I’m Worried about My Own Retirement
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I appreciated your article a couple of weeks ago on mindfulness. I admit I’m not much for the foo-foo stuff. I can’t ever see myself meditating or the like, but the comments around focus were helpful. My question is around stress.
I find myself more and more concerned every week worrying about the markets. Things have been very good for a long time, and lately there have been strong indicators and market performance. But I’ve been doing this for over 35 years and I can’t help but think about what’s happened in the past. We are managing money well for our clients; I’m not worried about our performance per se but I am worried about my own retirement and holdings.
I want to stop doing this in three to four years and am not sure where we’ll be. I know it sounds crazy coming from an investment professional. Yes, I have a well-allocated portfolio, am prepared for all exigencies and believe in what we do. I recognize it isn’t rational in many ways, but it’s real for me. I am having all kinds of physical problems as a result of the stress.
Without telling me to meditate, which I do not want to do, what can I do to remove this fear? It’s not like I can’t pay attention to the economic news and the markets. It’s what I do every day.
That’s the problem with fears and worries – they are rarely rational. But they are based in some reality. Over 35 years, you have watched clients lose significant amounts of money and you have done so yourself, most likely. It isn’t that it doesn’t happen; it does. And it is the anticipation of it happening again that can be the detriment for us. I remember reading a quote by Zig Ziglar back when I was a student of positive psychology – he said, “Worry is the interest paid on trouble before it comes due.” I looked up the quote and it appears Zig may have repeated it from William Ralph Inge.
In any event, it stuck with me and changed my approach to worrying about things. Worry depletes our energy, both emotional and physical. When we do need to store up resources and respond to crises, we need to have all of our energy about us and when we’ve spent too much time worrying, we’re not in the strongest position to address what’s needed.
It’s not easy, however. And you are right; you have seen concerning things happen over 35 years and we all know that at some point there will be a market correction. Who knows when, and that’s the problem!
In the meantime, what do you do about your own levels of stress? I won’t advise you to meditate (although I certainly do recommend it as a preventive measure for minimizing stress….) so a few other options you might try:
- Change your self-talk. Whenever we worry about anything we talk to ourselves in negative ways. “I saw clients lose money. I know how bad it can be. Things can’t stay this good forever.” If you listen to what you are saying to yourself, you’ll find your self-talk is most likely destructive and negative to your well-being. Try and catch it and give yourself some other language. “Yes, things can get rocky but I’ve lived through 35 years of market ups and downs and I’ll handle whatever comes next. The reality is that things could stay strong for many more years, and even if the market does hiccup I’ve taken adequate measures to prepare for it.” You don’t want to be overly positive and rosy, but you can be objective and non-negative.
- Learn breathing exercises. You say you aren’t a fan of meditation but simple breathing exercises can be helpful. The mind can’t focus on two things at once. If you catch yourself worrying and spiraling, that’s your signal to take a few deep breaths and calm yourself down. Focus on your breathing and you can’t focus on what’s worrying you. Yes, you might need to do this a dozen times throughout the day to stop the negative thought train.
- Treat yourself as a client. I’m going to guess that if a valued client came to you, who was three to four years away from retirement you would calmly walk them through all of the ways you have allocated their holdings and planned for their retirement. You would tell them how you are watching the markets, you are adjusting your investment process accordingly etc. This is the cobbler’s children scenario. You aren’t giving yourself the same treatment you give your clients. Think of yourself in the same way and give yourself the same, grounded in reality, conversation!
Thank you for the session you recently did with TD Ameritrade on dealing with difficult clients. I enjoyed it a lot but am still struggling with how I learn the communicate preferences for my clients. I am not going to administer a personality test, so what can I do instead?
A crazy idea? Ask them! We want to be communicated in a way that is comfortable and easy for us. Most clients won’t hesitate to tell you what they need. I’m always amazed at how often advisors don’t listen to the cues. Advisors are smart, they have a lot of information to share and gosh darn they are going to share it no matter what the client wants!
Some of us like bite-sized pieces. We like information short and to the point. Others want all of the data and the data underneath the data. You have all of what a client could want, so try and organize the delivery of it (whether verbal or in writing) oriented to the client’s style and needs. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. You are just modifying the amount of information, and the manner of delivery for certain clients. For many, your standard is going to be just fine but for some they will want a different approach. To the degree you can modify, that’s how your client will think you are doing something very special for them!
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. In 2008, she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.