Note: We work with many clients through challenging transitions, including retirement, selling a business or death of a spouse. We want to share our personal experiences of major life changes. They help us provide thoughtful advice. This is the first installment of our series. It features Jo Beth Mullens.
I was very fortunate to grow up on the banks of a beautiful lake in the Ozark Mountains. Our backyard pitched straight down to the water’s edge, allowing me to swim and sail throughout the summers of my youth.
On hot and humid afternoons, quick-moving thunderstorms sometimes appeared on our lake without warning, catching me far from the shore on my single-sail Sunfish. During one such storm, my tiny vessel capsized. I was left stranded without a life jacket, clinging to the hull in choppy waters until a passing motorboat finally came to my aid.
My mother, frantic with worry, watched this scene unfold from the deck of our home. When I finally clambered up the hillside, she breathed a great sigh of relief. But, to her dismay, instead of avoiding the lake on stormy days from that point forward, this incident charged me with excitement – sending me out time and again when tempests brewed.
From those lakeside beginnings, I went on to study and become a professor of geography and environmental studies. I loved nature. I loved learning. I loved sharing what I learned with others. I loved taking my students on far-flung (and sometimes treacherous) adventures.
Don’t get me wrong, attaining this academic career was not easy. In fact, it was hard work, marked by challenges which involved researching, writing, presenting, teaching, speaking at conferences, and publishing. The expectations were high; but, with time, the challenges became easier to navigate, less fear-inducing, tamer. Although my job still required sustained effort, it became evident that I could sail this increasingly comfortable vessel straight into retirement. But that, of course, wasn’t me. The youth in the Sunfish beckoned me back into the water.
Transitions. They are such funny things. So exhilarating in some ways, so panic-inducing in others. As I began to consider stepping away from the field I knew well, I needed to determine where I might head next. I had many interests, but the interest that kept rising to the top for me was financial planning. I had watched my father and grandfather handle the finances of their small lumber and hardware business – plan for their family’s future before the field of financial planning was widely available in my small Arkansas hometown.
I had met with my own financial advisors over the years, as a graduate student and, later, as a university employee. Their advice was sound, and I followed it, for the most part. But now and again, the researcher in me wanted to explore other approaches, to dig deeper. I began to see that there were layers of choice related to this field that intrigued me.
These were my first steps. However, it took a little more to encourage me to take the final leap from my old job into the uncharted waters of a whole new field. Perhaps most compelling were the discussions I had with my colleagues about their own financial circumstances. Despite having worked diligently to become college professors, several of them admitted feeling everything from disinterest to anxiety around their financial choices.
Recognizing my nascent interest in the field, some of them asked to talk with me about the decisions they were making. While understanding the limits of my counsel, I was deeply drawn to these discussions, wanting to know more to better help them answer questions–some of which would impact the trajectory of their lives. When I serendipitously encountered Nancy Langdon Jones’ text, So You Want to Be a Financial Planner, I realized that the answer was a definite, yes! And after much contemplation, I decided to launch that Sunfish into the water once again.
So, what is the lesson learned from the life transition I have chosen to make?
On a global scale, life transitions, whether they are thrust upon us or willingly undertaken, command our full attention. When we allow them adequate time and purposeful reflection, they can result in life-affirming growth. They require us to absorb life’s swells as we move through them, and to realize that we are likely to experience sea-legs even when we reach the next patch of solid ground. When we invite transitions and pay close attention to the ones we have willingly chosen, I believe we are better prepared for those that come to us without warning.
And on the personal level, the career transition I have chosen to make has assured me that my inner/daring youth is still intact. At mid-life and during a pandemic, I have stepped from a larger schooner that might have offered smoother sailing, to an unfamiliar vessel; but one with a new crew ready to help me steer clear of the rocks.
On most days, I feel extremely energized by what I have taken on, excited about what lies ahead. Will there be further storms for me? Of course. That is simply part of life. Yet, I feel certain that I will continue to put my boat into the water. But this time, you can be sure that I will tuck a life jacket into my hold.