Finding Financial Planning Wisdom in Hollywood's Great Movies

By Jeffrey L. Watson, CPA/CFP®, principal, WealthCare Financial Group LLC, 1st Global

Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” With 1st Global, we’ve talked about our personal “whys” a lot over the past year — it was even the theme of our National Conference in November. One of the most important traits of a successful business owner is knowing “why” — why you do what you do. This is especially critical when you are a solo practitioner like me, but it is always valuable to know your motivations and keep them in the front of your mind. In a service-based business like ours, knowing your “why” is essential to helping clients feel confident that you are giving them excellent advice and to knowing you care about them and their families.

“Art imitates life.” – this familiar adage rings true, I believe, especially in cinema.  Some of Hollywood’s great movies hold vital lessons for us about our “why.” The larger-than-life characters on the big screen can lead us to realize who we each are deep down, why we care; what stirs our passions.  Here are three such films that fit the bill:

Casablanca

Filmed in 1942, at the height of the Nazi advance across Europe and Africa, this Academy Award best picture winner may be the greatest single film of all time. The legendary Humphrey Bogart plays saloon owner Rick Blaine, who once fought for the resistance, but has now retreated to Morocco. Late in the film, Rick’s “why” is drawn out by resistance leader — and romantic rival —Victor Lazlo.  

Rick:  “The problems of the world are not my department.  I’m just a saloon keeper.”

Victor:  “Isn’t it strange that you always seem to be fighting on the side of the underdog?”

Rick: “Yes, and I have found that to be an expensive hobby, too.  I’m not fighting for anything anymore except myself.”

Victor:  “If we quit fighting for what we believe in, the world will die.” 

Rick:  “What of it?  Then the world will be out of its misery.” 

Victor:  “You sound like someone who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.  Each of us has a destiny.  I’m wondering if you’re trying to escape from yours.  You’ll never succeed.”

Rick had two “why’s” in his life: One, the woman he loved, Ilsa Lund, and two, the cause of freedom. Once the woman he loved told him that she still loved him, he was back in the fight, for her and for freedom worldwide.

How do Rick’s “whys” pertain to what we do in the wealth management business? Here’s how I apply them: First, knowing that those I love are counting on me, I’m determined to use my utmost abilities in a noble pursuit. What could be more noble than using our knowledge to help people secure their family’s financial future? 

Second, using what we know about finance and economics, about the principles of faith, patience and discipline, we can make a huge difference in the lives of our clients and free them from unnecessary worry. There is no limit to how much or how long we can benefit them, even into succeeding generations, through full-on holistic tax and financial planning. We can guide our clients to a place they would never find on their own. 

Rudy

Having grown up a mere 60 miles from campus and with my oldest daughter recently graduated from Notre Dame, the enduring message of Rudy has always spoken directly for me to the “why”.  The movie’s poster, autographed and personalized by the movie’s writer, Angelo Pizzo, hangs proudly in my office.

Growing up in Joliet, Rudy was always told he was too small to play football. Everyone said this — his father, his brothers, his priest, his friends, even his girlfriend. They told him that the sooner he gave up his crazy dream of playing football for his beloved Notre Dame Irish, the sooner he could settle into his real life working down at the steel mill with his father and brother, and the better off he would be.

Now, I can’t imagine why anyone would tell him that he shouldn’t play at Notre Dame. Oh, except that his grades weren’t very good, he was barely half the size of college players at that time, and he wasn’t particularly athletic. He didn’t have the money to go to Notre Dame. But against the repeated advice of everyone important in his life, Rudy took the bus to South Bend on his own and enrolled at the junior college, Holy Cross, right across the road from the Notre Dame campus.

After four semesters, on his last eligible attempt, Rudy is at last accepted into Notre Dame. He tries out for the football team during open tryouts and makes the practice squad. By the time he reaches the final game of his senior year, he has yet to make the game day roster and don the navy and gold uniform for a single game. But Rudy, through his years of physical sacrifice and frequent injury on the practice squad had earned him tremendous respect from the scholarship elite athletes on the team. In an epic scene, the team’s starters and stars one after another place their jerseys on the head coach’s desk, saying “Rudy can dress in my place.” The coach, Dan Devine, agrees to add Rudy to that games’ roster. Finally and in his last eligible game, Rudy will have his one day, as a dressed Notre Dame football player, on the sidelines.

In the game’s closing seconds, with Notre Dame comfortably ahead, Rudy gets to go in for a play. What does he do when he finds himself fulfilling his dream? He merely sacks the Georgia Tech quarterback on the last play of the game and is carried off the field by his teammates. Nice Cinderella dime-novel finish, right? 

You owe it to yourself to seek out this film. It is not about Notre Dame or about Notre Dame football. This could be about the LSU Tigers, the Oregon Ducks, or any number of other great sports programs; the message of Rudy is a universal truth.

But what about Rudy’s “why,” and how it relates to my “why”?  When he first arrived in South Bend, Rudy spoke with a priest:

Priest:  “Why are you here?”

Rudy:  “I want to go to school at Notre Dame. I’ll study 20 hours a day if that’s what it takes. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to go here, and everyone said that it couldn’t be done. My whole life I’ve been listening to people tell me what I couldn’t do. I don’t want to listen to them anymore.”

Priest:  “Is this about your father?”

Rudy:  “No. It’s for every person who told me this would be impossible — my brothers, the guys on my high school team, everyone at the mill. None of them know how hard I can work.”

Rudy’s “why” is about perseverance and believing, unwaveringly, in his dream. He didn’t care that everyone told him his dream was foolish. He just went out and pursued it.

Back to the Future

This really is the quintessential 1980s film. Michael J. Fox is Marty McFly. Christopher Lloyd is crazy Doc Brown. Remember how it starts? Doc is testing his time-travel machine, a DeLorean no less, at Twin Pines Mall with his dog Einstein as his experimental time traveler. When the car reaches the required speed — 88 miles per hour! — it disappears from sight.

Marty: “Doc, where the heck are they?”

Doc: “No, Marty, the appropriate question is, when the heck are they?”

I add this to the discussion of “whys” because, without the conversion of your “why” to action, the benefits of knowing why can’t be realized. So when is the right time for that conversion to action? The most compelling “when” is right now. In the words of Ben Franklin, “One today is worth two tomorrows.” We cannot take steps to develop our practices either yesterday or tomorrow. Today is all we have, but it’s all we need if we’re persistent.

We are at an important moment in time in this profession. Three forces are converging upon us: 10,000 baby boomers hit retirement age every day, cloud computing is enabling us advisors to keep client information at our fingertips anytime, anywhere, and we have the revolutionary language and processes of the Pareto System that both streamline how we help clients and position us as professionals. This means we have a surplus of potential clients who need help, more ways to reach them than ever before and a systematic way to approach them. We simply have never had so much opportunity to gain new clients and at the same time such powerful tools to meet their needs.

If we are to be true to ourselves, to the reason we each came here, we must not only know our “why,” but we must make our “when” be now. Only then will we script our own Hollywood ending.

Jeffrey L. Watson, CPA/CFP® is the owner and founder of WealthCare Financial Group, LLC, a fully-integrated wealth and tax planning practice specializing in the needs of professionals, business owners and corporate executives. His 15-year-old firm is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 12750 Merit Dr., Suite 1200 in Dallas, Texas, 75251; 214-294-5000. Investment advisory services offered through 1st Global Advisors, Inc., an SEC-Registered Investment Adviser. Additional information about 1st Global is available at www.1stGlobal.com

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.


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