Eudaimonia

Choosing well-being, prosperity, and blessedness all year long.

My Word for 2022

Recently, a friend asked me to choose a word that would define the year 2022 for me. I told Madchen, my friend, that I would like to use the word that I’ve been using through the entire year of 2021: Eudaimonia.

Eudaimonia is a Greek word commonly translated as “happiness” or “welfare.” However, a more accurate translation has been proposed to be “human flourishing, prosperity, and blessedness.” That’s pretty good! It’s why I chose it for 2021.

I also looked up the word “flourishing”. Human flourishing is “developing rapidly.” Successfully. Thriving. It sounds like that would be handy, based on the speed of change that’s occurring in our lives. We could develop rapidly and successfully and be thriving. I love that.

I have some questions when I think about human flourishing, though. Isn’t it more of a choice versus a condition of being? Accepting eudaimonia and being eudaimonic. Truly taking joy in your life. Letting your experiences not impact your choice to flourish, to be successful, to thrive.

People Who Choose Eudaimonia

Throughout my life I’ve been presented with numerous examples of individuals who choose their happiness, joyfulness, and blessedness. Who are flourishing while at the same time facing great challenges.

My aunt from Pennsylvania comes to mind. She has had multiple surgeries to address her cancer, and yet when visiting with me at my parents’ home just a few weeks ago, she was as joyful a person–as filled with gratitude–as she has always been. She was thriving in the turbulence of her health. There was even an extra “umph” in her hugs. That makes sense as she faces her own mortality, but it was the only noticeable difference in this joyful human being.

Another extraordinary individual comes to mind. On May 5th 2022, we lost an American Hero: Justin Constantine, a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps and an attorney. He deployed to Iraq as a Civil Affairs officer attached to a Marine infantry battalion, part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006. During his tour, he survived a gunshot wound to the head, though he faced a long and difficult recovery.

Justin was the keynote speaker for our “Tee It Up for the Troops” Wanakah Country Club 5th Annual golf event on September 11th of last year. He had just received permanent teeth replacements two weeks prior and approached his speaking challenge with a light heart and a sense of humor. In April of this year, I called to speak with Justin. He was a cancer survivor in addition to his combat wound, and was now facing a 2nd recurrence of the cancer and several procedures to address it.

He was experiencing some very real challenges, yet he was so grateful for the expressions of kindness he received from so many people. He spoke about how fortunate he was to be married to his lovely bride, to have made such great relationships during his years of service and in his civilian life. He encouraged me about the 2022 “Tee It Up for the Troops” golf event and said he looked forward to our next visit. Justin, so do I. Rest In Peace my friend.

Staying Centered

We seem to be bombarded daily with stimulus: attempts to win our attention and to shape our opinion. Keeping the word eudaimonia in front of me (taped to my laptop at the center of the inner hinge) centers me on better choices. Finding Joy. Success. To Thrive and to Love. This helps me a great deal.

At times, I am a bit behind on the local and national “news.” I can appear detached from the matters affecting our community! However, my demeanor, my smile or kind words can cause others to momentarily forget what they were worked up about in the first place. I could probably remind them of what was troubling them, but why rob them of their eudaimonia?

Can a state of mind impact our ability to flourish, move us away from being eudaimonic and enjoying eudaimonia? And perhaps if we let it, does choosing not to be a constant student, not to be curious as a child is curious, lead us to stop developing? I think so.

The Wisdom of Others

I have friends who have shared with me that they don’t like to read. They completed high school and/or college and that’s where they left their student self. They get their “education” about what’s impacting the world from the TV and/or Social media. Scary! I am not quite certain how one can “flourish” with these sources feeding your mind.

I am grateful to authors like Monty Moran for Love is Free, Guac is Extra; Michael A. Singer for The Untethered Soul; Ray Dalio for Principles; Thomas Sowell for numerous books such as Intellectuals and Society; Gary Keller for The ONE Thing; Jill Bolte Taylor for My Stroke of Insight; and Jack Carr for his numerous fiction (but close to real life) novels. I love the richness of their experiences. The gift of their writing skills. I cannot put Jack Carr’s books down once started.

In addition to reading, there is the opportunity to learn from meeting people from diverse backgrounds: race, beliefs, opinions, etc. I, for one, am not always right and have benefited from meeting smart and wise people. Through conversations with them I have learned of my own misconceptions and knowledge gaps.

Being curious about others’ backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, opinions and behaviors has afforded me the opportunity to flourish within my professional and personal life. I have had some disappointments by being open to others and their differences. Yet none of them would be as damaging to my well-being as being judgmental and closed off to others.

