The Value of a Life Purpose Statement for You and Your Clients

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If you’ve never had the chance to meet Richard Leider or to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. I’ve been lucky enough to count Richard as a mentor and friend for the past few years, and I’ve already benefited quite a bit from his wisdom, perspective and outlook on life.

The first time I heard Richard present in an official capacity was at the Think2Perform Adapt to Thrive Conference in Minneapolis in 2016, where he spoke to a group of financial planners on the power of purpose. While a percentage of the population (including advisers) are—often with good reason—wary of life planning or purpose-driven messages, that was not the case with Richard’s presentation; you could have heard a pin drop in the room when he finished speaking. I think the main reason for the resounding impact of the message is that it’s so simple and logical that its authenticity is impossible to ignore.

There are many facets to living a purpose-driven life, but one tangible place to get started is the process of drafting a life purpose statement. In a post on his own blog, Richard defined a Life Purpose Statement as “simply your ‘life message’—the message you wish to drive in the world during your short existence on Earth.”

As mentioned, while the concept is simple in theory, it can be considerably more difficult in execution. To help you set some parameters, Richard says purpose statements should only one sentence and must be tied to making a difference in the world. He cautions that, “making a difference” should not be confused with having to champion a certain or specific cause—the point is, instead, to pursue an aim larger than ourselves.

In this post, I offer three reasons why putting together a life purpose statement is worth the investment of time for financial planners.

1.) Even a Default Purpose Statement Can Provide Direction

At risk of belaboring the point, you may find that sitting down and hammering out a life purpose statement is more vexing than it seems at first look. Remember that, if creating the statement is giving you the same level of stress as building an IKEA bookshelf (some people enjoy this—I am not one of them), it’s having the opposite of its desired effect. It’s important to put work into the statement to make sure it resonates, but not at the expense of increasing your stress level. I love Richard’s remedy for those grappling with their mantra, which is to start with a default life purpose statement: “If you feel stuck, use this ‘default purpose’ in the meantime. It’s comprehensive and universal! ‘To grow and to give. Our growth determines our capacity to give. As we grow, our impact becomes more powerful.”

Beginning the process with a more generic statement, like “to grow and to give,” or one of the other sample statements Richard offers in his blog post, allows you to use the initial sentence as a personal pilot program. As you test out how the statement fits in your daily life, you can fine-tune the message over time, crafting a more customized statement along the way. One way to test the slogan might be to share the statement with your clients—they may be able to share interesting perspectives and ideas while also forming a stronger bond with you through your openness in sharing something so personal.

2.) A Life Purpose Statement Can Help You Focus on Your Priorities

For so many of us, including the lion’s share of financial planners I have had the pleasure of meeting over the years, one of the greatest challenges we face is that we have so many things we want and need to do on a daily basis, and so little time in which to do them. Yet, prioritization is easier said than done.

As a marketer, I’ve found that it’s often much easier to create a lengthy eBook or detailed white paper than it is to distill a one-sentence mission statement. There are just so many different facets that make up an organization, that it can be frustratingly troublesome to consolidate the “why” down to a single phrase.

Writing a life purpose statement introduces a similar obstacle—of all the important things, what stays in and what ends up on the cutting room floor? If you aren’t convinced, jot down a quick list of the priorities, financially, physically and emotionally, that are important to you now (defined in the context of your own situation). I think you’ll be surprised by how quickly and completely you can fill the page.

It’s wonderful to know what you want and I imagine there’s a lot of good stuff on that page. That said, it’s equally important to know why you want it—you might think of it as the “goal of your goals.” One of the primary benefits of a life purpose statement is in helping us define why these priorities are truly most important, and in doing so, driving our choices under a singular purpose. As Richard puts it, a life purpose statement not only helps us clarify why we get up in the morning, but also “provides an organizing framework for your day-to-day priorities and choices.”

Above all, I hope you take the exercise of writing a life purpose statement seriously, as you want your statement to matter. A life purpose statement is a truly personal exercise, there is no “right way” to do it.

3.) The “Napkin Test” Can Be a Good Exercise for You and Your Clients

As we move through the process of coming to our life purpose statement, Richard encourages us to continually write our statements quickly on a napkin (inspired by Delta Airlines’ former campaign that encouraged travelers, via a notation on their cocktail napkin, to spill both drinks and thoughts), especially as we think of adjustments over time or face a difficult decision that requires a reminder of our purpose.

The test is valuable not only to ensure that your purpose statement is tangible and actionable (not just evangelical), but also because living a life of purpose is simple in theory, but can be enormously difficult to sustain in practice.

Regardless of whether one is tasked with breaking a bad habit, attempting to get more exercise or even more ethereal pursuits such as finding happiness or purpose, it is a generally accepted theory that consistent reminders can make an incremental difference in our progress. One specific example is a study on how daily text message reminders could assist smokers in quitting the habit. The study tested the effectiveness of text messages specifically urging smokers to quit compared to generic motivational text messages, testing the result of smoking abstinence at eight weeks, three months and six months. At the eight-week (end of treatment) assessment, 23.3 percent of those receiving tailored text messages were not smoking, compared to only 10 percent of those receiving generic motivational texts.

I like this example for a few different reasons. First, the study understates the value of continuing to tinker with a life purpose statement until it’s as individually resonant as possible. Second, I think that a life purpose statement is only truly useful if we commit to owning it day in and day out. This means displaying it prominently, and finding ways to remind ourselves of our “why” on a daily basis. One of the beautiful things about these statements is that they are often fairly brief, which makes them perfect for a spot on the refrigerator, a Post-It on our computer screen at the office or a simple Outlook reminder set to pop up as we go through our morning routine.

This is another area in which I think a discussion on life purpose statements could be useful as part of your relationship with your clients. The convergence between an investors’ most important financial goals and their overarching life purpose is often acute, and as a planner, the life purpose statement offers a useful, non-traditional way to help clients look beyond number-focused objectives and remember why they are saving, investing and planning in the first place. To Richard’s point, whether the vehicle is an actual napkin or a proverbial one, it’s about implementing these simple reminder in a way that works for you (or your clients, if you choose to use the concept in your discussions).

Whether for you, your clients or both, like many of Richard’s concepts, the idea of a life purpose statement encourages introspection. Looking deep within ourselves may sound a bit too touchy-feely, but being honest with ourselves about where we stand when it comes to our most important priorities can take immense courage.

Writing a life purpose statement about the internal journey. I have mine posted on my wall and do find myself referring back to the statement often—I’ll share it with you in case you’re interested in another example: “To learn every day, grow through experience and live in the service of others.”

Like the life purpose statement, learning from Richard and reading his work on “purpose” serves as an important reminder that living a passionate existence, finding a mission we can believe in and sticking with our calling through life’s highs and lows are their own reward. Make it a great day!

Dan_Martin_Headshot
Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM (CFP®) professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at@DanW_Martin.

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