At the beginning of this three-part series, we learned how to identify poignant, turning-point moments in our past that have powerfully shaped who we are. Then we explored how we can bring those turning point stories into the palpable present. Now we look to story’s fertile future and the energy stories.

Though I read the book 30 years ago, the most significant sentence—at least for me—in Stephen Covey’s 1989 best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was what he called Habit 2: “Begin with the end in mind.” Though I would like to tell you I practice this habit “all the time,” the truth is, my best work has that simple sentence in focus. 

I worked as a licensed financial professional for more than 14 years. I earned the CFP® three years into that journey and built a very successful team and practice. But I did my best work with clients when I prepared for a client engagement with a clear focus on “the end in mind.” That simple admonition may apply to the use of stories as much or more than any other aspect of our work. Why?

A story is a living, emotively breathing life force. All the great literature humankind has created is living then and now. From the works of Homer to the Bible, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austin, Tolstoy, and Morrison, to the series that has you hooked on Netflix, stories are alive. Though I’m not a golfer, I have listened to stories of about making a hole-in-one that were unforgettable. Stories move in and take up residence in those who engage their wonder. Your clients may never remember the performance of a portfolio in any given quarter. They will never forget how they felt when you asked them to share a story from their life that formed in them the person they are. 

What if we prepared for every client meeting by reminding ourselves to listen for the story? To use Covey’s first habit, “be proactive” giving thought to a question you could ask that might trigger an important response couched in a story. Aware of what you need to learn, reflect on your own life, and pull from your library’s storied shelves a turning point through which you lived that just might fit into that conversation. 

You may disagree with me for many reasons—”I’m just too busy to go there,” or “I’m not a therapist and frankly, my clients aren’t interested in this ‘stuff’,” would be two! But for financial professionals who know that client engagements can almost be perfunctory, even mechanical, this is a way forward into a much more fertile future than the past.

Creating, remembering, and using a story or stories with clients works best when we remember the future is always fertile ground awaiting the plow of our imagination, empathy, and care. Turning over that rich soil is often the needed preparation to harvest deeper, more meaningful, and lasting client relationships.

More than one client confided in me formative, shaping aspects of their lives no one else knew, often not even their partner or spouse. What our sharing of stories created was a space for me, the financial professional, to understand those clients’ fears, joys, motivations, values, and often faith. Knowing those non-business components of their lives made my work easier and much, much more fulfilling. “Tim, no one has ever asked me questions about, well, me. Thank you!” Begin with that end in mind believing the fertile future will yield a harvest of lasting, mutually beneficial relationships that will change your life and the culture of your practice.

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