by Anthony J. Ogorek Ed.D., CFP™
Before the financial crisis in 2008 we used the tag line, “More than Riches – A Rich Life” to describe our philosophy about money. Put more succinctly, our services were not so much directed toward helping clients build their net worth, as using the money they had accumulated to build a rich life, in a manner that was meaningful to them.
A “rich life” was not to be defined as drinking a better grade of wine or acquiring multiple residences, as much as helping clients define what “rich” meant to them in a non-monetary sense. We found that their definitions of “rich” varied almost as much as people can be different from each other.
Given the slow recovery from the Great Recession, speaking about “riches” today just seems out of sync with the times. Today, we are having more discussions that explore being rich in all of the ways that matter. We tend to be so caught up with work or playing with our smartphones that we spend next to no time ruminating on what really matters to us. To put it succinctly, whether due to habit or necessity, we tend to place a much greater focus on the means (to achieving a better life) rather than on the ends (what a better or richer life would look like to us).
Part of our reluctance in addressing the “ends” is that we may begin to question our motivations for how we have lived our lives, as well as how they may affect our prospects for the future. Dwelling on how we have spent our lives can be unsettling for many of us. Thus, we may be most comfortable continuing to do what we have been doing even though it is unfulfilling, because the alternative could force a change; something most of us seem to resist.
What matters to you may depend on where you are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Your responses may vary from physiological – needing to provide for your food, clothing and shelter, to love and belonging, esteem, and at the highest level, self actualization. The Army, of all places, pitches self actualization with recruitment ads that challenge potential soldiers to, “Be All You Can Be.”
We have observed a dichotomy between what society recognizes as “rich” or successful, and what our clients tell us offers a certain richness to their lives. Although most of our clients could be described as well off, the things they relate to us as meaningful in their lives are available to all of us, regardless of social strata or net worth.
Their concerns seem to center on their health, and the well being of their families. Sometimes dedication to their careers or other responsibilities keeps them from paying sufficient attention to their health. In tragic instances, their quest to have a “better” life in the future has driven them to a level of dedication to their jobs that has them practically ignoring their family and friends, and degrading their health.
For people with financial resources, caring for family members can be a minefield. The question that nags so many of our clients is how to help their children financially, without creating a dependency or an air of entitlement. In a sense, it can be easier to motivate your children when you have few resources, since you can just tell them that they have to do it on their own. That is not an insignificant motivator.
Perhaps what matters most to our clients is sharing their values with their families, their greater community, and for some, the world. As their lives pass through their final innings, they seek to find commitment to something other than themselves.
It is interesting to note that after a lifetime of securing a client’s financial future, their attention often turns to helping others. There seems to be a realization among many clients that the material things that they have acquired will all remain when they leave this Earth. What will live on are the people who share or emulate their values, and the causes that help people to lead more fulfilling lives.
Isn’t it time that you reserved some quiet time to reflect on what matters most in your life? How will you begin to build the bridges and special opportunities that can foster a discussion of your values and aspirations? Who will carry the torch for what matters to you when there is no longer a you?