The Curiosity of a Child

We should be as curious as a child. If you’re blessed with children or grandchildren, or perhaps great-grandchildren, sit quietly and watch them explore their life. And as an adult let’s emulate that. That’s true learning. 

I think we make too many assumptions about what we know, and we miss the opportunity to learn what we don’t know to truly thrive. To develop as a child does develop, rapidly and successfully. Can we prosper without developing? I don’t think so. Can we truly achieve blessedness? Being blessed and recognizing that we are all blessed?

Can we prosper without developing? I am doubtful that one can prosper without developing today, largely due to the pace of change in all aspects of our lives. How does one age in a successful manner if they don’t develop their mind and body for inevitably getting older? Many of us know one or more individuals who have chosen not to keep pace with technology. They find it difficult to seek out certain services: medical, social, recreational and many more. Losing out on these services when needed can have severe consequences on one’s ability to prosper. 

Deciding to not participate in one’s community or narrowly defining one’s community will have negative implications for prospering. Not reading. Not engaging. Approaching life through a narrow lens. Judging others. These are all poor choices and most assuredly stifle our development. I struggle to see how anyone can truly prosper without regular development.

Our Many Gifts

Can we do this without honoring the gifts that have already been bestowed upon us: innovation, change, new technologies, and opportunities to learn? Without honoring and showing gratitude for the gifts we have and receive along our journey? 

God. Loved ones. Friends. Employees. Coworkers. Neighbors. Technology. Financial Capital. Our Homes. Our Assets. Yes, even Our Liabilities. Each is a part of our blessing and flourishing. Ignoring these, such as not honoring our liabilities or debts, will have a significant impact on our self-perception as well as the perceptions of others, in particular those we harmed through not owning our responsibilities. 

Ignoring your gifts and blessings puts you at risk of never finding what you are searching for. Remaining unfulfilled. Tomorrow might always be better: the next job, the next neighborhood, the next friend, the next spouse, etc. Yet, tomorrow never comes as we live today

You cannot learn if you cannot see the gifts right in front of you. You are too blind to learn. 

Not just formal learning, but informal. It’s at our fingertips, whether it’s in video form, written, or digital. We have tons of opportunities to learn, we just have to seek them out.

Choosing Well-Being

Prosperity is the “state of being prosperous.” Can we achieve success and wealth without flourishing? By wealth, I do not mean financial capital. I mean the 12th-century definition of wealth where it was really about well-being. Can we get to this well-being, the “state of being comfortable, happy, or healthy?” Judging life positively? Feeling good doing it? Can we get there without well-being? No. Can we achieve true wealth without being eudaimonic, without human flourishing? 

So I encourage each of you to choose your well-being. Choose to be as curious as a child is. Choose to be continuously learning. Do that and you will find eudaimonia. You will find your happiness. Your welfare. Your prosperity. Your blessedness. You’ll be a human flourishing

May you all flourish well. I hope you enjoy the word eudaimonia. I hope you find your word to define your 2022 and perhaps for the rest of your life. God bless you all.

What’s your financial advisor paying attention to?

I often hear financial professionals talk about the wealth they manage. They usually talk about how the market has impacted financial capital. Or about what the next exciting stock is going to do in the next quarter. I rarely hear them talk about their clients.

A lot of financial professionals focus on the net worth of their clients. They may not pay enough attention to what their clients are actually going through in their lives. Do they want to purchase a second home? Are they worried about their children taking over the business? Dreaming of a long-overdue vacation? Just received an unexpected medical diagnosis? These things are the important determinants of their financial situation – not the stock market.

Conversations with my clients about what’s happening in their lives go a long way towards creating a direction for their investments. Time spent in these discussions is a far cry from market forecasting, but it is never wasted.

What you give your attention to makes all the difference.

Does Asset Allocation Make Sense for You?

At Note, we frequently encounter business owners who tell us they get approached by “wealth” managers preaching asset allocation. These managers possess little information about them, their businesses, their objectives, or the headwinds they’re facing. These managers then readily preach about the importance of diversification and the investments that owners need to make.

The thing is, most business owners aren’t thinking about asset allocation at all. Rather, they’re focused on asset concentration.  

Why?

Because their life savings and sweat equity are tied up in their business. This is punctuated by the debt they’ve taken on in order to feed the engine of their business – their most concentrated investment.  

While asset allocation may be wise advice from an “Investment 101” standpoint, it is not an effective conversation with most small business owners. Many I’ve spoken to over the years are quick to say, “I have nothing to invest.”

However, if I have their ear, I’m able to persuade them they have everything to invest. 

They have themselves, their tomorrows, and the investments they’ve already made. With good fortune and perseverance, those assets will give them the kind of financial capital that wealth managers very much want under their management. However, it can take a decade or two before that happens. Only then does asset allocation advice become relevant.

