How Financial Planning Is Kind of Like Running Your First Marathon…No Really!

My first marathon was the Rock N Roll Marathon in Savannah, GA in November of 2018, a few years after I wrapped up my soccer career with a professional season in Vaasa, Finland. As a former professional athlete, I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started training for my marathon… but I was mistaken. As I thought about what I wish I had known when I started, I couldn’t help but notice an insane amount of parallels between this hobby I love and my profession as a financial planner (that I also love). 

Tip #1 – Know that it is going to be uncomfortable at times, learn how to embrace and lean into these moments. 

I don’t want this to scare off anyone considering running their first marathon (or reaching out to a financial planner), but I do think it is one of the most important things I can share from my experience, both in marathon training and my soccer career. I started playing competitive soccer when I was nine years old and continued until I was twenty-three years old. During that time, I played four years of collegiate soccer at Clemson University followed by a season of professional soccer in Finland. The lessons I learned while at Clemson were lessons that I have brought with me through various seasons of my life. The lesson I want to highlight here came from one of our fitness tests, the infamous Beep Test (Yo-Yo Test, Nike Sparq Test, etc.). If you are not familiar with this test, there are cones set up about 20 yards apart from each other with the players starting on one set of cones. Upon hearing the first beep, you must run to the other set of cones and get back to the starting cones before the second beep. As you progress through the test, the beeps get closer and closer together, so you have less time to get to the cone and back with subsequently less time to rest and recover. This is a test of speed and stamina, but it is also a test in mental toughness. From doing this test (too many times than I would like to count) II learned that the real growth happens outside of your comfort zone. I learned that the really hard challenges bring the most intrinsic rewards when conquered. To quote my favorite movie (A League of Their Own), “If it were easy, everyone would do it”. This can also translate to that first step in taking control of your financial health – whether it is getting serious about a budget, negotiating a pay increase or even simply contacting a financial advisor to take a really good look at your current financial picture. It might be uncomfortable at first but take heart in knowing that those moments are where the real growth happens.

Tip #2 – Don’t set a goal time for your first marathon and don’t countdown the miles to the finish line. 

Whether you are a seasoned runner attempting 26.2 miles for the first time, or you just ran your first 5k yesterday, it is not about the time. Now this is where I may have lost the financial planning readers – “what do you mean it isn’t about the time? If I want to retire at X age there is a set timeframe to get there.” What I would say to that is, yes, of course it is about the time but try not to keep that “time” front and center as you are going through your day-to-day. I think the parallel here is that your goal should never cloud your vision of what is in front of you right now. Most of the time, the magic happens in the journey rather than the destination. Don’t miss that magic because you are hyper-focused on the destination. In your marathon training, run based on how you are feeling in the moment and, more importantly, how you are breathing. A good way to keep track of that is talking (or singing) during your run. If you can casually have a conversation while running, this is probably an easy pace (and you will have runs during your plan that should be easy). On the flip side, if you are struggling to get any words out, you are probably going too hard for your easy run. Get to know your own breathing and embrace the rhythm that comes when you find the right pace. This last sentence could so easily be in a financial independence plan presentation and how beautiful is that? Embrace the rhythm that comes when you find the right pace – of spending, saving, investing – when you are at a pace that lets you breathe easy about your upcoming goals you know you have developed a financial independence plan that you can stick to. There may be times you find yourself sprinting to catch up, and that is okay, that is the time to check in with your plan, regroup, and develop the adjustments necessary to get you back to that comfortable pace. 

Tip #3 – Keep. Moving. Forward. 

There are a couple of different levels to this tip with the theory being the same throughout – don’t lose your forward momentum. First, quite literally, don’t stop in the middle of a run. There is absolutely nothing wrong with walking. In fact, there are multiple training plans out there that encourage the use of walking. Sometimes I will stop and give myself five deep breaths, “after the five breaths I will start running again”.  Just keep moving forward. When you are implementing your financial plan, life may happen and you may have to slow down your progress. That is normal and, truly, part of the beauty of life. We cannot predict everything that will happen to us but we can always control how we react in these moments. Maybe we move a bit slower while we’re catching our breath or dealing with the cards we’ve been dealt but we keep moving forward. When I was at Clemson, we were taught from the very beginning that we should never put our hands on our knees during practice or a fitness session as it showed weakness to our opponents. Our coaches decided to drill this in by instilling the rule that if anyone put their hands on their knees, we would do an extra sprint/run/fitness activity. The results of this lesson were absolutely fascinating to my teammates. During fitness sessions, you would see everyone fighting to get across the finish line before the time limit, but you would also see every girl immediately looking right and left to see which teammates needed help standing up. As a captain at Clemson, I practiced what our coaches called servant leadership. The lesson I learned very quickly was that servant leadership was not about me. The leader was not there to run the fastest or kick the furthest, the leader was there to make those around him/her better. It was not uncommon to be, literally, pushing or pulling a teammate across the finish line. Once we made it to the finish line, it was another team effort to get everyone back up and ready to go for the next sprint. Financial planning, at its core, is a form of servant leadership. We aren’t there to show off all of our fancy calculations and probability analyses. Yes, we have the education and expertise and we very well have run these analyses to back up our recommendations but, really, we are there to work with our clients hand in hand. We are there to add value to their lives and listen to the hopes and dreams we are so fortunate to hear. We are there to motivate and guide our clients across the finish line of whatever goal they are reaching. And then we are there at the finish line to get them back up and ready to reach the next goal. 

Tip #4 – Invest in a quality pair of running shoes. 

Go to your local running store and get fitted for a pair of running shoes. They will measure your feet and your arches. They will watch you walk and run to get a sense of where you need the most support when running. You will also be able to tell them if you have any knee pains or hip pains and they can guide you to the shoe that will be the best for relieving that pain. You may spend more on shoes than you would normally, but it is truly an investment to maintain your health while running. The other great thing about these stores is that they typically allow you to wear the shoes on some of your training runs and exchange them if they are not fitting quite right. Sometimes, you just can not tell if a shoe is the right running shoe until you run a couple of miles in it. In this parallel, the local running store is your CFP® professional. They are the person that will measure your feet and your arches. They will ask about your specific goals and your specific challenges and, most importantly, will truly listen to what you say (and sometimes what you don’t say). They will figure out where you need more support and where you may not need as much support. And, they will always allow you to “exchange” or find a new planner if you find that the one you are working with just isn’t the right fit. Truly take the time to find a financial planner who takes the time to measure your feet and your arches and not the one that just recommends a pair on Amazon, it will make a world of difference in your financial planning journey. 

Learn more about the author, Savannah Cooper, here.