Long before she became a partner and managing principal at Commonwealth Financial Network, Joni Youngwirth - winner of this year's Financial Planning Influencer Award for Practice Management - was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. Her three years of military service as a registered dietitian brought her to medical centers in Washington, D.C., and Dayton, Ohio. "I proudly served on active duty," she says.

I like to reflect on my own experiences outside of my main career and what I learned working with an entirely different set of colleagues and "customers." While the jobs were almost comically different, the objectives were often the same. I learned about the importance of sympathy and accuracy when I had a job in the office of a cemetery, about quality and multitasking when I worked for my dad's catering company, and about numeric scrutiny and hypothesizing when I spent time as an equities analyst following health care stocks for a big brokerage firm. Disparate experiences, but many skills that translate well to the work I do now.

The stories of our 2013 class of Influencer Award winners offer some similar tales of lifetime knowledge building. Youngwirth, who told me her time in the military was "foundational to early leadership development," helps guide Commonwealth's stable of 1,450 advisors on how to be better business people. Sheryl Rowling, winner of the Tech Innovator Influencer Award, used her experience as a planner to start a tech company that create rebalancing software now used by hundreds of fellow planners.

Elsewhere in this issue, CFP Janet Briaud reflects on how her experience as a mother was a factor when she got a takeover offer for her practice - from her own daughter. "It was really a bit of a shock," she says. "It was emotional and there were some hurt feelings."

To build trust, as well as expertise, planning professionals often rely on a variety of life experiences to help them relate to and properly advise clients. Because financial planning touches on so many facets of life, experience as varied as being a parent to serving your country to sweating over software development can all be essential skills in becoming an Influencer.