Apr 18, 2024

Six Considerations for Big Life Transitions

Apr 18, 2024
Leigh Shimamoto – JD, CFP®
Wealth Architect
As financial advisors, we get many technical and strategic questions from our clients. However, we also hear frequent questions about other facets of their lives, including how to navigate big life transitions – not just from a financial standpoint, but from an emotional one. It’s something we all grapple with over our lifetime, from planned transitions, such as buying a home or preparing for retirement, to the unexpected transitions that are thrust upon us, such as a divorce or loss of a loved one.

We decided to address this topic of transitions with a webinar last month titled “Emotional and Financial Aspects of Life’s Transitions.” The conversation was moderated by Mark T. Johnsen (CEO and Chief Wealth Architect) and the panel included Lauren Pfeiffer (Wealth Architects client, recently retired Adobe Inc. executive), Susan Fox (MA, ICF Master Certified Life and Executive Coach) and me.

We talked about our unique personal experiences tackling various transitions in our lives and the tools that helped us through them; from my divorce and becoming a single mom, to Lauren’s recent decision to retire and Susan’s move to a new state.

Below are six key takeaways from the discussion.

  • Transitions are inevitable. Embrace them to get the most out of them.

Transitions can be scary; they can be exciting; they can be fulfilling. They can also be overwhelming, financially burdensome and emotionally painful as we let go of one era and begin another. We work with our clients to help them shift their thinking about the potentially negative aspects of transitions to positive inflection points for their future. Whether the transition is a choice or not, it’s important to let go of the past in order to embrace the new. It’s an opportunity for growth, self-discovery and courage. We can use this moment to rise to the occasion, to revel in our new normal and to reveal our strength to ourselves.

  • Reflection is crucial. Make time for it.

Experience + Reflection = Wisdom. Whether we’re considering making a big transition or facing a transition not by choice, reflection will help guide us through it. It’s helpful to add time into our busy schedules to think about who we want to be and visualize how things could be different. Reflection is a crucial discipline that should be incorporated into our lives, but can be tempting to overlook or postpone. Life moves fast and it’s important to build in stops to evaluate where we’re heading, how we’re spending our time and what impact we’re having on those around us. Sabbaticals can be especially helpful in this area. Through measured reflection we can realize if it’s time to change course.

  • Keep transitions in line with our core values.

It’s key to become fully acquainted with our core values – our priorities and what drives us – so we can align our financial-life plan with those goals. Our core values form the basis for the “why” behind the big decisions we make in our lives. We get into profound discussions with our clients to identify their values and short- and long-term goals and then articulate them in a “Family Goals and Priorities Statement.” This exercise brings so much clarity and helps them recognize the purpose of their wealth that they’ve worked so hard to build. Transitions aren’t always immediately gratifying, but if we anchor our decision in meaning and purpose, the benefits of it appear over time.

  • Be vulnerable. Seek help and perspective.

Many of us are tempted to hold our uncertainties inside. Being vulnerable with others allows us to hear new ways of thinking, connect with others and find solutions. Transitions can feel isolating, but there are people who have gone through this before and can provide guidance and community when needed. When we share our fears openly with others, we may end up feeling better about the situation and receive reassurance where we didn’t expect it. It’s important to leverage our inner circle and community. There are people around us who really want to help.

  • In an uncomfortable new situation, create familiarity.

Our brains are wired for familiarity. Experiencing a significant change in our life or lifestyle can be a shock to the system and feel paralyzing. We can ease the transition by introducing elements of familiarity into our day-to-day. For example, if someone recently retired from a busy career and is now looking at an empty schedule, that doesn’t mean a schedule shouldn’t be kept in this new phase of life. Why not build a new one, adding things like daily journaling, meditation, exercise and even errands? This approach infuses structure and familiarity into a new chapter as one gets used to it and serves as a validating reminder that these tasks are also important to ones life.

  • Big transitions don’t have to be permanent.

When considering a transition, all we can do is base our decisions on the information we currently have. We don’t know if it’s the “right” decision until we make it and start implementing it. Things might change and there will always be new choices to make. Major life transitions have a way of feeling final, but they don’t have to be. If someone retires, they can decide later to return to work part-time or even full-time. If someone moves to a new city, they can move back. There will be tradeoffs and sometimes financial losses, but that doesn’t mean we’re locked into a decision we made if it isn’t serving us and our holistic well-being.

We all must navigate and endure major transitions in our lives and it’s how we do so that helps us reach our full potential. I hope you found our insights helpful and applicable to your own journey of building a wealthier life.

“Change is situational…transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.” – William Bridges


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