By Scott Keffer
Deja vu and been there before. For Bill Murray’s character in the movie, Groundhog Day, that phrase took on new meaning, and literally. If you’ve seen it, you know that he portrayed a weatherman sent to Punxatawny to report on the annual Groundhog Day ritual. Only, something very strange happened: he got stuck re-living the same day over and over again. And that’s how he felt—stuck! He replayed a favorite day in his head and lamented, “Why couldn’t I be stuck in that day?”
If you had to be stuck in one day, over and over, would it be the day you are living now? Or, would it be another day? In other words, what would your ideal lifestyle look like?
In one poignant scene, Bill Murray was sitting at a bar with some Punxatawny locals, lamenting, “I am living the same day over and over again, and it doesn’t matter what I do!”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” replied the sympathetic bar mate. Do you feel like that—stuck—trapped in a lifestyle that you aren’t particularly happy about? With the sense that it doesn’t matter what you do—that somebody, or something, is determining your future. What if you could be set free? That’s what successful people tell us they want: to be free, not just from financial worries, but to be free to do what they really want with their lives, to be free to pursue their life purpose.
I want you to ask yourself a very important question: If I could wave a magic wand, what would my ideal lifestyle look like? Here are some others that may help to stimulate your thinking. If I could spend my time doing anything in the world, what would it be? Am I living exactly where I want to live? Am I investing my talents and resources in the most important things possible? Do I travel whenever and wherever I want? Do I have dreams, spoken or unspoken, that I have not yet accomplished?
Let me introduce you to Ben and his wife Marcia (a composite of a number of our clients). Ben is a successful physician by most measures. However, he did not have a macro, strategic wealth plan and he had never defined his ideal lifestyle, or thought about how to transition into it. What he did know was that he was highly frustrated with his current lifestyle. No matter what he said, his eyes telegraphed his real feelings: medicine had lost its once energizing magic. The sale of his practice to Megahealth, Inc. was not what he had expected. He was no longer a doctor in his own practice, he had been transformed back into an employee, like the reverse of the frog to prince transformation. Now all he had was a job—a job which he didn’t like very much.
So when Marcia gently urged him to attend the private briefing sponsored by the hospital foundation, he was surprisingly open. He had seen many presentations. They were always pretty much the same, but he looked forward to seeing his colleagues and giving his mind a break. So when the speaker challenged him, he was caught by surprise, in fact, a bit annoyed. “Ideal lifestyle?” he asked. Who was this guy anyway, and what did he know about my life. And what right did he have to ask me such personal questions? And how come he was right? Not only had it penetrated Ben, but also Marcia. She struggled to smile as she looked at the faces of the other doctors and their spouses. Where have all our dreams gone? What happened to the lifestyle we have so often talked about? Trampled under foot by reality, she thought.
But this man and his presentation were resuscitating those dreams. She was feeling energized, a bit hopeful, for the first time in a long time. Ben sat afraid to believe that his life could be different, worried that the pressure of tomorrow would steamroll his revived hope.
Fortunately, Marcia had enough hope, and energy, for both of them. Enough to set up an initial meeting. That first meeting was nothing like they had ever experienced. They had been through financial planning, investment planning, estate planning, but it was nothing like this. No one had ever asked them these questions. No one had ever taken the time, or had the skill, to peer through the window of his or her soul and help them verbalize their dreams.
On the way home it hit them both. Marcia was the first to verbalize it. Almost timidly, she asked Ben, “How could anyone make recommendations to us without knowing the answer to these questions? He didn’t answer. He was afraid to.
They decided to proceed through the macro, strategic planning process. The process helped them articulate their ideal lifestyle, put words to their vision for the family and set priorities and goals for their wealth over the next 100 years. Ironic, they thought, in the midst of an increasing chaotic world, they were becoming crystal clear about who they were and what they wanted. Ben did not want to practice any longer, at least not now under these circumstances. Maybe down the road. They wanted to take time to travel around the world. They also wanted to give some time back to the community: to the hospital, the arts and hurting children.
It’s easy to dream, Ben thought, but what about reality? Can we really do this at age 50? Do we have enough money? How will we get from where we are to where we want to be? Not to worry, they were told. All of these, and their other questions, would be answered, and they were.
They were taught the difference between vision, priorities, goals, strategies, tactics, tools and timing, and how they fit together in a macro, strategic 100-year plan. Ben was amazed at how much sense this approach made. Those he had relied upon in the past were always focusing on tactics and tools, a micro approach. He thought about Marcia’s question that night in the car.
Ben and Marcia are in transition to their ideal lifestyle, living out their 100 year plan. He is almost completely out of the practice, they are traveling more, giving time to their causes and moving to their dream house in southern California.
Just ten months had passed since that night at the presentation and it was like someone had waved a magic wand. “I would never have believed that we could have the life that we had always dreamed of. Thanks,” said Ben. Marcia’s smile was her hearty “amen.”
Accumulating wealth is about having the ability to go where you want, when you want and do what you want. We firmly believe that wealth is more than money. Wealth has more than a financial dimension. It also has a spiritual/emotional dimension and a social dimension. It encompasses your time, talents and resources, not just your money.
To be effective, true wealth planning must utilize a process that integrates all three dimensions. Advanced, macro wealth planning is a process driven by a clear picture of your ideal lifestyle and is designed to set you free to live the life you have always wanted to live. It allows you to dream and achieve powerful results, to more fully enjoy your wealth and to more powerfully use it in the lives of those about whom you care most.
The affluent we have helped over the last 20 years, despite being successful, rarely have had a written macro, strategic wealth plan and almost never have given any thought to transitioning. Transitioning does not mean retirement, it means a clear strategy to use your wealth to transition from your present lifestyle to your ideal lifestyle.
So why aren’t you living your ideal lifestyle—going where you want, when you want, doing what you want? Maybe you’ve never been given the opportunity to think like this. Charles Handy, a well-known business consultant, said, “It is one of the paradoxes of success that the things and ways that got you there are seldom those things that keep you there.” It is critical that you understand that maintaining and enjoying your wealth requires a different mindset and very different strategies than those employed to accumulate wealth. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is to do the same things you have always done and expect different results.
Toward the end of the movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character learned something very simple, yet profound. When he began to change himself, his thinking and actions, his day began to change. He was set free when he began to live the life that he had always wanted to live. It had always been up to him.
How about you? What’s standing in your way? Grab a piece of paper right now and sit down. Begin to dream—dream about your ideal lifestyle and write it down. Be as specific as you can. Then, find a specialist trained in advanced, macro strategic wealth planning and hire them to set you free.
The Chinese have a saying, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Start planting and start living your ideal lifestyle.
Scott Keffer is president and founder of Wealth Transfer Solutions, Inc., a legacy planning company in Pittsburgh.