The Psychology of Progress


As I write this, my partner is on his way to a meeting with one of our clients with a bottle of vintage champagne in hand. We don't bring champagne to every client meeting (though, it would be an interesting marketing ploy). But these clients have been working with us a number of years and have just recently topped $1 million dollars in their investment accounts. It's a moment worth celebrating, all the more so because, what with their busy jobs and the investments strung across several different types of accounts, they don't yet realize that they've done it.Our firm has a lot of hard-working clients. All of them spend years as entrepreneurs, employees or artists earning what they have. And most of them don't come to us with millions in stocks—some come in with just a willingness to plan and the hope of building up investments. So, it's a particularly good day when one of our clients reaches his or her next milestone. It is also an affirmation that the "small" strategies really do add up to big successes. We all recognize some of the simplest of these "small" strategies – the monthly contributions to retirement accounts; the extra few years you wait before replacing a car; the part-time work that gets you just a little further with those college savings. In fact, the only problem with "small" strategies is that your progress, too, sometimes feels small. Caught up in day-to-day living we have often stopped looking at the road signs along the way by the time we get to the next one. This, then, becomes an important part of the work that an advisor does. Sure, we create a set of strategies for each client. But with a few exceptions (usually having to do with the tax bill), those strategies are designed to work over time. They don't come with the dramatic flare of a kitchen make-over or new job. In fact, it's easy to forget sometimes that they are working at all. Which means that as advisors, we also need to be sure to remind our client to look up every now and again to see how far she has come. It's the best part of the job and, more importantly, the thing that makes the next few years of monthly savings and putting up with that pesky rattle in the car feel less like a burden and more like progress.

So if your Tuesday isn't feeling especially inspired, don't be afraid to give yourself credit for the little bit further you've come. And maybe grab yourself a bottle of champagne to be ready for the next milestone.