Your Money: The What and Why
December, 2015. I had just turned 32 years old. I had been working in finance for 8 years and I was living a life that, only a decade before, would have been hard for me to imagine. I had paid off $100,000 in student loan debt and had just bought a condo in Los Angeles. My company’s expense account paid for dinners at some of LA’s best restaurants and I traveled to Hawaii four times a year to build my firm’s business on the islands. Yet, by the end of my eighth year in my job, I began feeling the dull ache of a soul in stagnation. What started as a knot in my stomach began expanding until it created an ache that spread throughout my body. Pervasive was the feeling that my life was headed in a direction that just felt...wrong.
It’s not in my nature to be ok feeling stuck, so I enlisted myself in a retreat for financial life planners in the beautiful town of Hana, Maui. To this point, I had never even considered leaving my current career to enter the field of financial planning, but I had read the book written by the man hosting this retreat and my interest was piqued. Even though I knew I would be a relative outsider, the ever-growing feeling of stagnation brought me to this retreat, and it’s why I jumped in without much regard for what the results would be. In five days, the foundation of my world view was forever changed. By the end of the five days, my stagnant soul had been ignited from its core. I had a plan. I knew what I had to do.
For many people, knowing that you have a plan - and taking action on that plan - can give you the exact peace of mind you need to cut the last ties of fear and jump into the discomfort that comes with any new adventure life brings. But ‘a plan’ can come in many different shapes and sizes.
In today’s blog I want to detail the why behind what we do at Mana Financial Life Design. Then I’ll lay out a simple technique you can apply today to bring forth a life filled with freedom.
Early on in our process, we ask our clients to go deep and answer questions that drill down to one essential aspect of your life: your definition of a life of freedom. Why would a financial planner care about how free someone feels?
If someone understands the things, people, places, environment and life station that bring them freedom, they’re defining their ‘enough’. By defining your enough, you are outlining what you’re truly meant to do in life. Gone will be the days of the directionless search for ‘more’.
Once we know your enough, it’s our job as Financial Life Designers to get you there - as soon as humanly possible.
Why Money Shouldn’t Be Your Spirit Animal
I love a good meme. According to Merriam Webster, a meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme.
Recently on social media,
I saw this meme →
While the words are funny, I started thinking about what money as a spirit animal means. If money is your spirit animal, money ends up being the desired ends - instead of the means - for one’s life. Money becomes that which is revered in our society (instead of freedom, love, or wisdom). Money becomes the ‘why’ behind why you do what you do. I think this meme completely misses the point.
Instead of money being the end game, we guide our clients to develop an understanding of what will bring them true happiness. In our first year of working with clients at Mana, we haven’t met anyone who tells us that having all the money is what will bring them happiness or true freedom.
Begin by Painting a Picture
After my own financial life plan was laid out before me, I immediately began putting the plan into action. There was nothing that could bring me down. I realized that what moved me to action was the crystal clear picture of a moment in the very near future that was very much within my reach.
I began researching the power of visualization. It turns out there are tons of examples out there of people who’ve achieved so much by visualizing, in detail, where they want to be some time in the future. Oprah does it. The founder of 1-800 Got Junk (a $100 million business) does it and wrote about it in this article which I highly recommend reading.
One thing they all have in common?
They’ve all painted a picture for themselves that’s layered with detail. Then they verbally repeated it, printed it out, and looked at it daily, until their brains believed it. It’s no surprise that the visual narrative works. In 1978, academic Walter Fisher presented the idea of the Narrative Paradigm, or the idea that stories are more persuasive than logical arguments. As humans, we’re conditioned to think of our lives as one long story.
Visioning is an essential part of Mana’s Financial Life Design process. In fact, we argue you can’t be a true fiduciary without understanding your client’s vision for their life story.
Use Goals to Support Your Vision
In Hana, I received the visual narrative of a moment in the future where I had quit my job and launched a firm of my dreams. The next step was to create measurable goals I’d achieve on my way. Although a vision and a goal are often used interchangeably, there is a meaningful difference.
Michaelangelo is known to have said:
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Seeing the angel… Michaelangelo’s vision.
Carving until he set him free… Michaelangelo’s goals.
Goals back your vision by assigning specific and measurable steps you can use to measure your progress. To achieve my dream of launching a firm I had to go back to school for two years to satisfy the education requirements for the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ examination, I had to sit and pass the exam and I had to save enough money to survive the first few years of being a business owner. A week after returning from the retreat, I enrolled in UCLA’s financial planning courses and I created a “Freedom Fund” - a high yield savings account that I started aggressively saving into for the next two years. In March of 2018, I sat and passed the CFP® exam. July of 2018, Mana Financial Life Design was officially launched.
In psychology, visualization followed by practical thinking on how one would achieve their vision is called ‘mental contrasting’, a process first defined by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen. Mental contrasting helps people figure out what they really want and wisely select, commit to, and actively pursue prioritized wishes while constructively dealing with setbacks. It helps them live a rewarding life through work, play, health, and relationships.
In short, without taking immediate and consistent action to achieve your vision, it’s much less likely that your vision will be achieved. After we’ve painted the picture for our clients, we then ask the clients to outline the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving. One by one, we work through possible ways to overcome the obstacle. We then settle on one thing the client will do within the next week to move them closer to their vision.
Putting Financial Life Design Into Action Today
Regardless of what stage of life you’re in, you can put the tools we use at Mana into action today. Have you ever carved out time to intentionally think about what you want your life to look like in the next two years? If you’ve got a spouse or significant other, have you done this together? If not, this is where to start. On a sheet of paper, paint a picture of a moment in two years’ time where you’re living a life you’d be excited to live. Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? Tell your story in a way that gets you excited!
When you’re through, read it out loud. If you’re painting a picture alongside your partner, both of you should read it out loud. Check in with each other to make sure your story has captured absolutely every aspect of your life you want present in the future.
After the picture is clear, ask yourself (or yourselves) - what could possibly get in the way of reaching to this moment? Think it through in detail. Write them out and then list out one to three ways you would tackle this obstacle today.
Next, outline the steps you will take to get you to this moment. If you’ve got two years, what’s one thing you can do this month to begin making moves to your vision? For example, if your vision has you running a marathon two years from now, how many miles will you start running this week? Harness the power of mental contrasting to commit to these steps. Don’t forget to set up milestones along the way that you can celebrate!
Finally, put your plan into action by doing whatever you’ve chosen to do this month as soon as possible. A life of freedom awaits.
Cristina Livadary is a fee-only financial planner based in Los Angeles, California and is the CEO of Mana Financial Life Design. Mana Financial Life Design provides comprehensive financial planning and investment management services to help clients organize, grow and protect their wealth throughout life’s journey. Mana specializes in advising professionals in the tech industry, as well as women who work in institutional investing, through financial planning and investment management. As a fee-only fiduciary and independent financial advisor, Cristina never receives commission of any kind. She is legally bound by her certification to provide unbiased and trustworthy financial advice.