Measuring Growth

Make Financial Choices and Business Decisions Based on Your Definition of Success with Brian Plain

A lot of that work means really examining what success means, what enough means, and recognizing that, even with a good financial plan, as soon as you walk out the door with your plan, it'll change. But that doesn't mean you failed.

Susan Boles
January 26, 2021
29
 MIN
Podcast
Quote: "Sometimes, it's the constraints that we put in place that allow our businesses to shine because they take so many other options off the table." - Brian Plain

The choices we make about how to earn, save and spend our money all ultimately come down to how we think and feel about money - and work.

And whether or not you're "successful" with your financial choices is all a matter of your perspective. That’s why understanding and thinking about how you define success has a lot to do with whether or not you're satisfied—or feel successful—with your finances.

If you live in the US, you live in a capitalist society that equates accumulation of money with success. The default assumption is that more money is better and that success is accumulating as much money as you possibly can.

But examining that definition of success and figuring out if that's YOUR definition of success can be really powerful when it comes to handling your own finances - and can help shape your priorities and values that help define your own financial choices.

That's a lot of what my guest today does with his clients.

Meet Brian Plain. Brian is an Investment Advisor Representative with Gradient Advisors, LLC an SEC Registered Investment Advisory firm located in Arden Hills, Minnesota.

Brian helps clients figure out what to do with their finances and helps them figure out a plan to meet their financial goals.

A lot of that work means really examining what success means, what enough means and recognizing that, even with a good financial plan, as soon as you walk out the door with your plan, it'll change. But that doesn't mean you failed.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • How to examine your financial values and create your OWN definition of success and failure when it comes to your financial decisions
  • What does "success" look like when it comes to managing your money?
  • How to incorporate what we really care about into our financial choices

Links

Episode Transcript

Brian Plain (00:00):

If success requires perfection on our behalf, we're already on our way to being a massive failure, if that's how we're going to define it. The way that I look at it instead is if we can reframe success as the process of continually taking actions that put us closer to our stated goals, realizing that there's going to be bumps along the road, we're much more likely to get to those goals that we're setting for ourselves when we leave ourselves that wiggle room and be willing to cut ourselves some slack and realize that, "Hey, life happens and it's not going to go all according to plan."

Susan Boles (00:28):

The choices we make about how to earn, save and spend our money all ultimately come down to how we think and feel about money and work. Whether or not you're "successful" with your financial choices is all a matter of your perspective. Understanding and thinking about how you define success has a lot to do with whether or not you are satisfied or feel successful with your finances.

Susan Boles (00:58):

I'm Susan Boles, and you're listening to Break the Ceiling, the show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit and increase your operational capacity. If you live in the US, you live in a capitalist society that equates accumulation of money with success. The default assumption is that more money is better and that success is accumulating as much money as you possibly can. But examining that definition of success and figuring out if that's your definition of success can be really powerful when it comes to handling your own finances and can help shape your priorities and values that help define your own financial choices.

Susan Boles (01:44):

That's a lot of what my guest today does with his clients. Meet Brian Plain. Brian is an investment advisor representative with Gradient Advisors, LLC, which is a SEC-registered investment advisory firm located in Arden Hills, Minnesota. He helps clients figure out what to do with their finances and helps them figure out a plan to meet their financial goals. A lot of that work means really examining what success means, what enough means and recognizing that even with a good financial plan, as soon as you walk out the door with your plan, it'll change.

Susan Boles (02:22):

But that doesn't mean you failed. Brian and I talk about how to examine your financial values and create your own definition of success and failure when it comes to your financial decisions.

Susan Boles (02:34):

Hey, Brian. Thanks for being on the show.

Brian Plain (02:36):

Hey, Susan. Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

Susan Boles (02:38):

I think a lot of people aren't necessarily familiar with what a certified financial planner is or where they sit in that suite of financial support you might want in your business or your personal life. Can you give me a quick summary of what you do and how you work with folks?

Brian Plain (02:55):

Sure. I think when most people talk about a certified financial planner and what they might do differently is that we take more of a bigger picture, holistic look at people's finances and how that interacts with their lives. That just covers basically beyond investments. I think again, when most people say financial, their head immediately goes to investments, but there's obviously a lot more than that. Whether that's how much you keep in your cash cushion, insurance coverage, looking at your employee benefits, estate planning, insurance, planning. Basically, just anything and everything that has to do with your financial wellbeing, I typically consider to be fair game. I always stop people and remind them that I'm not a CPA. I'm not an attorney, but I know those people, and I'm also not afraid of the answer to a question being, "I don't know, but I'll find out for you."

