Where do you want to go?

“But my life is more than a vision / The sweetest part is acting after making a decision / Start seeing the whole as a sum of its parts.” – Indigo Girls, Hammer and a Nail

I met my friend Denise and her husband Roy when they sold their catamaran and became landlubbers after four years on the water. She was happily setting up their apartment and taking things out of storage when Roy bought a motorcycle. He was going on road trip to Mexico, he said, to visit a town he’d read about in a book. When she expressed surprise and perhaps a little concern (after all, Roy is in his 70s), he said, “Denise, this I not a dress rehearsal.”

Before the curtain falls

Back in 2017, my husband and I drove ten hours from south Florida to Martin, Georgia, to see the solar eclipse. Along the way we talked about all that we had accomplished that year. We had sailed our boat to the Bahamas and back, swam with eagle rays, saw Native American cliff dwellings in New Mexico, and delivered a catamaran from Sarasota to Miami. Greg had started learning to code, and I had my best year yet as a freelancer. We’d managed to save $50,000 and were about to buy our first house. “What are we going to do next?” I asked.

Well, first we were going to see a solar eclipse, of course, an item on both our bucket lists. But it occurred to me that we were accomplishing quite a lot of our goals, and faster than we anticipated – simply by being intentional about our lives. I grabbed a pen. “Let’s write it down,” I said.

“Before every shot, I go to the movies,” golfer Jack Nicklaus famously said. “Here is what I see. First, I see the ball, white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then, I see the ball going there; its path and its trajectory and even its behavior on landing. The next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous image into reality.”

Long before the eclipse, before I met my husband, before I became a freelance writer, my friend Isabel and I sat in her tiny New York apartment and did a visualization exercise. “It’s ten years from now and you’re going to be on the cover of a magazine. They’ve come to your house to interview you. Where are you?” I was in California, I told her, in a mid-century house with a view of the mountains.

Don’t look at the bunkers

I toyed with the idea of getting into financial planning for several years. I was bored with most of the copywriting work I was doing, and eager to do something more challenging. I had been an avid investor since 2006 and enjoyed reading about retirement plans, tax management strategies and the pros and cons of different asset classes. Most of all, I loved it when friends called and asked for advice and I could actually help them.

But people discouraged me from making the leap. “It is going to take a long time,” they told me. “You’ll never get a large enough book of business together to make it worth your while,” one said. “You’ll have to wear suits,” another warned. And, “The tests are hard.”

When my initial investigations into the necessary licenses seemed to affirm their advice, I put my energy back into my writing business. “Many golfers are so conscious of the water or the bunker that they hit it right into the trouble,” writes J.C. Snead in Golf Essentials. “They should be thinking of where they want to hit it, not where they don’t!”

Every year since the eclipse my husband and I write down our goals. We call them “two-year goals” because we want to achieve them in one year, but we like to cut ourselves a little slack. Besides, goals are meant to be dynamic rather than static. Unlike a golf course, life changes right under our feet. Pandemics happen. War happens. Markets crash. Loved ones die. You might wake up halfway to some distant planet like Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers, without any chance of making it to your desired destination. What then?

In the middle of the pandemic my workload dropped off. For a while I gardened. I read a lot. I listened to a lot of podcasts and, like so many others, I baked. Then I signed up for a mentor through the CFP board, an organization that certifies financial planners according to strict criteria. “You should do it,” my new mentor told me, dismissing all my other fears with a flick of her mentor wand.

In the mind’s eye

When Roy got to Mexico, he fell hard for Zacatecas, the remote city he’d read about. He called Denise. “I want to live here the rest of my life,” he told her. Next thing we knew, they had given notice on their lease and packed most of their belongings back into a storage unit. We honked as they drove away in their jalopy of a car, packed to the gills with an arsenal of cassette tapes and anything they might need during their six-month stay. That was in 2018. Today they own a little house near the city center and spend about half of each year there.

Every August, when my husband and I look back on our list, we find we’ve usually achieved most of our goals. In 2021, he got a raise, we worked from Portugal for a month, and we did something we’d been thinking about for a while – we moved back to California and bought a mid-century house with a view of the mountains. Welcome to Hollywood. What’s your dream?

“It’s amazing how often you will hit it where your mind’s eye sees it going,” says J.C. Snead.

The first time I put my career switch on our list was in 2020. I wrote: “Cole to take classes towards CFP (opening doors to new opportunities to work w/finance + communications).” Last August I wrote, “Cole to complete CFP coursework and get 30 clients.”

“Mental practice has a physical dimension to it,” writes J.C. Snead and his co-authors in Golf Essentials. “You are actually training your muscles as you think about making a shot. When you mentally visualize moving, your brain sends messages to your muscles.” In other words, every action is a development of your muscle memory. When I book another course, or apply for another job, I am flexing the muscles I need to meet my goal.  

I still have three more CFP courses to take, but last Monday I passed the Series 65, a test required by each state before you can be licensed as a financial planner. I have two guinea pig clients that I advise for free, so I’ve only got 28 to go, right? As Newton said, with each action, an equal and opposite reaction. One step toward the goal, one step further away from where I started.

When I decided to start blogging again, before our brief misadventure in dog ownership, this is the post I thought I would kick off with. It’s also, perhaps not coincidentally, the first step in the financial planning process. It’s the planner’s job to ask: Where is it you want to go? Then we take out all the tools at our disposal and help you set a course for how to get there.

The solar eclipse. Martin, Georgia, 2017.

Before posting this, I reached out to Denise. She and Roy were on their way to Mexico, but the U.S. government issued a travel moratorium three days ago for government employees heading to Zacatecas. Apparently, there have been recent kidnappings of U.S citizens by the cartels. As I said, the ground moves beneath our feet. Please keep them in your thoughts.

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