Yowza, this has not been a great week. A sweet young guy who worked in my building, only 24 years old, died in his sleep from a burst appendix. My dream of electing the first female president vanished in front of my eyes. I had an extremely uncomfortable situation with a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer. And finally, I found out that a friend from high school, one of my fellow cheerleaders and my morning ride to school, tragically passed away and left 3 young sons. I’ve done my fair share of crying and I'm ready to start over on Monday.
Rob Base nailed it, life is both joy and pain, sunshine and rain. I’ve taken away two important reminders from these sad experiences. First, life is short. This certainly isn’t breaking news, but when we get wrapped up in our petty day to day problems it’s easy to forget how fragile and fleeting our time here can be. We need to wring as much happiness from each day as possible. Second, it’s not always easy being a woman. We face some unique challenges and need to be prepared for them, both emotionally and in practice.
On the surface, these two conclusions seem a bit contradictory from a financial perspective. Life is short – live every day like it’s your last! But…we need to be prepared, responsible and tough. I believe that we can marry these two ideas to build a responsible yet fulfilling future. These are my suggestions on how to strike a balance in your financial life between planning and enjoying:
You Have to Do the Work
Free online advice is available in abundance these days, but the self-improvement industry still brings in about $10 billion per year. We are addicted to life hacks and shortcuts to weight loss, perfect relationships and untold riches. The irony is that most of the industry’s biggest customers are repeat offenders. The most likely purchaser of a self-help book is the same person who has purchased one in the past 18 months. Full disclosure – I am guilty as charged. I regularly read Tim Ferris and James Altucher and Brené Brown to name just a few. The problem became that reading these blogs and books made me feel like I was accomplishing something, but in fact I was idling.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to life’s challenges. The stumbling block most of us face is not a lack of information, but a lack of commitment to action. As Erica Jong said, “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”
Lasting Change Requires Action and Determination
Any lasting change requires good old-fashioned determination. We can journal and make to-do lists until the cows come home, but until we back up our plans with action nothing material is going to change. I worked on the plan for this business for over a year without taking enough action to make it a reality. I read a lot, and made notes, and wrote about ideas to write about, but I never published anything. Finally, I ordered business cards and that was enough to change everything. That small action, a mere $100 investment, was enough commitment to get my momentum moving forward.
The tendency to plan and not act is especially problematic when it comes to overhauling your financial life. Tracking your spending and setting boundaries on luxuries is a great first step toward meeting your financial goals, but the hard part is making those tough decisions in the moment. Saying no to the last minute weekend trip or gorgeous boots staring at you from one of the gazillion shopping emails in your inbox can be difficult to do. If you’re debating the decision in each individual situation, eventually you are going to run out of willpower. The key to successfully taking action is tweaking your thought process around progress. I’ll save you hundreds of hours of reading – these are three mental shifts I found helpful in moving from analysis-paralysis into the action stage.
Three Mental Shifts to Move into Action
1. The 1% Plan: Set small goals attainable in the short-term, then take the first step and then the next. Don’t obsess about the end result. Focusing on the larger goal can be overwhelming and demotivating. If you need to save $100,000 for the down payment on your dream apartment, then focus on the first $1,000. It’s enough of a challenge to motivate you, but not so much that you’ll feel like throwing in the towel. Also, set the time frame for accomplishing each 1% increment. Write it down somewhere visible and track your progress.
The small step of ordering my business cards was a 1% commitment to action. My next 1% was polishing my website enough to launch it, not perfect it. Then I wrote my first new blog post. Every day my new 1% goal is to improve my site, write, or develop connections to grow my business. And when I get overwhelmed by a situation I always remember the immortal words of Dory from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
2. Find Your Hook: Figure out what value or goal motivates you and hooks your interest. Money on its own doesn’t motivate me. Some people obsess about the accumulation of wealth as a goal on its own, but that doesn’t work for me. I’ve been in financial services for 20 years and I never took the hard-charging jobs that would fill my coffers. I always tried to do things that were interesting but still allowed me the lifestyle I enjoyed because I most value freedom: freedom to set my own schedule, freedom to travel, freedom to do something that I believe is helping people. In order to have this freedom I need money. I like to joke that my parents forgot to leave me my trust fund, so I need to be responsible for funding my freedom. This hook is what keeps me from surfing the internet, listening to music and walking my dog all day long.
What is your primary motivator? Is it freedom as well? Philanthropy? Security? Power? Keep your motivation in the front of your mind when you feel like giving in to the path of least resistance.
3. Be Kind to Yourself: Stop beating yourself up. In “The Willpower Instinct,” author Kelly McGonigal says that we may think that guilt motivates us to correct our mistakes, but evidence shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. Guilt makes us feel like, well, we already messed up once, might as well do it again. In contrast, being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and (self-declared) failure, is associated with more motivation and better self-control.
