The Playbook for When Life Changes--Stage 4: New Normal

Susan Bradley, CFP®, CeFT®, Founder of the Sudden Money Institute
Financial Advisor
September 25, 2017

For the original article, click here:

Editor’s Note: This article is the last in a four-part series.



Every single one of your clients will experience a major life transition. It’s entirely possible that many of your clients are in transition right now and you don’t see things that way. Maybe you consider the event they refer to as “just talk,” because it hasn’t happened yet. Or maybe an event happened so long ago that both of you have stopped referring to it.

Recall the first three stages of transition:

1. Anticipation – the event hasn’t occurred yet.

2. Ending – there is no going back for the client. The event is happening or is imminent.

3. Passage – the big pieces of the event have been assembled, but there is still more work to do.

The fourth and final stage, new normal, signifies the client has integrated the event into their life. Their mindful reflection on their event is full of wisdom, and any sharp edges that existed have been transformed into flowing grooves in the narrative of their lives. They speak about their event in the past tense.

Like anticipation and passage, new normal is far easier to miss than ending, when life is all about the event and its immediate aftermath. Clients in new normal are energized and have a sense of renewal. They are present, composed, open and collaborative. We call that flow. They are able to do long-term and short-term thinking and planning, but most of all they are living their life with comfort and more predictability than during the previous stages of transition.

After going through the grueling work of selling her business and putting her new life into order, one woman described arriving at her new normal as akin to moving into a new house built just for her, and now she’s rearranging the art and the furniture, making the house her home.

A client in the new normal stage is very similar to a client who is not in transition, with the addition of the fresh appreciation for what it means to have completed the journey of a major life event. They have confidence that they can take life as it comes. They know how to thrive while life happens. If there is any struggle during new normal, it’s usually around identity, but it’s a less intense struggle than during passage.

The hallmark mistake at this time is to say, “mission accomplished!” and move on. But, there is important work to be done during new normal.

Working With Clients In New Normal

Because clients in new normal are so much like clients who aren’t in transition and are in flow, they can be a lot of fun to work with. There is an ease to them and an openness to inquiry that is exciting for advisors well-trained in the human side of financial advisory.

What kind of inquiry?

Regularly engaging them in questions about the why around their work with you and the why around the decisions they are making is always fruitful. In addition, exploring alternatives to what they believe they would like to do can yield fascinating options for them to investigate. This type of deep self-discovery is immensely satisfying to watch, as clients who feel safe and unencumbered allow thoughts and desires that were dormant to come alive. Their comfort level sometimes even reveals entirely new worlds they want to explore.

Although this kind of inquiry is easily done in meetings, its outcomes tend to be most fruitful when the client takes the necessary time for quiet introspection. Narrative exercises are a wonderful way to aid clients in imagining the life they want to live. Chances are they have come a long way in the right direction but they still have a way to go. Narratives can validate all that has been accomplished and gently, organically move the story forward.

Another avenue of inquiry during new normal is the retrospective. Once a client is inhabiting their new self and circumstance, it is always advantageous to review their transition process. We’re not just looking for a debrief of what happened; we are looking for the meaning of what happened and how it is being integrated into the client’s personal narrative. We ask questions like:

  • What went well?

  • What didn’t go so well?

  • What have I learned?

  • What still puzzles me?

  • What am I curious about?

  • What do I need to work on or work toward?

Ideally, clients in new normal move forward with a set of transition skills and an increased resilience around change. They have acquired new knowledge about adaptation and their personal transition style has become more refined and purposeful as a result of what they’ve learned.

If You Remember Nothing Else, Remember That Financial Advice Isn’t Just About Problem Solving.

New Normal is the perfect illustration of the reality that your work is about more than problem-solving. Yes, your clients need your expertise to help them navigate the major changes in their lives, and those changes are riddled with problems everywhere on the scale from inconvenient to potentially disastrous. And yes, there is always plenty of solutions-providing to do at every twist and turn of the transition process.

But let’s not forget that when it comes to the human experience of change as well as the human experience in general, there is always room for improvement. There is always space for enhancement. There is always learning and expanding and exploring to be done.

I’ve heard advisors scoff at this notion. They defend their problem-solving prowess and focus with something like, “I do great work with my clients and they are all on track.” Kudos, of course. However, when you take that position, you are forfeiting the opportunity to discover:

  • how much better your client’s experience could have been;

  • what path they could have taken;

  • how much more aligned they could be with their own work;

  • how much more aligned they could be with you; and

  • how much more committed they could be to continuing to work with you.

If you have a way to do this when change is front and center, you have a way of doing it any time.



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:

To read the third article in this series, click here: /news/the-playbook-for-when-life-changes-stage-3--passage-34496.html


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