Dan Sullivan, creator of The Strategic Coach Program, has coached legions of financial advisors and entrepreneurs, “helping the best to get better.” He tells a story about a gentleman who called and said that the person who referred him had good things to say about Dan’s program, but he did not provide details. Dan replied, “Before I tell you about Strategic Coach, I’d like to ask you a question: If we were having this discussion three years from today, and you were to look back over those three years to today, what has to have happened, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy about your progress?”

The gentleman talked at length telling Dan his story, how he got to where he was and where he hoped to go in the future. Dan counsels, “Remember that people don’t really want answers. They want powerful questions that allow them to discover their own answers.”

One of the greatest services a financial advisor (or a coach like Dan Sullivan) can provide is to ask you introspective questions that lead to answers tailored to your unique needs and goals. Often a person contacts an advisor because he or she has “money questions.” As we emerge from pandemic preoccupations, we need to take conversations beyond portfolio concerns and the technical aspects of money and estate planning. We need to understand your story, how you got to where you are, where you and those you love and care for are today, and where you hope to be in the future.

Has COVID-19 changed your relationships with your spouse, children, parents, other loved ones? If so, how? If you’re a business owner, how has the pandemic changed your relationships with associates, employees, customers, clients, and/or suppliers, those who depend on you?

Your story has a past, a present and a future. Ask yourself, “How did I arrive at my perspectives on money? Am I managing money in a way that’s improving my life, and that of those I love? Am I, and they, financially prepared for life’s big transitions? Has COVID-19 changed or influenced the story I intend to write going forward?”

“Goals” may be overrated as a conversation starter. Instead, consider “challenges” and “transitions” within a time frame. Looking forward over the next 10 years, and perhaps 10 years beyond that, what challenges do you see? What life transitions might you face? You having a heart attack, Mom falling and breaking her hip, are not goals. Shutting down your business during COVID-19 was not a goal. Do you see a need to be better prepared for your next “what if” challenge?

For current or future challenges, focus on the best alternatives to meet the challenge; the resources needed to power the best alternative, including financial and human capital; and lastly, envision the outcome, what you and those you care about want to experience. In essence, the desired outcome is the goal.

Has the pandemic caused you to be more intentional, more reflective around purpose? What does money mean to you? Have you changed how you’ll earn it, spend it, save it, invest it, donate it? Are you and your spouse or partner in accord? Have you decided not to wait until retirement to live the life you want? Are you reevaluating timelines? Will you take more time to smell the roses, especially if a bout with COVID-19 destroyed your sense of smell for a time?

Many of us lost loved ones, friends and acquaintances, in the past year from the pandemic and other causes. Have you changed your thinking about time, about God? A story in The Wall Street Journal about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel was thought provoking. (“What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath,” May 8-9, 2021).

Rabbi Herschel said, “Modern life is all about conquering space, growing and prospering economically.” But he saw danger in that in the race to gain “power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time.” Accused by some as being “old fashioned,” he knew we’ve lost something in our ever-accelerating busyness on the Sabbath. He felt we were missing “an entire dimension of existence: namely, time. Time, whose passage reminds us that everything is contingent, everything passes away everything except God.” What might you do about that? God’s definition of “net worth” is a whole different matter.

COVID-19 reminded us of our mortality, that much of life is beyond our control. Has what’s challenged you diminished your faith, or rather, strengthened it? The rabbi might urge that you find your inner liberty by freeing yourself from the “‘domination of things’ as well as from ‘domination of people.’” “The goal,” he asserts, “is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.”

Powerful questions engender life-altering discoveries and breakthroughs. What questions are on your mind?

Lewis Walker, CFP®, is a life centered financial planning strategist with Capital Insight Group; 770-441-3553; lewis@lewwalker.com.  Securities & advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA). Lewis is a registered representative and investment adviser representative of  SFA, otherwise unaffiliated with Capital Insight Group. He’s a Gallup Certified Clifton Strengths Coach and Certified Exit Planning Advisor.