Forgiveness, not guilt, increases accountability. Taking a self-compassionate point of view on a shortcoming makes us more likely to take personal responsibility and correct course. We are also more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience. Letting go of your past “mistake” can wipe the slate clean. If you haven’t been saving for your goals on a regular basis, today is the best day to begin.
In case you want to help take the self-help industry from $10 billion to $11 billion, here are some of my favorites on motivation and breaking through resistance.
Some of My Favorite Books and Podcasts to Get Motivated
"The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It" by Kelly McGonigal
"Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" by Brené Brown
"Rising Strong" by Brené Brown
"Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action" by Simon Sinek
"Do the Work" by Steven Pressfield
"The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield
"Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative" by Austin Kleon
"The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph" by Ryan Holiday
"The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work" by Shawn Achor
"What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question" by Po Bronson
The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast (General Link)
The Tim Ferriss Show - The Importance of Being Dirty: Lessons from Mike Rowe
James Altucher Podcast Ep. 159 – Derek Sivers: The Zen Master of Entrepreneurship
Rereading my "Unexpected Vacation" post below I am shocked to see the time stamp from November 2015. Nine months have passed since I published my story about taking time off, and boy, what a long strange trip it's been. A project I thought would materialize did not, I planned a consultant training program with a friend but then both of our lives went in different directions, I decided to look for a job, I did a bad job of looking for a job, then I really tried to look for a job and got one. I started said job - a completely new path for me doing sales for financial research - and six weeks later I quit that job. Self realization: I am not a pure sales person. At least not for something that isn't truly my own.
During this period the idea for my business continued to gasp for air while those demons of rationality and practicality tried their best to suffocate it. Slowly I let the angels of creativity and freedom have a serious beat down on those demons, and now I'm relaunching Zenith Partners with a slightly different concept than the original. Instead of focusing on managing money for women, I've pivoted toward the educational and coaching component for women and couples. I've become involved in an investment club of inspiring women and the concept of discussing money and finances with a spouse has resurfaced often. It's a tricky topic to tackle since we all carry so many emotions and stories about money from our upbringings. Unless two people are open to communicating those beliefs it can put a tremendous strain on the relationship. I believe that if Zenith can act as an intermediary for couples while helping women feel more secure about questioning and learning we can create some real value in our clients' lives. We're also working with women going through transitions like divorce, retirement and widowhood as well as couples transitioning through various stages of life and family. During my 20 year career in finance these are the situations that have moved me and engaged me on a personal level.
I've asked my sister Jodi to help me with marketing and spreading the word about Zenith. Eventually I hope she'll step into the event planning side. She's much better at those skills than I am, and I love the idea of being able to work together on a topic so personal. She and I experienced many financial challenges with our family throughout our lives so I can't think of a better person with whom to launch this endeavor.
My website is updated and I will be adding content daily. I'll be posting my first new blog post tomorrow about my experience with marriage, divorce and money. It's more than a little frightening to be so personal and raw online, but I believe it's the only way to truly connect with people and share why I'm passionate about this important subject. I learn so much from other people's struggles and I think it's only fair for me to share mine as well.
Thank you for all of the support I've received from friends and my online communities, especially Jodi Flynn's "Women Taking the Lead" group. Please check it out on Facebook.
I look forward to getting Zenith Partners off the ground and making a real difference in the quality of our clients' lives and relationships!
I wrote a guest blog post for my friend Jodi Flynn's site "Women Taking the Lead". Check out Jodi's community focused on female leadership at https://womentakingthelead.com.
I’m incredibly excited to blog about my experience as part of the Women Taking the Lead community. This dynamic group has enriched my views on career and leadership and inspired me with amazing stories of women pushing forward to make their dreams a reality.
I first met Jodi when I was preparing to quit my unfulfilling finance job to launch a business focused on educating women about money and enabling them to take control of their financial futures. I followed through on my plan to quit, but never followed through on starting my business.
My biggest stumbling block was aiming for perfection
I wanted to launch a company functioning as if it was mature instead of taking the first step. I suffered from analysis-paralysis and it left me with a dwindling savings account, no business, and a feeling of failure.
Recently I regrouped and started a new job. It’s a role that affords me the ability to learn new sales skills and support myself yet still have the time and opportunity to work on my original goal of educating woman about money.
Women Taking the Lead has inspired me to finally move forward on my goal of founding Zenith Partners for Financial Education instead of becoming complacent with a steady paycheck.
There are three important lessons I’ve learned from the podcast and the community that have helped me refocus on my dream.
First, just begin.
Everything in life happens step by step, not all at once. Waiting for every “T” to be crossed and “I” dotted leads to a whole lot of procrastination and not a lot of progress.
