On January 12, 2018, I resigned my position with a company I had been with for over seventeen years. It was the longest I had ever been with one employer and represented over half of my professional career. For all of the right reasons there were at the time for me to leave, it was also one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made and did not immediately look like the correct one. What followed were bouts of self-doubt, grief over lost friendships, and fear of the unknown.
It is often in the crucible of inward challenges that we’re able to learn some valuable lessons. I am well aware that my “difficult year” pales in comparison to the difficulties others have faced the past twelve months. Mine is not a martyr’s tale, but an overly-ordinary journey inward. So with the passing of my one-year resignation anniversary (and with it the required term of my non-compete agreement) I recently wrote down 10 lessons that I have had the opportunity to learn from this experience.
- Planning is over-rated. Yes, a financial planner just uttered these words, but too much planning, forecasting, what-if analysis and the like, only set me up for disappointment or missed opportunity when life unfolded differently from my plans. Understanding this will hopefully make me an even better financial planner since what I really wanted was confidence that my future was going to be ok, and maybe that’s what clients want as well. My 2019 vocational purpose statement is that I do what I do in order to instill confidence in people about their future.
- Kick the addiction to certainty. In my industry uncertainty is a bad thing; it’s the equivalent of risk, which is to be managed, quantified, and minimized. I felt it one of my missions to reduce the uncertainty of life for my clients. Allison Carmen is a former tax-attorney-turned-life-coach and blogger. Her blog post, Addicted to Certainty, hit home with me. She describes her addiction to certainty this way: “At every moment in my life, I desperately sought to know what was going to happen next. My need for certainty caused me to believe that the unexpected was always negative. I became devastated whenever things took an unexpected turn because I believed it meant the life I had envisioned for myself was no longer possible.” In my case, I had used planning as a means to alleviate the suffering I thought was caused by uncertainty. Now I understand that most of life occurs in the zone of “maybe” and I am challenged to see that as okay.
- The future will be different from what you expect. Of course, this is due to my expectations being shaped by over-reliance on planning and putting too much confidence in the certainty of the outcomes, but my belief was that life only surprises you on the downside. Good things only happen on purpose. That the future turns out differently from what I expect will hopefully become a more comfortable idea with the understanding that I am not God.
- It all works out. That may sound a little existentialist but so be it. For me, it means that since I am not God, then I’m not responsible for executing the plans, circumstances, timing, analysis, quantum physics, and trillions of other dominos that impact the future. Whether God, Higher Power, The Universe, The Ultimate Cause, or Name you substitute, everything does seem to work out. I don’t quote the Bible much, but one of my favorite Proverbs states, “the horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory is God’s” (Pr. 21:31). To me it means, do what you can, but accept that something much Bigger than you determines the outcome, and it may even be different than what you prepared for.
- People are more important than Place. My year of non-compete included a geographical requirement as well, so for the past year I’ve worked out of my new employer’s Nashville office. Nashville is great; two of our children live there, our granddaughter is there, and our other two children live nearby. Nashville is an exciting, growing city, with excellent restaurants and entertainment options. But it would be as lonely as a desert island if it weren’t for relationships. As I return to Mississippi full-time, it is with a new appreciation that people, regardless of where they are, who they are, or their station in life, are more important than place.
- Discouragement is easy. I mentioned earlier that what I wanted was encouragement that my future was going to be okay. Unless you are born with a pre-disposition to embrace life and all of its uncertainty (which I was not), discouragement is an easy default.
- Being grateful is a state of mind. Most of my understanding of gratefulness is that it needs a reason to exist. “I am grateful for… (health, children, my house, my job…).” It is very challenging for me to see gratefulness as simply a state of being detached from the objects of my affection. I hope that one day, I can just say “I am grateful” without having to say what for.
- It’s okay to celebrate good fortune. I dislike phrases like “I am so blessed” when good fortune comes someone’s way. My cynical self interprets that to mean that everyone else who isn’t in their favorable position is not. But I’m learning that its okay to celebrate the things we interpret as good fortune. Spike the ball; do the touchdown dance! Whether it came as the result of something I intended or from completely random events, I’ll accept it and celebrate, for tomorrow I could fall down the stairs.
- Vengeance is not mine. I never was comfortable with God declaring “Vengeance is Mine!” It seemed He was robbing me of the joy of vanquishing my enemies. But the sweetness of vengeance is usually followed by a terrible hangover. I had many vengeful thoughts after I left my former company. I took many of the actions taken when I left too personally and wasted too much energy worrying about how to protect or defend myself. Perhaps the reason that vengeance is God’s is that if we stop thinking about how to get it, sooner or later it no longer matters.
- The universe does not revolve around me. Wow…Eureka! There’s only one problem with realizing this and that is that it is a lesson that knows no graduation. As more difficult days, weeks, or years await me, I hope this truth will enable me to face them with courage, grace, and the faith that it all works out in the end.
David Russell is Vice President and Trust Officer with Argent Trust in Ridgeland, Mississippi. He has over 34 years of experience advising individuals and families as a Certified Financial Planner. In 2017, David earned his Certified Senior Advisor designation in order to better serve families facing age transitions.