Brian Plain (03:42):

Yeah, I guess from a bigger picture standpoint, where I guess a certified financial planner sits in the spectrum of financial advice and so forth. As to who I specifically focus on, I work with Gen X families that want to live better, both financially and emotionally. I like to sit in that area of that... I think there's enough articles probably out there on Roth IRA conversions. Frankly, I'm not an engineer, so your spreadsheets will always be better than mine. But where I really feel like I can add the most value and help folks is that money mindset focus of how do we take this vehicle that is money and turn it into living a good life both now and in the future.

Susan Boles (04:20):

Yeah, I absolutely adore your email. It is one of my favorites, and a lot of what you write about talks about that money mindset and reframing how you approach, think about your money and how you're using it, how you're budgeting around it. Do you see money mindset issues popping up in your work and what value do you see in investing and paying attention to our overall relationship with our money?

Brian Plain (04:45):

Yes. I see it a lot, and I think the value in it is that I think a lot of people don't always see that. I think it's very easy for folks to say if we're talking about... Whether it's financial planning or just setting financial goals for yourself, it's easy just to focus on the numbers. Whether that's a certain amount in savings, whether that's a certain income from your business, those are all good goalposts to have and I think obviously keep us motivated, build in our businesses and move forward. But they often lack meaning, I think, behind them. It's just, "Well, this is the next goalpost to hit then once you get there, it's, 'Well, then I'll be happy.'" That seems to be the story that we continually tell ourselves and we continue to move those goalposts and do it successfully.

Brian Plain (05:25):

It doesn't always translate into, "Well, am I actually living a better life or the life I want to be living as a result of doing that?" Yeah, I think taking that money mindset approach is hugely helpful. A lot of times when I'm talking to people about it, it's the first time that they've really thought about it that way. But again, it goes back to maybe what I mentioned earlier, which is just money itself is really just a vehicle. What we do with it can obviously dictate whether we're living the life we want or we're not. Yeah, I think bringing that up as part of the equation, I think so many people sometimes just think of money from the technical side of things. But really it's just a thing that we can use to make our lives better. Yeah, it's a big part of what I help people realize through our work together is how can we help them reframe that.

Susan Boles (06:11):

Do you do that in any structured way or it just comes up naturally? Knowing that for just about everybody, including people who have done money mindset work, it's always something that is there. It's something in the background and how you view and use money is always something... There's always something new and different to deal with. Is it part of your process or just comes up naturally? How do you approach that?

Brian Plain (06:40):

Yeah, so it is part of my process, which then I think has it come up more naturally. Some of that process is really what I like to tell people is like rather than saying that we're going to put together this financial plan, my issue with the standard issue financial plan has always been like, "Okay, this is great. You just spent thousands of dollars. You've put together a plan that lays out the next 30 years of your lives. You walk out the office door. You're feeling good about yourself and you fall down and subsequently break your arm and now you're out of work for three weeks or four weeks." You now have this paper document that is now basically worthless because it's completely changed this second.

Brian Plain (07:14):

The only thing we know when you do a financial plan is that we're not going to get it right. That's really the only thing you can know with any certainty so the way I prefer to approach it is, "Look, our goal here is not to build this really elaborate thing that has to be redone every time something changes in our lives." Instead it's, "Let's build out this flexible framework that acknowledges the fact that life is going to change." That's the thing that we know for certain. I think when we're able to do that, it really allows a lot of space for that money mindset to come into it of that different people think about things differently when it comes to money.

Brian Plain (07:47):

Nowhere is that more true than when we're talking about a couple that's together and brings two separate money mindsets to it. A lot of the work we're often doing is, again, how we can blend those together where someone may be more emotional when it comes to money and that drives their decision making process. There may be some people... I don't know maybe like someone who is also on this podcast with me who might take a money-first approach to those things. How do we blend those two when you're trying to co-exist together and make money work for both of you?

Susan Boles (08:14):

Yeah, it's so funny because when my husband and I got married, we didn't necessarily have different mindsets about money. We were both along the same, mostly saver values. But what was really interesting was we decided who was going to control the finances based on who had more of an emotional need to control the finances. I could not not be in control of it. It stressed me out so much to not be in control of it. He was like, "Yeah, I can do it, but I don't care." That's how we ended up making the decision about who makes financial decisions. Who emotionally can't not make the decisions?

