What We Want for You in 2019
A wish for our readers for the year ahead is becoming a tradition for us. If you’ve been reading the Spring blog for a while, you may remember that past years included wishes for clarity, ownership, structure, and momentum. If you’re new here: welcome—and buckle up.
What do we want for you in 2019? Now that you’re past the fog of the new year and the first few weeks when resolutions are considered, and so many of them are discarded, you can focus on where your energy will truly lie in the 11 months that stretch into your future. This is the exact moment when you are ready for our wish for you, which is actually a gift:
Permission to design your life
We want this for you so badly that we’re dedicating our year of writing to fully articulating what “designing your life” looks like, how it flows in your reality, and your cash flow and financial plans.
The actions you take in your day-to-day life, such as how you spend your money and your time; and the plans you make for your future, such as how you’ll plan your retirement, your travel, your children’s education, and your estate, are the building blocks of your life design. The small and large decisions you make each and every day become your life’s design. We just want you to do it on purpose.
This particular wish for you was prompted by a book that we and a few of our advice-only financial planning friends read together, called (not surprisingly) Designing Your Life. We may have recommended it to you, particularly if you are very close to retirement. The book was written by two professors of design at Stanford University, based on their experience in counseling students to find the jobs and careers that would take them successfully through the next phases of their lives.
In reading it, we realized that “design thinking” is something that we use every single day, in the way we approach cash flow and financial planning. Instead of static, inside-the-box rules of thumb for “growing financial wealth,” we use and teach the dynamic, iterative skill set required to create and grow the varying types of wealth that you need in order to achieve the life you want.
More than a bundle of tools and techniques, effective design thinking requires a mindset shift. It’s about embracing a user-centric philosophy, focused on the resources, strategies, and motivations of the user: YOU. In order for the end result to be successful, everything about you and your unique attributes must be included in the process and used to find the eventual solution(s).
For design thinking to work well, you must be both disciplined and wild. You must put the hard work into discovering what makes you tick and let yourself go just enough to imagine all the different ways to live your life in a way that fosters you.
While each person we have the pleasure to work with and each financial plan we create to support your well-designed life is delightfully different, the approach involves the same 5 steps:
“Empathize… with myself?!?” You may well be asking this question. Who doesn’t empathize with themselves? You may be surprised that the answer we have found (anecdotally) is: not that many people.
Empathizing with yourself within the structure of design thinking means truly understanding who you are and what you value. There’s a reason why people visit Buzzfeed and (up until recently) it really was not due to their breaking news stories – it was their quizzes. Whether determining which “Friend” they really are, or whether their spirit animal is a badger or a lion, people love learning about themselves. We don’t love learning about ourselves because we are narcissistic (truly). We love learning about ourselves because there is simply so much to know.
If you ascribe to a growth mindset, as we do, the truth is that you are a constant work in progress. You are also learning, adapting, and developing. To remain empathetic with you, that means constant review and reassessment, to ensure that the design you created, and are constantly creating, remains true to who you are today, and whom you plan to become in the future.
Empathy in your life could mean understanding that daily interaction with your close friends and extended family in a loving environment is vital to your ongoing happiness. It could mean knowing that without regular opportunities to wrestle with complex ideas, you would feel bereft of purpose. It could mean that you absolutely must create…something… anything… but always.
This first step ensures that the following steps hold meaning, purpose, and motivation for you.
Defining simply means deciding the overall outcomes you want. We say “simply” but we know from hard-earned experience that it is not “simple” to really decide and define your outcomes, especially for those of us who are dedicated to leaving doors of opportunity open. Remember that when you are defining this outcome – the how, the what – you are doing it on the basis of why. “Why” is up there, in step one.
Keep your definitions broad in scope at this point. You’re not getting married to the how and the what, but you are building up your deal-makers and deal-breakers for that first date.
If step one brought you the understanding that family and friends are what are going to do it for you, start defining that. Which family? Which friends? Where? How often? What do you do together? What would make that more exciting for you? Perhaps it’s your best friends, who are scattered all over the world. Perhaps it’s your children and grandchildren, specifically at your cottage or cabin.
If step one clarified that you want to constantly learn and/or create, then what are you learning, what are you creating? Are there experts you want to learn from and work with? Is there an outcome – a degree, or a level of expertise or recognition, or a constant reiteration of create, learn, create – with which you would feel satisfied?
Ideation is all about coming up with scenarios. Now that we have defined what gives you purpose and happiness, and a general idea of the how and the what, let’s start building ideas.
If your social network and community is those friends who are scattered around the world, could you build a life now or in the future dedicated to travelling to see them? How much of your life could you dedicate to it right now and what impact would that have on your finances? Could you happily delay your dedication to this travel until a later date? If so, what date would be your latest? Could you build a place in some location that is convenient to all of them, and they could come to you? What would that cost? How long would that take?
If your family network is the one that means so much, would you want to dedicate a day a week to it now? Are you willing to hold off and build towards it? Could they build it with you? What are the trade-offs that might occur?
If creation and learning are in the forefront of your mind, what resources could you use? Is there a learning program near you or far away? How much time could you/would you need to dedicate to it? Are there other creatives like you that you want to spend time with? Where are they? What are your opportunities? How would that impact your family, career, and finances?
Don’t let thoughts like, “But I don’t know what’s possible,” stop you during ideation. You’re not focused on the most practical, feasible, rational solution. You’re just building ideas.
Phew. That ideation stuff can go on forever (and it does). At some point, though, you’ll arrive at a few scenarios that you think you would be happy with. It may be just one, or it could be three to five. Somewhere in step three you found a few different ways of reaching your why that you might be happy with. Now is the time to apply those things we were ignoring in that step: practicality, rationality, and feasibility.
Find ways to experiment with the scenarios you’ve come up with. You may want to talk to your family about whether they’d actually be willing to go in on purchasing land with you, or talk to your friends in far-flung places about what their plans are for the time period you’d envisioned visiting them. You could test-run a few trips that take you around the world. You could contact educational institutions and individuals you admire to find out what might hold you back from the possibilities you’d envisioned.
In financial planning, we build models, with assumptions, testing whether that retirement date at year X, assuming a whole host of variables, could potentially work for you, and the trade-offs that might help you get there. We may also build a model that shows you reducing your paid work to 4 days a week, and determining how long that would delay your full financial freedom.
Regardless of what your ideas are, there are ways to prototype them. In prototyping, we find the gaps of information, and the pieces of information that are missing when we are ideating, and we arrive at pathways and possibilities.
Once you’ve built your prototypes and determined, based on that host of assumptions, what may be possible, your five different scenarios may now be two. This is the time to take them out into the real world and test them… and then iterate on the results.
You may find that your children and grandchildren would rather have a family base in a different geographical location, or that your best friend in Tunisia would like to hop on that worldwide trip with you. Or you may find that you don’t like being on the road (or in the air) quite as much as you thought. You may find that there is a limit to what you might enjoy learning in one particular field, and that you may have to build in additional areas of expertise in order to keep your mind and purpose strong. You may find that your spouse wants to retire much later than you do, and you may now want to test drive living on a single income for a period of time.
Design thinking can be used to solve small problems so that you can move forward to your next steps, or they can be applied to such large concerns as your life, which often means regularly cycling through the process.
We’ll admit that we love the process, or else we would not be as excited about what we do, or the writing ahead, as we definitely are. We look forward a year of sharing multiple ways you can apply design thinking to your life, how to make it easier for you to use, and how to build the life you didn’t know that you really wanted.