An effective financial advisor must be able to see you – the business owner working to build equity. They must recognize the importance of promoting asset concentration, not preaching diversification. They should fully understand your business, your objectives, and the headwinds you are facing. Only then can they be dedicated to working with you to mitigate the risks associated with business ownership. Only then can you more easily move from concentration through liquidity, and onto successful allocation.

Who’s Got Your Back?

Have you ever explored the full meaning when someone says, “I’ve got your back?” 

Is it that they’re committed to watching out for you and taking care of things that you are likely to miss?

Are they dedicated to being that second set of eyes and hands for you when necessary?

Is it someone willing to help when you need assistance, even before you know you need it?

How about somebody who will literally enter into a physical battle on your behalf?

Have you ever taken the time to consider who’s got your back in your business? 

Perhaps it’s an advisor who has a single-minded area, whether it be law, accounting, or lending. 

Maybe it’s that individual who’s able to rise 30,000 feet for a broad view of your world and then tell you how your business fits in your life, particularly during stressful times. 

Maybe it’s the person who can keep the bigger picture in mind when aiding you in your day-to-day business battles. Or someone who can pull you aside – despite your protests that you ‘don’t have time’ – and offer strategic perspectives and advice you can trust.

These “have your back” individuals will ask questions that stop you in your tracks, that allow you to take a deep breath while the stress of the moment leaves your body. They do this without fear that their questions might be simple, naïve, or lacking a complete understanding of your business. 

They don’t worry if they’re the biggest thought leader or genius in the room. They’re focused on helping you slow down, making certain that you’re not ignoring the larger implications of whatever task is at hand.

They maintain the big picture, yet they are at the street level, working right alongside you. They open their network and introduce you to the accountant, the attorney, the banker, even the medical professional, and ask them for exceptions on your behalf, all because they truly believe you are exceptional. 

These are the people who see you for who you are, believe in what you are trying to accomplish, and give all they’ve got to help you get there. In effect, fully defining what it means to say, “I’ve got your back.” 

We all need someone like this, don’t we? I know who it is for myself and the impact they continue to make in my world. Who has your back, in your business, and in your life?

AUM vs. LUM

“What’s your AUM, Tom?”

During financial industry conferences and meetings, this seemingly innocent question surfaces almost without fail.

AUM = “assets under management.”

To me, that question is a veiled and vulgar way of trying to find out the total assets being managed by our firm. When using the term “assets,” the person inquiring doesn’t mean the humans and their lives that we’re helping to navigate. Rather, it’s all about the dollars and cents under our direction. The question they’re really asking is, “How much of other people’s money do you control?” To many in our industry, this is the badge of honor that they believe measures success.

I believe that “assets under management” is a crappy way to categorize clients.

I also believe that if all you have is financial capital, then you don’t really have all that much.

While it’s an important data point for valuing a business, it unfortunately doesn’t indicate the true value of a financial professional or their client base. At Note, we have a different standard of that value for both.

We like to think in terms of “lives under management.” 

When considering the “assets” we manage, our focus turns to people we advise. The human beings we help to successfully navigate their personal and financial challenges. Challenges such as:

  • Investing their limited resources of time and money in starting a business. 
  • Taking on the financial capital risks of borrowing money to begin and/or grow a business. 
  • Sweating-out the personal guarantees needed to secure loans in early-stage businesses, or businesses under stress.
  • Lost sleep and compromised health due to the pressures of financial and business risks. 
  • Business distractions that prevent clients from being “present” with their family, spouse or significant other, and the resultant dissatisfaction over a loved one being mentally somewhere else.

Often when we begin advising clients, they find themselves in uncharted waters as we help them navigate their “lives under management.” Yet because of our years of experience, we know the management plan we are creating for them will deliver results. We’ve seen it. We can smell it. We know it, often before those we are working with actually experience it.

We also know that helping people transition their sweat and tears into something of value, and extracting that value over time in the form of financial capital, can give them valued independence. People can live in ways that allow them increased control over their time. They can enjoy extended vacations. They create the ability to transition their business to family or employees, or sell their businesses and move on to their next venture with a smile on their face.

Most importantly, they become fully aware that they are not simply “assets under management.” They are human beings who we value and whose lives we are helping to build and enjoy.

Are You Really “All Set”?

    “We’re all set”

     This simple three-word phrase is one I’ve heard throughout my career, in instances that often stick in my mind. One of those relates to a couple I worked with for more than 20 years. Early on, I provided the husband with financial advice about an insurance policy, which he then purchased. Sadly, he subsequently contracted an illness that caused him to become disabled for the remainder of his life.  

