It is important for everyone to have an understanding of the essential elements of financial security and a financial plan that fits their needs and goals. But there is an even more foundational set of ideas to consider and incorporate into one’s life.
Keeping on budget and having a healthy financial plan is certainly important and is a key part of building one’s financial fortress. But thinking of these things in isolation and only in the context of money or a job ignores other valuable assets and investable capital that each of us possess. When we uncover and re-frame these stores of value we unlock powerful, new growth potential.
Personal Scatter Plot
Whether you are new to adulthood or well along in life, if you zoom out for a broader view of your personal and professional history it becomes clear that our many and varied life events, activities and desires seem somewhat scattered and random. Depending on how carefully you spend your time and how well you plan for the future, this may be more or less applicable. Regardless, it turns out that a scatter plot is a useful way to visualize our different life events and milestones.
A scatter plot is a type of diagram that displays coordinates according to two or more variables, in order to find patterns in data. Sometimes a “best-fit line” is drawn to clarify the patterns, if any are apparent. It is one way to identify order in a seemingly chaotic data set.
Life can certainly seem chaotic at times. As we grow, learn and develop we encounter many challenges and unexpected events.
And, given the fluid nature of life (for most of us, at least), it’s never precisely clear where the best-fit line will point. Also, as data is added that line will continually move. It’s natural; as life brings new experiences and inputs our outlook changes. But, at any given moment, a scatter plot is an interesting way to visualize the different aspects of one’s life.
And looking back at different parts of our life we often do this. We think about how we were raised or how we performed in sports or what we achieved in different jobs, and we view them in isolation. We talk about them as if they were separate from the rest of our life experience. Of course, zooming in and doing an honest self-examination of certain things is important. But it’s not the best way to create and launch a career or business plan, or a roadmap for life.
While a scatter plot may be one way to view a range of life experiences in the past, the best model for organizing and managing those gathered experiences and skills against our future plans, aspirations and efforts is that of a portfolio. A life portfolio.
The Full Life Portfolio
I indulge heavily in what is sometimes called “ideation” or brain-storming. Other people might say it’s day-dreaming, or even shiny-object syndrome. An old friend once called me a “reckless dreamer.” No argument with any of these, and no shame either. Having too many ideas, insights or potential plans is a good problem to have.
But how can we effectively organize, assess and act on the many ideas and opportunities encountered in life?
The challenge for most people that wish to build a personally and financially rewarding life is to not just have clear goals, but also plans for achieving them and a process for executing and iterating on those plans. This is how the full life portfolio can be applied.
This is not a new concept. A similar idea appears in a 1991 book by Charles Handy called The Age of Unreason. There he shared the concept of “portfolio life” and the idea — still new in the early nineties — that working in the same company or industry for ones entire life was neither realistic nor desirable.
The notion then started finding its way into sales copy for financial planners and insurance, weaving together vague ideas of aspirational goals and the importance of life insurance. Then David Corbett took on the idea more directly with his 2006 book, Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50. Corbett explores the idea beyond just financial planning and goals but focuses on the so-called retirement years.
I take a much more expansive view on this life portfolio concept. I also see it as more than an abstract way to reflect on ones life experiences and achievements. The full life portfolio as I see it is a powerful and practical framework for planning, executing and managing a career and life strategy.
Everything is an Asset
Most folks don’t seek financial gain for its own sake. We want more money and financial security because it affords us a more safe, satisfying and purposeful life. But, regardless of our motivation, most of us are familiar with the basic principles of investing:
- Set investment targets according to our risk tolerance and stage of life;
- Implement, add to and manage these investments on a regular basis and
- Track the return on investment, reinvest and adjust the plan along the way.
At a high level, this is how a person might grow a portfolio of value, momentum or income-bearing stocks, or any other appreciating financial assets. But a key idea underlying the full life portfolio approach is that everything is an asset (including you).
Furthermore, anything that is part of achieving our goals (financial or otherwise) should be considered part of one’s life portfolio strategy. The full life portfolio framework treats a wide variety of personal and professional activities and experiences as investments, and the results of those activities as return on investment and assets in themselves.
To that end, many different types of experiences and skills can and should be considered as assets, and things of value that can be applied to future growth plans. For instance, a (demonstrable) mastery of digital marketing, completing a full ironman, or surviving a life-threatening experience with grace, are just as much assets (and potentially as valuable) as shares of an index fund, a gold trust investment, or a real estate property.
In their own way, all of these are stores of value (which can both appreciate and pay dividends). And all can be leveraged and even used as collateral in order to make new “investments”, thus growing the portfolio.
Set Goals, Make Plans, Then Go
Just as with traditional investing for financial gains, building a life portfolio starts with setting some goals. These should be your broad, long-term objectives. Include as much detail as you have but it’s okay to keep it simple. Also, for most people life goals will change over time, as their interests and circumstances change. This is also okay.
With your bigger, longer term objectives in mind you can start backing into the intermediary or supporting steps that will be required to get to those end goals. By starting with the end in mind the path to get there begins to get clearer. And, often, those steps or interim goals will require learning new skills or completing related activities.
Remember, these new skills and all of the experiences you have along the way, while essential to complete the steps, are also assets in themselves. It’s worth emphasizing that each of these efforts or experiences bring value whether they are successes or failures. We often learn as much or more from our unsuccessful efforts in life.
With all your plans and efforts, however, it is essential to consider them in terms of the time and energy required for each. Time, especially, is the most limited resource we have. It is truly our most precious and critical investment capital!
Monitor, Manage and Adjust as Needed
Now, if you know where you are going and have taken the first steps already then congratulations, you are on your way. As with your financial and retirement planning, managing your life portfolio requires ongoing attention and periodic adjustments.
When conditions change in the stock market it’s common to increase or reduce investment size, or change asset allocations. Likewise, outside events or factors, or personal considerations can change your outlook on current plans or goals. Don’t be afraid to make course changes along the way.
You Are Your Life Portfolio Manager
So. although it’s an interesting way to view things your life is not a scatter plot of random events and this broad array of actions and experiences are not outside your control. You can (and must) pick your paths and own your outcomes. You must be your own life portfolio manager.
Once you start taking a holistic view and consider your time and energy as your most critical investment capital, you can manage your full life portfolio with the big goals in mind. And that will generate the ultimate return on investment: long term success and life satisfaction.