Brian Plain (08:54):

There might be a similarity in my household too as well, Susan. Believe it or not.

Susan Boles (08:59):

He's like, "Yeah, totally capable. But also I don't care and you do." Let's talk a little about one aspect of money mindset, the success and failure. We all want to be "successful" with our money. We want to be making smart choices, making good decisions. At least in my work though, very few people are actually confident that they are making good choices or that they're being successful even if that's not necessarily true. Is that true for you as well? If so, why do you think that is?

Brian Plain (09:36):

Yeah, absolutely. I will maybe just start with the latter part of your question. The reason I think that is, is when you haven't established what you view as success and really gone through that process of really defining that, the default is to look externally. I think it's just, again, getting back to that analogy of moving the goalpost. It's so easy to have what if you told yourself of five years ago would be a massive success to equate to where you're at right now, if you... That's great, but really what you're looking at, you're looking at the person that's five years ahead of you and saying, "But I have so far to go."

Brian Plain (10:10):

Both of those things can be true at the same time. I think again, in terms of how we view success, I think the more that we can look inward to create that definition, the more satisfied we start to come and the more we're able... I think most importantly to enjoy the journey of success because again, there's really not a finish line to it.

Brian Plain (10:29):

Again, I think for certain people that are just again, going to be entrepreneurial motivated to begin with... The people that are successful at it, they're never looking backwards, right? It's always like, "What's next? What's next?" Again, sometimes part of my process is just to slow people down and again, not rest on your laurels, but really just take a look back to say, "Hey, let's take a minute here and just acknowledge all that you've overcome, all that you've accomplished." That doesn't mean that you're not going to still continue to work hard, to grow from there. But again, just part of I think success is being able to enjoy it as a journey as opposed to it's this fictional destination that we will one day reach and just be massively happy for the rest of our lives.

Susan Boles (11:08):

Yeah. It's interesting. I've been reading The Psychology of Money, which you had recommended to me and ironically had been just delivered the day that you were, "Hey, you should read this." One of the things that's really been sticking out for me is that Morgan, the author, says the hardest thing when it comes to money is to get the goalpost to stop moving. That felt so, so really true, is that really the hardest thing when it comes to money is not figuring out how to use it or what a good, smart choice would be. It's really to figure out where is the goalpost and then get it to not be comparing to everybody else and people that are five years ahead of you and to just release that idea that in our society we equate success generally with money, right? Accumulation of money, whether that's true or not, and then being able to detach that is one of the most challenging things that we have to do when we're learning how to handle and deal with money.

Brian Plain (12:10):

For sure. I think one of the things I know we're going to talk a little bit about as well too is again, the amount of space there is between a massive success and a complete failure. I think the same thing holds true when you talk about moving the goalposts. It's like we either say that we're going to continue to move them completely down the field five years ahead of where we are or we're going to try and make them stop. Again, it's the same thing. It's, "Well, with most things, there's a happy medium there, right?" It's not to say that, "Okay, because we've reached a point where we feel we now 'have enough,' and we've done the planning work to feel like we can see why that is enough for us."

Brian Plain (12:44):

That again, earning more money beyond that isn't necessarily going to increase our livelihood, our level of happiness. Frankly, sometimes it might even add more stressors to our lives when we really look at it that we don't necessarily want to do. Just having that picture allows us to be more intentional. Again, I think it's that the goalposts maybe never stop moving, but certainly sometimes it probably would be smart of us to just slow them down and move them more purposely as opposed to just, "Well, we've checked this box, and this is the next one that we're supposed to check according to again, the people that are 'in front of me' that I've decided to compare myself to."

Susan Boles (13:17):

Yeah. I think there's a lot of parallels to business ownership too. The trope is that we're all supposed to be growing our business and that's the goal, is that there's never an end. There's never a point at which we're not supposed to be growing and sometimes it's taking a step back and saying, "I'm making a conscious choice that this is the size of the company I want to grow and I will make other choices, but I'm not growing just for the sake of growth."

