A couple of weeks ago, I joined a local running club that a few of my friends encouraged me to join. Each week, the club meets and accomplishes the following activities: meet & greet, announcement of local races in the community, run 3-5 miles, high fives all around. The runs themselves are not meant to be overly competitive, it’s just fun to get out and run around with some familiar faces.
The first day I showed up, I knew I was going to struggle since I hadn’t run in a month or two; I was coming off of a mild injury that kept me from exercising. When we started running, I felt fine and kept up with the group. Around halfway through the run though, I wanted to stop. One leg was giving out on me and the other was exhausted from carrying most of the weight. It was the strongest burn I’d experienced from a paced run in years and my natural instinct was to stop and cool off. Every additional step I took felt like I was planting little doses of regret that I was going to reap for days. Said differently, walking up staircases was going to be difficult tomorrow.
But I didn’t stop. Even throughout the overwhelming pain, I just kept going. By the end, I had completed a 5-mile run. Although I was unable to walk up stairs quickly over the next few days, the act of finishing the seemingly impossible long distance run made it all worth it.
So why did I push myself through the deep pain? Is it because I’m a mega disciplined athlete and competitor who never takes the easy road out? No, not at all! If I had my way, I would have stopped halfway through. I kept going because I was doing it with friends and I didn’t want to be the one who gave up.
This, my friends, is social accountability at its finest and it clearly works for me when it comes to running long distance. But I can’t help but wonder, can we, as young professionals, apply this same methodology to our lives? More specifically, can we use the idea of social accountability to grow in our careers?
As human beings, we’re all motivated differently and what works for me might not work for you. So instead of trying to convince you to think exactly how I think, I’m going to share some of my story with you - failures and successes alike - of how being a part of different, social communities has been so impactful for my education and early career successes.
High School Is Hard
I went to high school with a lot of really impressive people. In short, most of the kids were from the "good side of the train tracks" and to be completely honest, it made me a little self-conscious knowing others had more than me - better looks, better cars, basically better everything.
At my previous school, I had good grades, was a strong multi-sport athlete, and had a ton of friends. When my parents transferred me and my brother to our new, fancy school, I struggled in the classroom, was an average athlete, and had no friends. I didn't excel at anything anymore and all of these 'rich kids' did. In my head, since their parents gave them more, they were able to achieve more. In retrospect, this makes no sense, but it's how I felt as a 14 year-old.
I’m not sure why I responded to my early setbacks in this way; I suppose part of it could be explained by my upbringing.
My parents do not have college degrees and neither do their family members. Despite this, they knew that education was hugely important for their children and that's why they transferred me to the fancy high school on the other side of town. But just because I performed well in my previous environment did not guarantee that I would do well in my new environment. While I'm grateful for all of the values they passed down to me, unfortunately, earning the top grades in the class was not a skillset they were able to hand down. You can always instruct your kids to get better grades and study harder, but it's much more effective if you can teach them how to do it.
By the time graduation came, I finished somewhere around ‘the average’ and managed to get accepted into a few state universities. Finally, a chance to see if the stuff they show in the movies is true.
College Is Hard Too
My first two years of college were kind of a disaster - a really fun disaster. Sure I was having a blast with my new friends and freedom, but I was barely scraping by in the classroom. Perhaps even more dangerous, I had no real direction.
One day I woke up and realized that the same patterns from my high school had emerged again - others were excelling while I remained static. To put it in NCAA March Madness terms, my friends and classmates were getting ready for the 'Big Dance’ and I was still learning the plays.
But this time it was different. I couldn’t discount the achievements of others anymore because of their fancy cars and clothes. This time, I started on the same playing field as everyone else. I had no more excuses.
I had to learn a new approach.
Stumbling Onto a Passion with Friends
Eventually, I found some success in the classroom and even in my early career. It didn’t happen overnight, and it definitely didn’t happen because I read a self-help book or some cheesy Business Insider article about night-time routines of successful people.
Here’s what happened. First, by some stroke of magic, I found my university's personal financial planning program. And while I believe that some of the worst advice a young person can receive is to 'find your passion', I truly feel like I stumbled onto mine.
At this point, you might be thinking, "that’s his ‘career hack.’ He found his passion!" Not exactly, but it was a good start for me. Instead, I found the right people who helped me move forward with my passions.
Throughout the process of spending late nights in the library or the computer lab with my classmates, something pretty incredible happened. After all of the setbacks and successes we shared after taking nearly every course together, we became more than just classmates; we became really good friends.
So when it came time for us to work on group projects or study together, we would always bring our A-game. After all, why would we want to let down our friends? This is the attitude that changed everything for me and eventually led to a strong finish in my collegiate years.
Starting Over Is Hard
At graduation, my friends and I were ready to tackle the professional world together. The real world could have been a continuation of our college years together, except for one major detail - I chose to start a career on a completely different side of the country.
The decision to relocate was a great career move for myself, but it honestly felt like I was starting over at a new school. I had figured out (the hard way) that I really enjoyed working with a team of friends and now I had signed on to work at a small firm with one other employee. Where was I going to find another group of people like me to learn from and attack new challenges with again?
In short, I had to build it from scratch.
Creating My Own Accountability System
First of all, for those reading this, why would anyone want to build an accountability system in the first place? My quick answer is that it’s good to have other equals in your network to share experiences with. Sure, having older mentors is great and I’ve personally benefited from several in my life, but who are you supposed to vent with when a co-worker hurts your feelings or if you’re studying for a major certification exam and your social life disappears?
Personally, I’ve built a few different accountability systems within the financial planning industry, specifically in the NexGen space.
One of the first things I did when I moved to my new home was get in touch with the local FPA NexGen groups. Fortunately, my area has a few local chapters and I was able to get a feel for all of them, then I chose the one I liked the most. Now, similar to my college experience, the other financial planners I’ve met are more than just peers, they’re good friends.
For those who might not have access to a strong, local NexGen community, I highly encourage you to attend the annual FPA NexGen Gathering. At the very least, you’ll leave the experience knowing that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other, newly-minted financial planners out there just like you.
In addition to getting involved with FPA NexGen immediately, a few other aspiring financial planners and I started a ‘study group’ together. Basically, the purpose of a study group is to team up with a few other people approaching the same end-goals as you. Most people in this industry form study groups when they begin studying for the CFP® exam. In our case, we just liked the idea of having monthly, group calls with each other to talk about what’s going on in our careers and lives; from there, we serve as resources for everyone else in the group. The benefits are huge and at the end of the day, we all know there are people out there who are sharing knowledge and growing with us in our careers.
Eventually, we realized we had a good thing going and decided to document our thoughts to the rest of the community through our blog, Millennial Planners. There are a lot of young planners out there going through the same experiences we are, so why not share our resources with them as well?
The power of utilizing your community is somewhat of a ‘Life Hack’ for my career. When I’m going through a new experience or want to attack a new project, my support group is who I turn to if I want to turn the idea into reality. Because of my community and other ambitious friends, I feel like I’ve been able to advance further (and faster) than I could have on my own. I don’t consider this an individual win; I consider it a group win for me and my support system alike.
Pursuing This Industry Is Hard, But You Don’t Have To Do It Alone
The financial planning industry is still very new and (unlike our friends in accounting or corporate finance) there are not many large firms out there yet. That means that if you’re going to find a network of people who are living the same career and lifestyle as you, you are going to have to find those people yourself.
Just like when things started to get tough for me on my 5-mile run, things will invariably get tough for you as you venture deeper into this business. The path is uncharted, but if we explore it with the help of a few other familiar faces, we’ll be able to accomplish anything we want.