     As I do with all clients, I attempted to get back together with the couple for an annual review of that policy, and the details of how it worked. More often than not the appointments were scheduled and cancelled as “unnecessary,” with the wife always concluding, “We’re all set.” 

   This year the gentleman passed away. His widow contacted me to ask if I could provide her information on his life insurance beneficiaries. When I shared the information, she was shocked. She indicated that she and her husband had modified their wills to ensure select individuals they had originally noted as beneficiaries on the policy would not receive any proceeds.  

     I advised her that since such a policy is a separate contract with the insurance company, changing their wills did not change the beneficiary designations. I explained that unless an insurance contract is modified, the policy is paid out according to the original terms.

     At that point, the widow became upset, saying her husband would be rolling over in his grave if he knew the amount of money that would be going to certain beneficiaries. She said she understood that she and her husband had cancelled a number of appointments with me and clearly they were not as “set” as they both thought. 

     I advised her that I was sorry but, as difficult as it was to watch it unfold, the proceeds were being paid out exactly as they had been written. In the end, it was an expensive and painful lesson for this woman about the consequences of not being “all set.”  

     Medical professionals require an active relationship with their patients in order to establish and maintain a baseline of their health. Without that baseline there is no reference for how much a patient has changed, how their current health varies from “normal”, or how to ensure their ongoing wellness. 

     The same is true for financial professionals.    

     Without a baseline understanding of a client’s personal and financial situation and a game plan for the future, advising is often nothing more than business transactions that sometimes include opportunistic purposes to sell products to a client without clear objectives. 

     Today, professionals in every field are recognizing the risks of advising “we’re all set” clients; those who don’t proactively participate in the planning process. They are also facing increased liability costs of attempting to advise reactive individuals in today’s litigious society. Many are notifying such clients of non-compliance and pruning them from their client/patient lists. Not a great place to find yourself when you need professional help and realize you are not “all set,” not insurable, not prepared for retirement, not liquid and not protected by any kind of safety net or parachute. 

     The next time you’re inclined to dismiss a professional who is trying to serve you and maintain an active relationship, think twice. Agree to meet with them and keep that appointment. Maintain your baseline. Let your professional lead you through their established processes and provide you with proven solutions. Make sure that ultimately, when you say those three little words, you really are, “all set.”

Great Advisors Ask Great Questions

In the decades I’ve spent advising individuals on their businesses and their wealth, I’ve observed that people are often concerned about having the “right answers.” It makes sense. We all want to be correct, feel affirmed, and know we’re on the path of success. However, I’ve learned that to arrive at the “right answers,” you need to ask the right questions. At Note, we believe great advisors ask great questions. The kinds of questions others might not.

Questions you never get to fully contemplate in the day-to-day demands of running your business. 

Questions which, by the time you recognize they should have been asked and addressed, rob you of valued financial capital and time. 

“What made you decide to start this line of work?”  

“Are you still doing it for the same reasons?” 

“What has to happen over the next three years for you to feel professionally fulfilled and successful?” 

“When was the last time you took off a couple of weeks, or even a month, from your work?”

 “If you don’t have the support in place to take a month off or more, what do you think would happen to your business if you become unable to work for an extended period of time due to illness, injury, or premature death?”

These kinds of essential business questions don’t stop there. For many business owners, there are succession concerns that can implicate partners, family, and employees.

“How do you plan on getting out of this business alive?” 

“Are your children working for you? If so, do they expect to own the business someday?”

“Can you identify key employees in your company?” 

“Do they know they are your key employees?”

Some business owners have shareholder involvements. 

“Have you reviewed your shareholder agreement to make sure those integral to your business aren’t robbed of ownership positions, like your children?”

“How might this impact partners and co-shareholders you might have?”

“Does your shareholders agreement address liquidity needs that may occur during their lives—college education funding, unanticipated expensive medical care, helping a child with a home down payment or a grandchild with their education?”

“Can these needs create the unintended consequences of diminished business focus, or loss of a key shareholder?”

There’s also the challenge of managing relationships with varied business advisors.

“Do you have a collaborative team of advisors—an accountant, a tax expert, a lawyer, an operations pro?
“How do you coordinate communication among them all? 

“Do you have one core advisor facilitating such communication? Or do you find yourself spending your business time interpreting the work of each one of your advisors for everyone else?”

“How’s that working for you?”

If any of these questions hit a nerve, I want you to know that I see you and the challenges you’re facing. That’s why I’m passionate about asking great questions that grab your attention and give you pause. Questions that inspire the right answers for your family, your business, your wealth, and your legacy.

If you’d like to start a conversation filled with great questions, I can be reached at Tom@NoteAdvisor.com.