Some time back, I read an article published by New York Times guest columnist Carl Richards, CFP® that offered wisdom. Titled, “Your Future Should Be Bigger Than Your Past. Here’s How to Do It,” Richards takes on a phenomenon advisors face every day.

Time with clients often finds us in the weeds of conversations about the past. We see this clearly as we review past performance charging off the pages of a numbers-saturated statement. And that’s only the beginning. The past can painfully reappear when health, career, family, and retirement issues bubble up. 

Like an occasional glance at a vehicle’s rearview mirror, the past ought to get smaller as we drive our lives forward. We all know that’s not the case! In fact, the past holds an uncommon fascination for us because we can see it, analyze it, and hope to take lessons from it. Life’s rearview mirror is so alluring. But who wants to be in a car with a driver whose primary focus is that tiny mirror in the middle of the windshield?

Richards tells a story of three friends from high school who meet up occasionally and how they wrestled with a provocative question. “If we were having tea three years from now in this exact same place, sitting in these exact same chairs, what would need to happen for each of us to be happy with those three years?”

Put that question in client-speak. Ask, “If we were sitting together three years from now, what would you like to believe took place over the last 36 months that made a difference in how you imagined the future?” Ask clients to story-board that question if money and/or health concerns were not an issue. Nudge them to be candid by asking what they expect of you in terms of support, coaching, and leadership.

You might consider sharing a story recalling a time when your past seemed threatening. How did you face your past? Make a better decision? And how has that future-facing moment made a difference in your life? Doing so may well make you more relatable helping your client know they too can stare down whatever it is “back there.”

My hunch is that focusing on the future has game-changing possibilities. Tomorrow’s windshield is so much bigger than yesterday’s rearview mirror! Facing forward might help clients imagine a preferred, better future. Doing so would not only change a conversation but may well deepen your relationship with each other. 

As an advisor, you have far more power in your hands than Harry Potter’s wand! Story-scaping the future, imagining new horizons and better choices is a far more satisfying exercise than parsing old numbers and wallowing in the past. Do this. Go with “future big – past small” to discover, even for those of us in the business for years, a new, more wondrous, and fulfilling road ahead.

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