Three Life Lessons

Michael Falk

IT WAS 1989 AND I WAS living at home with my parents after obtaining my finance degree. I still harbored dreams of playing professional baseball, but let’s just say I also embraced learning about the financial-planning trade.

A year later, my why—my purpose—was born. In 1990, my father’s employer went bankrupt. As my 59-year-old dad looked for a new job, I felt the stress level in the house rise. My mother didn’t understand why it took so long for him to find work, didn’t offer much support and complained about how his new boss didn’t pay him like his former boss. Nobody deserves to feel this way at this time in his or her life—especially after “gifting” three kids a college education. Retirement was not a possibility for my father then or for years after.

What became crystal clear to me was how financial illiteracy can affect stress, even when someone is otherwise literate. I wanted to make a difference. So began my pursuit of financial planning knowledge and my why—to positively impact the financial lives of as many people as possible.

Over the 30 years that followed, I went from private wealth advisor to institutional investment manager to my current role as a consultant to investment management firms. Along the way, I had a decade-long stint as adjunct faculty, lectured in more than two dozen countries and wrote often on financial matters.

Each of these experiences taught me things, and the lessons weren’t purely financial. Here are three of my greatest takeaways, which help inform my new book, Get to Work… on OUR Future:

1. Always be curious. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn. Curiosity can also free you from the pain of harsh feedback, because it’s a mindset that helps you wonder why that person said that thing that hurt.

The opposite of being curious is defensiveness. Defensiveness is your ego taking over, protecting its need to be smarter, prettier and stronger than others. You’ll be better off if you don’t allow your ego to steer you.

2. Emotional intelligence will often carry you further than the sort of intelligence that’s captured by an IQ test. Your awareness of both yourself and others can help you to be more effective. Think about a stimulus followed by your immediate response—and then think about a stimulus followed by you pausing, so you understand the impact on you before you respond. That pause is called choice.

For example, after receiving harsh feedback, that pause can take our ego off autopilot and gives us a chance to think. Is there any truth to the feedback? Could that feedback help me raise my game? Is their intent to hurt me and, if so, why—or are they more focused on making themselves look smarter?

3. If you can internalize the Buddhist definition of happiness, “not wanting,” you might just be able to get off life’s hedonic treadmill. Life today may not be cheap. But it needn’t be expensive to be joyful.

Michael Falk, CFA, CRC, is a partner at the Focus Consulting Group, specializing in helping wealth management teams leverage their talents. In addition to his new book, Michael is the author of Let’s All Learn How to Fish… To Sustain Long-Term Economic Growth and co-author of Money, Meaning and Mindsets. Follow him on Twitter @MSFalk.

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