Passion & Bell Curve

Have you ever had one of those friends that you were tight with, but later you started to wonder if you really knew each other?

It was five years ago when Damon, my old college roommate, went with me to a golf tournament in Graeagle, Calif. It’s about 50 miles as the crow flies from Lake Tahoe. The countryside is as majestic as Tahoe: The roads are carved into the pine forest and often follow the rivers that flow down the mountain. With every passing tree and every glance at the water rushing down the river, you can feel the weight of the world start to fall off your shoulders and tumble back to the valley floor.

The tournament is a man’s man tournament. It is held in October when the cold has just started to settle in. There is always a 30% chance of precipitation. The tournament went well and was capped off with an evening barbecue. But it wasn’t the tournament that brought me to an “aha” moment. It was the long ride back home that provided inspiration.

Back in college Damon was not only my roommate but my teammate in whatever sport we were playing. It didn’t matter if it was a field sport – softball, basketball, etc. – or a rehydration sport – anchorman, beer pong, etc. You would be hard pressed to find two more competitive guys. There was no doubt in our minds we would win, every time. We worked well together. We didn’t have to look up to see where each other was on the basketball court, we just knew. His athleticism didn’t die when he left college. He was still dunking at age 38. His passion for basketball drove him to work as a teacher, so he could pursue his love for basketball through coaching. While I enjoyed playing the game, I never really understood his fascination with coaching. To me there was only a family-supporting career in it if you coached for a big college team or for the pros. But then you would likely have to give up a lot of family time to get there.

On our trip back, the two of us began to talk about his coaching choice and my career choice. It wasn’t long into the drive, when I found out that Damon had a similar feeling with my choice as a financial advisor as I did for him being a coach. It was as if we didn’t know each other anymore.

Damon was wrestling with the thought of “How did my beer drinking buddy turn into some guy that wants to work with finances all of his life?” And maybe more to the point, “Has he gone off the deep end and forgotten our roots? Was he now some money grubbing guy?!”

The conversation started simply enough. He mentioned he was moving to a new school to become vice principal and I asked if he would miss coaching. With a sad look in his eyes and one hand on the steering wheel, he turned to me and simply said, “Yeah.” As we drove down the mountain, we began to ask each other deeper questions about our careers, coaching, and what is important to us. About an hour into the drive, it dawned on me that we still were the same two people as in college.

The two-hour ride seemed to take 20 minutes as we talked and realized the depth in each other’s life. For Damon it wasn’t about being a coach for the sake of living out some unfulfilled basketball dreams, it was about passion; passion for a game that he loves and the enjoyment of passing that passion onto others. Watching a young athlete develop is exciting to him.

Damon learned that it wasn’t much different for me. When I’m working with someone, whether a couple or an individual, I follow the same process that he does. First I take an assessment of the client. Not just their financial picture, but also their skill set (career), financial aptitude, etc. If they are going to “win” in the game of life – I mean really win – where they feel like they have run a great race and broken through the finish tape with their hands up – they need to find passion.

I have noticed that the more passions my clients have, the happier they are. Passion in work, friends, family, spouse, etc., all get bundled in to help them get the best out of life. It is just as true in sports. You can have all of the skills you want, but if you don’t have the passion, it will be an uphill battle and likely one that will finish short of what could have been realized.

Finding passion is often tough for people. They have built their life much like a city that didn’t start with any design. They grab a career based on the job they can get, buy a house, start the family, etc. Then, not long into it, they turn around and wonder where they are and how they got there. Lost, confused, tired, out of control (or feeling like they don’t have the control they want), they continue to push themselves to make a life out of what they have in front of them. Like many basketball players that haven’t properly developed their shot, they miss shots they should make. If only they would take a little more time to practice – or plan out their life.

The similarities don’t stop there. Of course many people have passion for things. The next “aha” came when Damon and I both realized that we weren’t just good at what we do – we are respected by our peers as some of the best. Oddly enough, this revelation brought me back to my finance classes and the picture of the simple Bell Curve. Yes, that picture that looks like a kid’s drawing of a little mountain.

For those that aren’t as passionate about math as I am, the bell curve represents a data set. It is the linear distribution of that data set. Let’s put it this way: people that can’t dribble a ball are on the left, the average basketball player is in the middle, and those that are great go to the right of the bell curve. Damon is on the right side of the curve when it comes to playing basketball. He is also on the right side when you look at high school coaches. His teams have done very well and he has be recognized by his peers as a superior coach. If you graphed this it might look like a mountain.

In a similar fashion, I sit on the right side of the curve when it comes to financial advisors. When measured against my peers, my asset growth is higher, retention is higher, and those in my industry seek out my advice. While it is nice to know that your peers admire you, it is MUCH more important to see the growth of my players (my clients). The true “wins” I get are from them. Seeing how many positive changes my clients make in their lives, such as spending more time with their family, changing their career, or even taking time off of their career to find their passion, is what gets me motivated every day to work with my clients. If Damon gets joy out of watching his team work together to win a game, I get similar joy out of watching couples (and individuals) work hard to achieve their goals.

You see Damon and I have similarities: passion and ability. You have to have both of these to succeed at what you want to do.

Do you know what your passions are? Do you know what you are best at? What you are really skilled at doing? If your skill set was developed, would you be on the right side of the curve when your peers evaluate you? Take some time today to think about your passions, your skills and how you can move your life to encompass more of both. Write them down and put simple actionable steps to them. You will feel more in control of your life by doing this. I promise! Who inspires you? Who do you know that is looking for their passion? Send this blog on to them to help them find their passion.

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