The Playbook for When Life Changes--Stage 3: Passage

Susan Bradley, CFP®, CeFT®, Founder of the Sudden Money Institute
Financial Advisor
September 6, 2017

Passage is the time of adapting to change. It is the usually longest of the four stages of transition, and the only rule about its timeline is that it shouldn’t be rushed because it takes as long as it takes (i.e., years, which nobody wants to hear, by the way). It’s an unsettled time when important things have been done, yet important questions remain unanswered. Questions like: Where do I say I want to live and why do I say that? Does the plan I created before, during or after my event occurred serve what I want and need from my life today? Who am I now, anyway?

The extraordinary thing about passage is that it’s the time when the most profound work can be done, yet it’s also the time when it’s least likely that work will actually get done. Why?Because passage is easily overlooked. Put simply, most advisors don’t know what they’re looking at when they see someone in passage, whether that person is struggling with the stage or not. And that’s because the precipitating event happened well over a year prior. Sometimes several years. Sometimes more. The advisor doesn’t connect the client’s behavior to the event.

Anticipation as a stage is easily identified because the event hasn’t actually occurred. Nevertheless, as I explained in the first article of this series, there is plenty of work to be done during anticipation that will set the stage for the event when it transpires. Meanwhile, ending is when most financial advisors are in their element because they’ve been extensively trained (I trust) in the various technical components of major life events. Advisors have more checklists for ending than any other stage of transition.

However, after all the doing has been done for someone whose spouse has passed, for example, and any initial shock has worn off, and intense emotions are subsiding, and the throngs of people who were around to support your client have turned their attention back to their own lives, your client is left to experience the waves of emotions that come and go for years while also figuring out who they want to be moving forward. There are rich lessons to be learned from discomfort and from the opportunity to rebuild identity. Do you have a structure for this time of tension between who the client was and who they are becoming?

Sure, you likely created a plan for moving forward, which creates a sense of motion toward some kind of goal. The client might even feel potential building. But that potential can only blossom if certain supportive elements are in place.

What Can You Do For Your Clients During Passage?

• As always, provide a safe space for them to experience whatever is arising. The only way through all of the emotions and rebuilding of passage, and toward clarity and enthusiasm for the creation of the new normal, is to experience it. People who avoid it or deny it or rush through it aren’t doing themselves any favors; the only thing they achieve is prolonging their passage. Why? Because the important discussions and self-discovery of passage don’t go away.

Also, clients in passage are often inundated with advice from friends, and part of your safe space is drafting agreements or statements that help the client with their boundaries and assure loved ones that they are working with an advisor.

• Normalize their experience. Normalizing whatever they are experiencing is always a part of cultivating well-being and a feeling of safety. And referring them to support groups is helpful as well, because peer support is normalizing.

• Don’t rush them. Patience doesn’t seem to be a skill that is valued in financial advisory. But no one benefits from keeping things moving for the sake of it. Sitting with what is, and establishing a course of inquiry around what is, is a far wiser strategy when a client is in passage.

• If necessary, encourage a shift in their mindset about their event or about their finances, or even about the big decisions they are faced with. I’m sure if you never heard about mindset again it would be too soon. But it’s real. Our mindset—our beliefs—matter. Mindset interventions have been shown to affect how we experience situations we are in, and major life events are no different. Think about it: Things that occur are just phenomena. They’re neutral. And what we do with things that occur is perfectly human—we instantly assign a value to them. We put them in a category. Negative. Positive. Devastating. We develop a whole world of beliefs about them—an entire narrative. And as mindset research shows, just as quickly, our body responds in kind. And our actions follow—with consequences that are sometimes less-than desirable and entirely avoidable.

There are some events that are nearly impossible to think about as anything but traumatic and tragic from the start, no matter who you are and what your vantage point is. But most events are only dealt with as if they are negative or problematic because we have decided they are. Growth opportunities are everywhere for those who are curious and open, and I hope you think that part of your job is to foster the growth and transformation and are hallmarks of transitions.

• Guide them through their self-exploration. Questions about core values and identity can go unnoticed by the untrained eye. When your client keeps changing his mind about what he wants to do when he grows up—three years into his retirement—that’s probably because he has lost touch with his core values or he is grappling with who he wants to be during his retirement. After all, when you’re planning for retirement, everything is theoretical. But once you are inhabiting the space of retirement, what you thought you would feel like or think or desire could very well be different from your reality.

Finally, there is always the possibility that the client feels like their inner resources are simply insufficient to meet their perceived demands of the situation. The continuous efforts to adapt to change over months and years can be exhausting. This feeling of depletion that sets in during passage is what we call transition fatigue. As you can imagine, such a state can be debilitating and affect decision-making and relationships, to say nothing of mental, physical and emotional well-being. When your client, four years after the death of her husband who had been ill for years, doesn’t return your phone calls and suddenly (in your mind) hires a new advisor, that could be because you didn’t notice what she was going through and obviously had no protocol for meeting her needs.

A successful passage ends with the client beginning to feel alive again. They are less mired in the past, and they are enthusiastic about who they are becoming and where they are going. It’s an honor to be present for this time in a client’s life. You want to show up with as much respect for and knowledge about what they are experiencing as possible.


The original article can be found here:

To read the first article in this series, click here: /news/the-playbook-for-when-life-changes-33961.html

To read the second article in this series, click here: /news/the-playbook-for-when-life-changes-stage-2--ending2-34131.html?section=3

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