The full-page newspaper ad from a major bank declared, “Financial planning is looking beyond today’s horizon.” The word “horizon” calls to mind the line or circle that forms the apparent boundary between earth and sky in our line of sight. Per dictionary.com, it may also explain “the scope of a person’s interests, education, understanding, etc.” The bank’s ad referred to how financial planning and guidance can help you to actualize your vision, goals and objectives. However, a question looms.
You are standing on the shore of a golden beach lined with graceful palm trees. You can see where sea meets sky. But can you get into a boat and reach the horizon? No. The horizon is a moving target; the line between earth and sky moves as you do. In trying to reach an imagined horizon, there will always be a gap between where you are and where you think you’d like to be. In the 1970s, as a budding entrepreneur endeavoring to build a viable business in a new profession, that of financial planning, this writer was a student of Dan Sullivan, The Strategic Coach (strategiccoach.com). Using the horizon as a metaphor for some ideal or quest, Dan warned his students to “not get lost in the gap.”
You have a vision, a goal, an ideal, something you want to build and accomplish. How do you get there, recognizing that an ideal is like the line between earth and sky? It’s useful in orienting yourself as to where you are and setting a direction. But no matter how far you travel toward the horizon, you will never get there. Without specific measurements of progress from where you started toward where you want to be, and consistently assessing what is required ongoing to affect the expected end result, you will stay frustratingly lost in the gap.
A fuzzy goal is like a “cloudy and foggy horizon.” Regarding any wish or goal, if you use words like someday, maybe, or perhaps, you truly have not resolved to do it. A solid goal has a specific time frame. You know what may be involved in today’s dollars, at least at the outset, if not for the whole project or journey.
Envision a hike from where you are where you want to go. You’ve determined distances and estimated walking times; secured funds, provisions, clothing, emergency supplies, communication devices, etc. You know you will run into new possibilities on the trail as well as potential blockages, detours, frustrations and setbacks. A financial plan is not a one and done exercise. Revisions, changes, and updates are part of the process.
“Discovery of new possibilities” is fundamental to plan changes, a birthing or rerouting process that spurs creativity and innovation.
Even if your goal is to sail to a distant island, the sudden appearance of dark threatening clouds may force a change in plans. Life is full of storm clouds and sudden squalls. Relationships, jobs, strategies, plans, projects...some work out, some don’t. The journey of life consists of peaks and valleys. Periodially you must descend into the depths of the valley before ascending to the next peak.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu observed, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” You need to keep track of your steps and your progress toward your destination. The ancient Greeks invented “milestones,” stone posts engraved with the number of miles from one town to the next. The ancient Romans placed stone obelisks along roadways a mile apart, similar to the mile markers used to chart progress and pinpoint locations along interstate highways today. On a road trip you keep track of both the distance traveled from your starting point as well as the time involved to gauge if your trip is going according to plan.
Without measurement of progress, you are bound to get discouraged. If you are dissatisfied with your financial progress, or advancement toward a particular goal, are you pursuing a realistic goal or a fuzzy and unworkable ideal?
You may have a goal to buy a home, raise a family and educate children, change careers or build the one you’re in, be debt free at some point, attain financial independence as a prelude to retirement or other life transitions. All goals require understanding of the challenges you may face, the alternatives best suited to each challenge, the resources needed to power the best alternative, all framed by realistic expectations.
Here is where experienced financial life planners and other consultants can be invaluable in helping you to clarify mission and vision and prioritize steps and chart progress. Those who have “been there, done that” can help when frustrations and setbacks occur, and spur the discovery of new ideas and better ways. All business plans require constant monitoring and revision, otherwise they fail. A “financial life plan” is no different.
Sometimes in any journey, you can get discouraged if you focus too much on how far you have yet to go. But if you have kept track of your progress, and you’re satisfied with how far you’ve come and what’s been accomplished to date, you are likely to be encouraged, energized, and ready to tackle the next mile, the next hill.
Dan Sullivan also enjoined his students to “always make your future bigger than your past.” Words to live by, and a life philosophy designed to energize purpose, mission and vision!
Lewis Walker, CFP®, is a life centered financial planning strategist with Capital Insight Group; 770-441-3553; email@example.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.