Brian Plain (13:45):

Yeah, absolutely. I also think it's one of those, again, it's if you've only looked outwardly to define your definition of success when it comes to your business, that's the process, right? It's like you just continue to grow, grow, grow, grow, grow. At some point, and again, I say this as someone who, again, as admitted solopreneur, I've structured my business in that so that I can stay that way as purposely as possible. Sometimes it's the constraints that we put in place that allow our businesses, I think, to really shine. Because again, it takes so many of those options off the table. Most importantly, I think it prevents us from creating a business that essentially looks like the job that we escaped and why we left to go create that business in the first place.

Brian Plain (14:25):

I don't think it was that people got into business to be that miserable middle manager that they tried to escape it and now that they feel that maybe that's one of six roles that they fill in their company as opposed to that's the role they escaped. At least that point, they were only filling one role and they got to go home at night and not have to worry about it as much. Yeah, I think just again, being that purposeful about the growth of your business or when you're at a point where it's growth is now not the primary goal. Maybe now the primary goal is really to just work with people that you really enjoy working with. Maybe that involves cutting back some places or just making changes to your business so that you can do that.

Susan Boles (15:02):

It's that time of year. Time to set some new goals or consider your new year's resolution. If you're like a lot of business owners I know, you might be thinking that this is the year you're going to get your shit together when it comes to your money. You're going to start reviewing that P&L statement you get every month. You're going to be more intentional about how you spend and closely tracking the ROI you're getting. You're going to get clear on exactly how you're making money and how you can make more of it without working yourself into the ground. Now, if you're both nodding your head and feeling the anxiety rise in your chest as I describe these financial goals, I see you. We all have the best of intentions about how we're going to manage our business finances. But few people actually follow through on learning how to manage their business's money or execute the financial plans they create.

Susan Boles (15:56):

You want to feel like you're on top of your money stuff, but it's tough to climb over all the questions and reports and bank accounts and spreadsheets. That's where I come in. I help you think like a CFO. Working together, you'll learn the skills you need to confidently make database decisions about how to spend your money and how to structure your business so you make more. You'll build a more resilient business that's efficient and easy to run and you'll create meaningful financial processes so you're never caught with your pants down again.

Susan Boles (16:30):

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Susan Boles (17:31):

All right. You brought up failure when we were talking about success, and I want to dig a little bit deeper into that. Maybe the flip side of success is failure, maybe. But you wrote a really great email the other week talking about reframing how we approach failures. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and what your approach is there?

Brian Plain (17:55):

Sure. I should point out all of these blog posts and emails I write are basically just reminders to myself that I basically share with other people. Again, I think that's that concept that we talked about a little bit before of just that there's a lot of space between being a massive success and a complete failure. The example I used and I hint at the end of the blog post that I was referring to myself in this with quarantine and so forth. Some of the things I usually like to do to get my exercise and workout just haven't been possible right now. I took it upon myself to do one of those 30-day yoga challenges. It was cooking, got to Day Eight, doing well, had some accountability from some people. Day Nine, fell asleep on the couch, woke up, decided to eat some ice cream instead of doing my yoga routine that evening, and now "I have failed," right?

Brian Plain (18:38):

Again, my reframe really there is, "Well, did I?" For eight days in a row, I did a yoga program that I previously was not doing at all. But again, because I did not immediately hit my goal of doing 30 days successfully, it's easy for me to say, "Well, I can just bag it and say, 'Well, that was a good effort, Brian, but you obviously failed at that.'" I think, again, that's where I go to reframing success of just there being a lot of space between being a complete failure and a massive success is that again, I made a lot of progress in that period of time and there's nothing that stops me from getting up the next day and just picking up where I left off.

Brian Plain (19:14):

I think that's where we get ourselves in trouble when it comes to if success requires perfection on our behalf, we're already on our way to being a massive failure if that's how we're going to define it. The way that I look at it instead is if we can reframe success as the process of continually taking actions that put us closer to our stated goals, realizing that there's going to be bumps along the road, we're much more likely to get to those goals that we're setting for ourselves when we leave ourselves that wiggle room and be willing to cut ourselves some slack and realize that, "Hey, life happens and it's not going to go all according to plan."

Susan Boles (19:46):

Yeah, I think it's so interesting. I mentioned this before we got on the call, but you and I were both in a virtual co-working group a couple of years ago. That's how we met. There was a question posted in the forum asking people how they approached failure and whether or not they... How did they view failure? Some people viewed failure as there's not really any failure. It's all just data. It's information. It's something was successful.