It’s necessary to plan, but at some point you need to get in the game and off of the bench. Every day and every experience leads to new ideas so by not engaging with your target community you are leaving opportunities on the table.
Every single person I have talked to about my business idea has been supportive and some have even volunteered to back my venture monetarily but I still didn’t move forward. I’ve learned that we must take decisive action in order for results to materialize.
Second, be vulnerable.
The stories I most enjoy reading and hearing are those of women who have overcome challenges and made mistakes, yet revealing my own stumbles has proven difficult.
We are our own worst critics, and no one is judging our shortcomings as harshly as we are ourselves.
Get out there and share because you never know who will be inspired by common challenges. Perfection is not very appealing.
Finally, the interpretation of our circumstances is our choice.
One person’s excuse for “why not” is another’s call to action. Click to Tweet!
It’s easy to let the challenging circumstances we’ve experienced provide an excuse for why not to act, but those who act despite these challenges are the true leaders. I have let the “if only” game hold me back on many occasions, but the truth is that our own worst case scenario is likely someone else’s “if only.”
3 Valuable Leadership Lessons
As I move toward my goals, I’m also reflecting on the leadership lessons I’ve gleaned from people who have inspired me throughout my career. These are three of the leadership tips I think are most valuable.
One, if you’re the smartest person on your team, build a better team.
The weakest leaders I’ve worked with are those who surround themselves with people who are less knowledgeable than themselves in an effort to boost their own egos.
In contract, the best leaders are those people who know their weaknesses and fill the gaps by hiring teammates with complementary skills. This type of team empowers all of its members by encouraging meaningful contributions.
My belief is that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Two, the best leaders provide vision and guidance toward a goal but not the exact road map to get there.
The best way to empower people is to trust their decision making and insights. Taking away personal power by micromanaging the details ultimately backfires. It creates resentment and misaligned priorities as people adopt a self-preservation mindset.
If you surround yourself with the right team, then let them stretch their wings and lift everyone higher.
Finally, there are no dumb questions – don’t censor yourself.
Countless times in my early career I had a question I wanted to ask but stopped myself for fear of looking dumb, only to have someone else ask and been told it was a great question.
If you don’t understand, keep asking. Click to Tweet!
Chances are many other people are thinking the same thing but not raising their hands and you’ll be leading the charge.
Sharing experiences is an invaluable way to grow exponentially both in life and work.
Thank you Women Taking the Lead for providing a resource-rich platform for all of us to expand our horizons.
Katherine Krantz is the founder of Zenith Partners, a financial coaching practice designed to help women acquire the knowledge and skills they need to control their financial futures. She was inspired to start Zenith by her 20 years of experience in the finance and investment industry, where she repeatedly saw that the approach of traditional firms didn’t always align with women’s needs. Katherine is the co-author of “The Era of Uncertainty: Global Investment Strategies for Inflation, Deflation, and the Middle Ground” published by Wiley & Sons in August 2011. In her free time she enjoys boxing, running, dancing, reading, writing and long walks with her dog, Jack, in Central Park.
Katherine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ourzenith.com
You can also connect with Katherine in the Women Taking the Lead Private Facebook group.
Today’s challenge is to write about something I’m proud to have accomplished at some point in my life. It might be strange to think of quitting a job as an accomplishment, but as I look back on my past year, or even 10 years, it ranks near the top of things I’m proud to have done.
The decision did not come easily. There were dozens of pro and con lists. The list of pros for staying was long: good company, people I liked, well compensated, travel, some schedule flexibility, and I had helped build the company. I felt like I was leaving a piece of myself behind. All of those months of hard work and pulling together as a team to create something from scratch, and I was going to walk away? Maybe, because, con: I’m exhausted. I spent a lot of time convincing myself that I was lucky to be where I was, and there were at least a million people in NYC who would gladly push their grandmothers under a bus to have my job. Probably true, but I had to admit to myself that it was irrelevant. I was feeling burnt out and run down.
After months of mental gymnastics I still wasn’t convinced, and the cycle of analysis-paralysis wasn’t getting me anywhere. This is when my inner Tracy Flick* took over and gave me my solution. I decided I could leave if I got right to work on another new venture. Yes! This was the answer. I’ll start over and build my own business this time. I’ll help women learn how to take care of their financial futures! I can use my skills and also do some good for people. Sure it’s an insane amount of blood, sweat and tears but what the hell, I like that. It will GIVE me energy. It will take a few months to sort out all of the filings and registrations necessary, but 8 or 10 weeks, tops, and I’ll be up and running with my shiny new shingle out for the world to see.
