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The Math Of Life—And The Future Of Financial Planning

27,375. That’s the number of days an average person lives. “Fewer if you eat salt-water taffy, and a few more if you eat broccoli,” according to Bob Goff in his inspired new book, Undistracted.

So according to Bob, and assuming my taffy-to-broccoli consumption nets out, I’ve got 10,525 days left, give or take. Here are some other ways to look at this numerically from my perspective. I’ve got:

– 1,508 more weekends

– 319 more U.S. government holidays

– 116 concerts (roughly)

– 29 more Thanksgiving meals

– 2 (soon to be 1) more high school graduations

– 1 more…?

And how many of those Thanksgivings will I enjoy in the presence of my parents, both of whom I’m fortunate to still have in my life? My high school senior and sophomore boys—how many more times will I make at least one of them lunch before shuffling off to school? (Rough count—around 200.)

“How many days remain for you? Do the math. Who will you decide to be, and what will you decide to do with the time you have left?” Goff implores. “We can spend our remaining days focused on the meaningful and beautiful and joyous and purposeful, or we can drift aimlessly and fritter away our one wild and precious life.”

Where Financial Planning Has Failed Us

The point, therefore, isn’t to be morbid about how little time we have left—but to be intentional about the time remaining. And this is where financial planning has failed us too often, in not better connecting its recommendations to our personal purpose. Yet this lacking is also our greatest opportunity, to empower financial planning with intention.

But how? It’s harder than you’d think, while it’s also simpler than you might expect.

It’s harder because you don’t learn about someone’s values, purpose, or intentions by asking them, “So what are your values? Your purpose? Your intentions?”

Values, purpose, and intention are all great, of course—but they’re also abstract. These ethereal notions aren’t part of our everyday vernacular, so even when you manage to get an answer to direct questions like these, you’re likely to get something that’s canned, that sounds more like a bank’s corporate mission statement than an expression of one’s unique motivations.

It’s simpler, though, when we translate these abstractions into the language of life. For example, you could break life down into four notably non-financial areas that are common to most:

– Relationships (family, friends, co-workers)

– Wellness (physical, psychological, spiritual)

– Work (career, vocation, service)

– Interests (causes, hobbies, passions)

All it takes is a good, open-ended question to get someone rolling on any of the topics above and most people will talk for 10-15 minutes (often more), especially with the aid of the additional qualifiers listed.

Navigating through a conversation like this, you’ll start to see a few consistent themes, topics that are raised across numerous categories, and subjects that clearly evoke an emotional response. These elements reveal themselves and become the answers to the questions about values and purpose that you never had to ask.

The Future Of Financial Planning

The irony is that within the domain of financial planning, “emotion” has been (and still is mostly) used only in pejorative terms. And while it’s rarely a good thing to respond “emotionally” to a scenario that leads to suboptimal behavior, of course, it is typically through emotion that our deepest held intentions are illuminated—thereby becoming the compass for our planning. And it is often through emotion that we discover the resolve necessary to stick with the plan, too.

This, I believe, is the future of financial planning. Not just improving someone’s asset allocation, increasing their retirement plan contributions, minimizing their taxes paid, transferring their risk appropriately through insurance, updating their beneficiary designations, or paying for college.

Yes, all of those things are generally good, but not inherently. They are made good through the discovery of purpose; they are made good through the intention that empowers them.

The future of financial planning is the infusion of life within it, and that begins with the very math of life itself, at least according to Bob Goff—and the Psalmist: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)

How are you planning to spend yours?