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Failure Happens, but Advisors Shouldn’t Quit

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Clients don’t usually behave like a well-known reality-TV host and declare, “You’re fired!” when they opt to discontinue their relationship with an advisor.

Being fired once or twice is not unusual for advisors with many clients. Even so, getting dismissed usually results in feelings of rejection, regret or a strong sense of having done something wrong.
Is there an upside to being let go? The short answer is yes, but to explain why, we need to delve a bit deeper into the issues surrounding an advisor’s dismissal.


I grew up in a suburban development amid apple orchards. As they were replaced by houses, many apple trees were left in people’s yards. In my neighborhood, hundreds of ripe apples fell to the ground during late summer and early fall, where they were left.

When I was 8, I started asking my neighbors if I could climb their trees and pick the apples before they fell to the ground. Some said no, but enough said yes that I got my wagon and collected as many apples as I could into several small bushel baskets.

Then I started selling apples door to door, concentrating on two things: selling the apples as fast as I could and honing my sales pitch for maximum effect. Selling in neighborhoods that did not have any apple trees (zero price competition) worked best, and telling the ladies who answered the door that the apples were perfect for either cooking or eating gave the buyer several options. Some bought, most didn’t, but even those who declined sometimes asked me to come back in a week or two.

For several fall seasons, I was able to sell everything I picked pretty quickly, and then repeat the entire process of apple collection and sales until I exhausted my free supply.


Now, what does any of this have to do with getting fired?

As a kid I didn’t focus on the negative aspect of, “No, I don’t want any apples.” Rather, I homed in on the positive outcome of making money by doing a relatively small amount of work. Put another way, I learned at an early age not to focus on rejection, but on results.

In his 2015 book “Rejection Proof”, author Jia Jiang reveals how and why he developed his 100-day program to cure his very real fear of rejection and failure (see Fearbuster.com). For 100 days, Jiang asked people he’d never met for something — sometimes outlandish things — while expecting total rejection.

But when some of his requests were granted, Jiang began asking why he sometimes got the nod instead of the shake, and how he could more consistently get the first instead of the latter. He learned the critical importance of the right communication style: Be confident, friendly, open and engaging, And he began to look at rejection — or being fired — in a whole new way.

In Jiang’s words: “Rejection is a muscle. If you don’t constantly work outside your comfort zone, you’ll lose it and you’ll become weak and timid. ... Rejection is a numbers game. Fight through enough no’s and you will eventually find a yes. ... Avoiding rejection is worse than receiving it. Most people believe avoiding rejection is a good thing; by avoiding something bad we’ve dodged a bullet and we are somehow net positive, but that’s not true. When we shy away from rejection, we reject ourselves and our ideas before the world ever has a chance to reject them.”

Jiang continues: “even the most preposterous wish may be granted if you ask in the right way.” More important, Jiang learned techniques for steeling himself against rejection and developing his own confidence, so that he wouldn’t be derailed by a single “no.”

“Rejection Proof” provides examples of why you should get yourself turned down on purpose in order to learn how to turn a potentially negative outcome into a positive.


Years ago, after starting in the planning business, I had to stop doing some things I was pretty good at and start doing other things I had no experience with to grow my small practice. While this doesn’t sound that difficult, my emotional barriers to change were high. I was concerned that I might fail and come off looking dumb if I tried something new and it didn’t work. My fears, in short, were making me overly concerned about rejection.

I overcame these anxieties by setting myself very short-term goals and found that, if I focused only on the outcome, my fears soon melted away. Not surprisingly, things got done.

Later, in 2000, I had the opportunity to leverage my firm and buy a much larger company. Once again, doubt crept in about my ability to manage a transition of that magnitude. So I built a spreadsheet of everything that could go wrong, and used it to figure out what I had to do to overcome all the potential financial and operational problems.

What actually occurred, though, was far worse than I could have imagined: The bursting of the dot-com bubble followed by the second-worst market downturn since the Great Depression up to that point.

Luckily, I was so busy pounding out my short-term goals that I didn’t have time to fret about the markets or financial issues. Because I’d “fired” myself from my old job and resolutely embraced my new work assignment, everything important came out fine.

Further on in my career, I had to “fire” myself once again. This time, I gave up operational responsibilities and took an assignment to help govern the firm, rather than operate it. This was a major shift in my perspective, and once again my anxieties soared as I thought about how inexperienced I was in this new role.

So I did what I had done before: I listed all the things I had to do to overcome my inexperience, all the training and education I needed, and what I could do to positively contribute to corporate board governance. So far, so good!


In striving to achieve, we will face rejection. If you understand that rejection is rarely personal and can lead to unexpected upsides, receiving a “no” doesn’t mean failure and can add fuel to your emotional desire to succeed.

If getting fired leads to positive changes in your career, then you’ve already succeeded where countless others will fail because they gave up.

Football fans will recall that quarterback Tom Brady was passed over 198 times in the 2000 NFL draft before being chosen by the New England Patriots.

With three Super Bowl wins, Brady is now acknowledged as one of the greatest quarterbacks in football history, and he looks back on his draft experience as part of what motivated him to succeed in the NFL.

As Jai Jiang says in his book: “Rejection really is like chicken. It’s yummy or yucky, depending on how you cook it.”

Glenn G. Kautt, CFP, EA, AIFA, is a Financial Planning columnist and vice chairman of Savant Capital Management, based in Rockford, Ill.

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