With this decision made, I chose a quit date and pulled the plug in March of this year. The day after I left my job I set off for Club Med Bahamas to meet my friend Leah from Los Angeles for a week of relaxation before I got to work on the new venture. When we arrived at the resort I was in full on New York type-A mode. I dragged her to the introductory information meeting and sat in the front row taking notes. I immediately picked up the weekly schedule of events and started planning which days to snorkel, play volleyball and take Zumba class. This was when my friend started to laugh, looked me in the eye and said, “Katherine, you can’t ‘win’ Club Med! Relax. There’s no first prize here. Just have fun and chill out.” Until that moment I didn’t realize how wound up I had been. I took her advice to the extreme and by day 3 I had lost all motivation to schedule anything. We woke up when we woke up, headed to the pool, and maybe took the water aerobics class. Prior to the trip I thought the two of us would spend hours discussing business ideas and planning the months ahead. Instead, we read magazines and bad fiction, and chatted about life, relationships and travel. I realize that this is what vacation is supposed to be about, but I had been so focused on the next step that I lost sight of the need for a break.
By the end of the week starting a business was the furthest thing from my mind. I was spending my time contemplating what I could do to support myself living in the Caribbean. I could sell my possessions and live the island life! I actually researched which islands allow you to bring a dog. I called my attorney and told him to postpone filing the LLC documents he had prepared for a little while longer. I had to figure out a few things first.
Deep down I never thought a change that drastic was what I wanted, but I realized then that a serious break was in order. I decided to “lean in” to my new found freedom. I slept late, walked my dog miles every morning, worked out daily, met friends for happy hours and dinners, and stayed up late watching TV. I spent the month of May in Colorado with my friend Joyce who had also quit to take an extended break. We rented an apartment and lived like locals, with some gorgeous time out in the mountains. I contemplated moving there permanently to lead an easier, less expensive life, but deep down NY was home and I was ready to go back. That brought me to June, and a full three months of relaxing and figuring out my next steps.
Back in New York the days flew by at warp speed. I was never bored but always had that nagging voice in my head telling me that I should be “figuring it out.” I read a lot of books on entrepreneurship, leadership and passion. I answered surveys and built timelines and journaled pages and pages of ideas. The more I explored, however, the more I realized that I wasn't sure what kind of business I wanted to build. I was holding onto ideas in my comfort zone – what I had done in the past. The problem was when I examined exactly what I would need to do to make it successful I had to admit that I didn’t like doing a lot of those things. I knew I wanted to help women, but I wasn't sure how to combine the education part with actually making a living. Time to hit reset.
The next few months after admitting that the business wasn’t going to happen the way I had imagined were rough sailing. I felt loss, disappointment, shame and embarrassment. I had made a big deal about building something and now I had to tell people it wasn’t happening. Even worse, when they asked the follow up question of what I was going to do instead, I didn’t have an answer. I felt guilty and indulgent about the time I had taken away from my career even though I knew on some level it was something I needed. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the deeply buried reasons I made the decision to quit.
It’s now mid-November and I’m still in the process of figuring it out, but I’ve come a long way. I grew to understand why I felt so burnt out and accept that I had legitimate reasons. The past 8 years have been filled with many of the biggest life changing events possible. I had helped start 3 new businesses from the ground up. I wrote a book. I moved cross country from NY to Los Angeles and then back again 5 years later, regularly traveling coast to coast in the interim. I had a long term relationship turn into a long distance relationship and then break up. And finally, both of my parents went through extended illnesses and eventually passed away. Until then I had never appreciated the amount of continuous energy I had to keep pumping out to power through all of these major events. Throughout these years I rarely slept through the night. I think back to the concerned faces of friends asking me if I felt ok because I didn’t look so good. I chalked it up to the life of an entrepreneur and would respond with something like, “well, we can sleep when we’re dead, right?” It took me a full 6 months to realize that this break was the best thing I had ever done for myself, mentally and physically.
The last two months have been filled with projects. I’ve tried to help other people who are working on their dreams, I’ve built a website, I started writing again and collaborating with friends who are on the same journey as me. I’m exploring job opportunities that could be about creating something new. During this process I have felt free to think creatively and explore new ideas as they pop into my head. I’ve discovered what really motivates me, and I’ve also discovered some things that I thought motivated me but actually do not. I’m learning to steer clear of these things that I gravitate toward out of habit.
Everyone I see these days tells me I look happy and relaxed, and that’s exactly how I feel despite the uncertainty of what my future holds. If I hadn’t taken that blind leap back in March I never would have had the energy to discover all of these new things about myself. I know my days of unencumbered freedom are nearing an end, but I am ready for the next chapter. I’m excited to get back to work and bring to it a new awareness and motivation that comes from being honest with myself about who I am and what I want my life to be.
*Tracy Flick was a character in the move Election. If you haven't seen it, go stream it.