Colleagues aware of my work with financial professionals know this: story is a primary subject to which I return often. With the writing of Cadence of Care and the launch of my website in 2016, I have focused on how sharing a personal story connects with clients. To be clear, this approach is not using an anecdote or an “A is like B” analogy.

I advocate another way. “Story” is and will always be your story: how your life has been shaped by formative, turning-point moments. Whether in childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, or the fleeting present, an experience through which you lived—shared at an appropriate time—better defined who you are and what matters to you.

Recently, a young professional confided in me his struggle to break out of a career that was neither rewarding nor promising. As I listened to his words and felt the weight of his feelings, he came to a turning point moment in the conversation when he said, “I guess I’m not where I need or want to be. I must get to a better place.” He owned both his past and his present and changed for the better. It was a poignant conversation.

This blog begins a three-part series on the tenses of story: past, present, and future. We begin where only we can begin—our past. For several days, I have wrestled with what adjective to use to capture the power in your story’s past. “Poignant” was the winner and here’s why. Coming from a merger of Middle English and Old French, the word’s etymology suggests “to prick or sting.” Poignant moments may have no small measure of pain. September 11, 2001, and its aftermath was and will always be poignant in the history of our country. 

Poignant also has a positive, evocative meaning. A poignant moment may be a day (like 9/11) but can also be a season when we experienced wonder, joy, even transformation. Now married 46 years, I know such poignant moments: our wedding celebrations, the birth of our children, their first steps, recitals and graduations, seasons defined by sweet memories in family, work, moving musical performances, unforgettable travel experiences. A poignant moment and its memory bring a smile from deep down. 

Here’s my question: When you look at your life’s past, where are those poignant days or seasons when you were headed in one direction, stopped, turned, and went another way? Language that can help you identify them would include “then and now,” “I learned I was stuck here and needed to go there,” “I was ________, but realized I need to _______,” or “I will never forget that beautiful day when __________.” Poignant past stories begin with words that brim with imagery and feeling. 

So how and where would I use such stories with clients? First, recall just one of those moments, jot down briefly what happened, what you did, what you learned, and the difference it made. You know it’s true: a story can foster deeply compelling connections with others. When shared at appropriate times with clients, they see you more like them: on a journey with life reframed and redirected. 

Second, remember that stories connect with others. Many examples come to mind.

Here’s one. When I would share my story of foolishly selling everything in a very small IRA account in October 1987 following “Black Monday,” clients leaned in. Suddenly, they saw me years ago making a short-term decision with long-term resources. That poignant moment over 35 years ago still speaks to me and connected with clients. They saw my fear, dare I say market ignorance, and saw their own emotional struggles with money and investing.  

Your story’s poignant past will be a mixture of the difficult and the delightful, successes and failures, struggles and breakthroughs. In the next part of this series, I will teach you how your past can step into the palpable present. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.

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