When you sit down with a financial advisor, you’re not expecting to be asked questions like, “What is your ideal life?” or “What things are most meaningful to you?”
Those types of questions are reserved for Oprah interviews, not financial planning sessions. You’re expecting to discuss investments, assets, tax returns, debt and retirement planning. What do those deep and probing inquiries have to do with managing your money?
They actually have plenty to do with it. Before you come up with a plan on the amount of money you will save, invest, and spend, ask yourself - “Why?” and “For What?”. The answers to these questions will help you understand and control what you do with your money. It will give it meaning.
If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t given much thought to what your ideal life would look like. Even if you’re a dreamer, you probably haven’t sat down and given it the serious thought it deserves, much less discussed it with someone—it’s not a common topic of discussion around the watercooler (or Keurig machine) at work.
But probing into these concepts is critical for identifying and achieving your optimal life! We discussed the steps to setting goals in our previous blog. Now we’ll dig deeper into the first step: identifying what you want out of life.
Figuring out your ideal life
Before you can set any goal for your life, you need to think about the big picture first. That’s why when we sit down with a client, we get them to think of their ideal life. Without knowing what is “ideal” or “optimal” for YOU, then you’re not going to know the goals you need to set to in order to get there or have a framework to develop a financial plan. You’ll operate in chaos the whole time! Trust me, that’s not ideal.
To help clients identify their ideal life, we ask them questions around what we call the FORM concept, which stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, Motivation. These are the main areas of life people think about and that provide meaning to them.
Your core values are derived from these four areas and understanding your optimal life in each area provides clarity and sets the foundation for your goals. Examine each area and ponder: What type of family life do I want? What are the areas that I enjoy most about the work I do? Are there other areas of work I would enjoy more? What recreational activities do I find fulfilling? What drives me to achieve?
Don’t stop there.
Picture what an ideal day or week looks for your family, in your career, and for recreation.
What would occur? How would you spend or invest your most precious and valuable resource, time? The idea is to get you to think about what your life would look like without the normal constraints we put on ourselves. People always use their job or needing money as an excuse for not identifying the ideal. “Yeah, I would do this or that, but I have a job and kids to worry about Frankie…” I hear this all the time. As your financial life guide, I am going to hold you to a higher standard. You are better than that.
Yes, it’s your duty to provide for your children. But it’s also your duty to teach them that life is meant to be lived, not to be trudged through only to hope for a pension and social security down the line. It’s not meant to be a slog where you are constantly beaten down. What if you taught your children that life is meant to be lived to the fullest according to how you want to live it? You could be their financial life guide!
What you’ll notice is that all these areas are intertwined. You may have a specific vision for your family life, but it will impact your occupation and recreation. For example, if you want to have dinner together with your family each night, then you can’t work 12-hour days at the office.
Your motivation—what you’re willing to do to achieve the ideal life—is the undercurrent that drives every area.
Finding a guide through unchartered territory
I understand people aren’t predisposed to thinking about their ideal life. When I ask new clients these questions, I’m cognizant that it puts them on the spot. The concept of picturing your ideal life is fraught with insecurity, human vulnerability, debilitating thoughts and over-optimism.
This past December I attempted to climb Mount Washington in New Hampshire. It’s a very challenging hike in the winter, and though I’m an experienced hiker, I had never tried mountaineering (basically climbing a mountain in the snow). Plus, I didn’t have the necessary equipment to do such a hike. It was a no-brainer for me to hire a guide. It made sense to go along with someone who had experience and could walk me through the process of getting equipment at the best price, showing me how to use it, and help me realize my ideal, which was to reach the summit and have a great experience. (That's me up there in the GoPro pic. Can you tell I'm loving it?)
You can apply the same principles to figuring out your ideal life. If you’ve never contemplated what’s optimal for you and your family, a guide can help you along the journey. Financial life guidance helps you go beyond monetary goals by exploring the meaning behind your goals.
For many of our clients, they thought they were just getting financial planning, but once they realized the depth of what we take them through, we became a source of strength that allowed them to think big.
As financial life guides, we don’t have an answer for these deep questions we pose. The answer lies within the client. Our role is to unearth those answers through conversations, communication, questions, insight and feedback.
Once you start to dream of your ideal life, you can’t get it out of your head!
Understanding the ‘why’ behind what you want
We’re often influenced by other people’s ideals, and if we’re not careful, we incorporate those concepts into our own lives, losing sight of the things that distinguish us.
When I decided I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200-plus mile hike that takes six months, people thought I was crazy. They would look at me with bewilderment, like “Why would anyone want to do that?” But for me, it was one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done in life, and a source of immense pride and joy. But for many others, they probably would’ve hated it, and quit 20 miles in. If it’s not your journey, don’t take it.
The true picture of an ideal life is different for everyone. (The picture at the beginning of this post is me and some fellow thru hikers living our ideal life.)
For me, incorporating nature and the outdoors into my everyday life presents an ideal. For someone else, it may be running marathons, or creating artwork. For others, it could be to live simply or raise their children with the values that they find most important. Regardless of the goals or the reasons, make sure their your own. Remember, hike your own hike.
If you’re not willing to go down the road of identifying your ideal, you’re not going to have fulfillment with your journey, no matter how much money you have. You're not going to have fulfillment in your occupation, in how you spend your free time, or in the relationships that you have.
Finding fulfillment in your occupation, family, and the activities that you do in life is an important way to ensure you are living life optimally. That’s why we try to help people visualize their ideal life so they can work towards fulfillment.
So what’s your ideal life? What would make the core areas of your life most fulfilling?
Take some time to identify your core values and the ideal situation for your family, career, hobbies, and the motivation behind it. Once you’ve set the big picture, you can move on to the next step, which is creating a concrete goal to move towards that ideal.
Need help getting the ball rolling? A financial life guide can help you discover your optimal life with questions and interactive discussion so you can gain some momentum in the goal setting process. You can get started today with a free virtual consult with one of our financial life guides. Sign up here.