are at it, and the more you enjoy it.
Next, think about the impact you are making. Oftentimes, we don't know the full impact on the lives of those we assist until many years later. Finally, you have control over your work and your life. No one tells you when to start in the morning or when to close up at night.
PERILS OF IMPATIENCE
But you could not accomplish these things when you first started out. In order to enjoy these traits, this great job, you expand your career capital by educating yourself, practicing and learning from your experiences. One of the disconnects that older advisors sometimes have with the next generation is that many younger advisors have yet to build their career capital, but would like to have the control, impact and creativity that comes with all of that.