On Transitions and Restoration Stories

There are many reasons to appreciate George Monbiot. He thinks in public, out loud, learning and altering his positions appropriately. He is a captivating storyteller, a delightful and insightful writer, and his interests and the way he bridges them are fascinating and timely. For this post, I’ll focus on his TEDSummit 2019 talk, “The new political story that could change everything.” It’s about altruism, cooperation, the commons, and the politics of belonging. But it’s also about the power of story. If you’re a financial advisor or anyone else who serves people experiencing major life transitions, I urge you to watch this powerful talk, which at no point mentions major life transitions.  

The Primacy of Story in Our Lives

“A string of facts and figures . . .  have no power to displace a persuasive story. The only thing that can replace a story is a story. You cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one. . .. When we have no story that explains the present and describes the future, hope evaporates.”

Here we are, at the end of 2019. If I were to ask you to tell me about your life from 2015 until today, it’s unlikely that you’d list a bunch of stats, unless you’re a baseball fan, as those people seem to think in stats. Instead, you would tell me a story about the various ways your life twisted and turned, nudging or shocking you into evolving into the person you are today. That is, after all, what life does—it’s what it is. Life is a series of things that happen to us and because of us that we adapt to, either well or not-so-well. With intention or haphazardly and without much thought. In “survival mode,” perhaps.

We are Creatures of Narrative

We are constantly telling ourselves and those around us who we are through story. And when something dramatic changes in our lives, either by our design or not, that changes who we are. Our narrative must change accordingly. And to deal with that, we need something like what Monbiot calls a Restoration Story. We need a specific type of narrative structure that explains the present and describes the future. This allows us to maintain hope, to be okay with what has happened, and to eventually move forward during times of upheaval.

The Transition Story is a Restoration Story

When your client experiences a major life transition such as divorce, the loss of a partner, retirement, or even a windfall, they need help with their transition story. They need help making sense of the event by crafting a story that places it in their life in a way that explains what it is, what it feels like, and why it is or is becoming important to their personal evolution and direction. It’s like a Restoration Story in that it gives the event its meaning.     We at the Financial Transitionist Institute use a four-stage model to describe transitions. Professionals trained in Financial Transitions Planning help their clients move from what was to what will be. That’s what they are doing. Those are the plot points. When someone’s life changes, their story changes. And you cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one.

Help Your Clients Craft Their Transition Stories

At the Financial Transitionist Institute, we do far more than track stages. We train financial advisors to help their clients craft their new stories–the stories of their transitions. Our process frequently invites clients to reflect and to explore how their major life event is being integrated into their story. Furthermore, we know that mindset, relationship to stress, and whether there are past stories that are still being tightly gripped all play parts in the creation of personal narratives. Because of that, we train advisors to listen deeply for all of these crucial storying elements. Some of these elements might benefit from a gentle suggestion of revision.

What you can do right now . . .

As a financial services professional, you’ve got all of the facts and figures; you have expertise in the financial picture. Now it’s time to help your clients create meaning—to help them with the stories of their lives.
  • You can still jump into December’s yearlong Core program in Financial Transitions Planning, as the first official meeting is on January 8th.
  • If that sounds like too much, check out our Intro to Financial Transitions Planning webinar for 2 CFP CEs, and get a window into what it’s like to go through our training and use our tools.
  • And if you happen to be in need of a Certified Financial Transitionist to help you with your own major life event, here‘s our directory.