My CFP® Journey: Mission Accomplished, Lessons Learned
I am excited to report that on November 5, 2020, I passed the Certified Financial Planner™ Exam (AKA the CFP®). In recent discussions with clients and friends, I have found myself explaining what that means. The description from the CFP® website reads, “CFP® professionals have attained the standard of excellence in financial planning by meeting education, experience and ethical standards, and as part of their certification, they have made a commitment to the CFP Board to serve your best interests today to prepare you for a more secure tomorrow.”
Here is the story of how it all happened, and the valuable things I learned about myself along the way.
In February of this year, I met with some good friends to discuss their future (and drink a few beers). After the financial part of our discussion ended they asked me, “What are you doing to continue your education”? The question hit me like a ton of bricks. My honest answer was, “Well I’ve always planned to pursue the Certified Financial Planner™ designation but just haven’t gotten around to doing it.” Even though they did not ask the question to challenge my competence, but rather to encourage my personal and professional growth, I took it as a sign. I made the decision to hit the books.
To obtain the CFP® designation you have to complete the certification process, which involved:
If you are a “just give me the facts” type of person, you can quit reading now.
Above are the boxes you must check to move through the program. Any large project is going to come with a checklist. However, what I found interesting are the intangibles that were necessary to accomplish this big goal. When faced with a daunting task, we must look internally for strength, organization, mantras, etc. This became a project not only to pass a very difficult exam but also (and more importantly) to find out what I was made of.
As I contemplated work from home, the pandemic, the challenges that arise with large drops in the stock market, and my need to pass this exam in early November, I realized I needed to get very serious. I started waking up early to think. As the days went on I noticed certain thoughts, or topics, kept coming up. I started writing them down and slowly but surely started forming some ideas that felt worthy of action . In May, I decided to take these thoughts and form a list of rules for my life. The rules guided me through the vigors of the CFP® curriculum, and the rest of what 2020 had in store for me.
1. Wake up early
My 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son were home and I was under a work from home order. When would I study? It became obvious very quickly that I would have to start waking up much earlier to study. Waking up at 5:30 every day (weekends too) and being able to retain what you are reading requires a good night’s sleep. That means going to bed much earlier than normal. That means being aware of your caffeine and alcohol intake. This rule is first because I found it to be the lynchpin of my lifestyle adjustment. I also had to figure out how to wake up quietly so my 5:30 alarm was not also my wife’s. There were several days when this was an easy excuse to miss my wake up time. I finally found the silent alarm feature on my Fitbit to be the exact solution I needed.
2. Do not complain
What good does complaining to my wife about studying income taxes do? What good does complaining about being tired do? I realized that my complaining was a cry for sympathy. I was doing something hard and wanted someone to acknowledge it. Luckily, Stephanie (my wife) is a lawyer who passed the Florida Bar Exam. Once I took in that perspective I realized no matter how difficult this exam was going to be, it would pale in comparison to the Bar Exam. In other words, quit whining and get to work on the education that you chose to complete. How often do we stall our progress by complaining about a task or situation instead of accepting it?
3. Remove ego
I found myself thinking, “I don’t need to read every line of this text book on retirement planning, I’ve been a financial advisor for 13 years!” My ego was telling me that I was above the curriculum. With every page I read, it became obvious I was not. Once I surrendered to the need for slow and careful gathering of knowledge with a more clinical mindset, I started thriving. I kicked my ego out of the equation and found myself enjoying the material. Simultaneously, many clients were facing uncertainty to a degree that was unprecedented. These situations require me to be deeply empathetic if I am to understand their feelings enough to give good advice. I had to be on all day and had no room for the selfishness an ego requires.
4. Be kind and forgiving
Meanwhile, I have family, clients, friends, and a team that need me. It would have been very easy to snap on people or fall victim to the stress of it all (you know, 2020). I had to remember to be patient and caring even though I had numbers and laws running through my head at all times of the day and night.
5. Work hard
This one is obvious but necessary to any serious list.
6. Embrace unpleasantness
Dread took over when I got into the Income Tax Planning book and learned that, “Refer to a CPA” was not included in any of the answer choices. I just had to suck it up and embrace the unpleasantness as manifested in the Internal Revenue Code (understatement of the year, sorry CPA friends). You cannot learn something if your internal dialogue is, “this is crazy, I do not need to know all this.” Therefore, you must change your mindset and fully embrace it.
7. Eat and drink prudently
I need a lot of sleep. I could not wake up at 5:30 ready to go unless I was asleep at 9:00. I figured out that I did not sleep well if I had coffee after 10:00 AM or more than one beer (and there were many nights during 2020 when I wanted several more). I also started noticing how eating too much or certain unhealthy foods effected my sleep. As I said, getting the sleep right required being aware of so many other things I had going on.
8. Maintain mental and physical health
As part of my schedule, I did 10-15 minutes of yoga in the morning on most days. I also read a ton of philosophy and history books as well as a few novels. I found the yoga and books to be incredibly helpful in my mindset but more importantly, I gained perspective on the entirety of the human existence. 2020 was a brutal year but I learned how to focus on what I could control and to let go of what I could not.
That is the story of my CFP® journey thus far. I hope this essay allows you better insight into how I think and approach problems.
The year 2020 forced all of us to make drastic life changes. I am very fortunate that my family was able to escape the year healthy and largely unscathed. For me personally, the rigor of the pursuit of the CFP® designation opened the door to so many other life lessons I needed to learn. For that, I am eternally grateful and excited to put my skills into practice with the families I feel so honored to serve.
In addition to helping oversee finances, I want to help people live fulfilling lives. Below are some of the things my family and I enjoyed last year.
Things I like:
- Books - Things I Like list on Amazon. These are books or other items I have enjoyed. I will continue updating as I come across cool stuff.
- Music - I am working on this playlist, Music as Meditation.
- Recipes - I must’ve made 50 pizzas last year. Sadly, the recipe still isn’t worth sharing. I am determined to get it right!
- Restaurants -Takeout from Olivia Tampa (best Brussel Sprouts dish on earth!)
- Vacations - welp
- Outdoor adventures - Camping and the beach at Fort Desoto, hiking the trails at Hillsborough River State Park. Our neighborhood park (Swann Circle Park or as our kids call it “The Forest Park”).