Susan Boles (20:20):

Then there were the people that when things didn't go according to plan just really focused on the fact that it was a failure. I think that that's a great analogy here. Sometimes things don't go well. In business, in money, in life, things never go according to exactly how you plan them. A lot of it has to do with how you approach and think about that failure. For me, I'm one of those people that, "Yeah, stuff may not have gone exactly according to what I wanted. There were certainly some wins. There were some maybe not so great moments." But for me, it's all just data to help me make better choices the next time around. I would love to hear your perspective on that.

Brian Plain (21:05):

Yeah, well, it's interesting because again, I can provide a point of comparison there that I was probably in the latter category of that I was the person that, again, if I didn't achieve that, I was a failure. Not from the standpoint of I was going to beat myself up and not get out of bed for five days once I have that failure happen. But more from the standpoint of for me, it was anything that didn't mean reaching what I was, if I was to view that as a... I would view that as a failure because to do anything else would just be an excuse. Part of this was me, again, giving up that sense of control, that shocking as a financial planner I seek, that sense of control over so many things that really I can't control.

Brian Plain (21:45):

Just realizing that what I can control are the actions that I put into everything. I don't necessarily always control the outcomes, but I can control again, the actions that I'm putting into it. I think I offer that just as a way for folks who say, "Well, it's too late for me or too late for my business. I'm already just wired this way."

Brian Plain (22:03):

I do think it's something that, again, you can have a natural inclination to be one way or the other as it comes to that, but you can I think get better. Again, the example I always provide is that we always want to go from A to Z of we want to go from being the person that just views any failure as this is a data point, as you mentioned, and we can get better at it. We can just use it to do it or the example that I provided with myself where it's, "No, no, if I don't reach exactly what I said, I'm a failure." Again, you don't have to go from A to Z to flip from one area to another. There's a lot of space in between. You just got to plug away and work at it.

Susan Boles (22:35):

Yeah. I love that. Is there anything you think we should talk about that we haven't touched on already?

Brian Plain (22:43):

Yeah. I guess the only other thing maybe I'd add just to sticking with our money mindset topic here is I think it's whether it's personally or in your business, it's just that again, I think the process of whether it's getting your finances in order for your business, getting your finances in order for your personal life, I think a lot of times people look at that and they just think, "Ooh, this is just such an overwhelming process, or this is going to limit me so much and I need that freedom." Especially again, for the entrepreneur who is starting, has their own business and it's established and it's, "I don't want somebody else to tell me the way to do it."

Brian Plain (23:17):

I guess what I would say is, again, just to provide a reframe around that. I know from the work that you do, Susan, and then again from the work that I do with people on the personal side, the goal here is actually to empower you. Again, I think that's the commonality that I hear people who go through. Whether it's your process or my process, it's like when you get to know your numbers and to know what those numbers allow you to do, you realize it's any restrictions that are put in place actually tend to be freeing oneself.

Brian Plain (23:43):

Again, it's that artificial restriction that you can put in place that allows that to no longer be an option and reduces your options. That actually grants you the freedom that maybe you feel like you should have in the first place now. Again, that's the only other thing I would point out is that I think there are certain things that it's easy to view them as these are constraints and these are going to restrict my freedom, but sometimes it's those constraints that we put in place that I think actually allow us the freedom to do the things we want both in our life and our businesses.

Susan Boles (24:11):

Yeah, I love that. I think a lot of the reason that people shy away from paying attention and learning how to make different choices with their money is there's a lot of shame and guilt and fear that we're not doing it the right way. I loved the word empower that you used, is that being more aware of what's going on, understanding what's happening is empowering and it allows you to make choices. You're making conscious choices about where you want to spend your money on, what you want to do with it versus sticking your head in the sand and ignoring it and feeling all of that emotional pent up like, "I should be doing something. I should be doing something."

Susan Boles (24:58):

When you actually take a breath and take a few steps to... even just little baby baby steps towards having a better understanding of what's happening, I think there's so much emotional release and freedom that comes with that knowledge, the freedom that comes with understanding what's happening with your finances. I think at least in the work that I've done with people, it is really empowering that all of a sudden, you feel like you are empowered to make choices that matter to you, that are important to you.

Brian Plain (25:32):

For sure. I think that's one of those things too, where again, the conception is, "Oh, well, if I work with Susan or Brian, they're just going to tell me what I have to do." It's like, "Well, yes and no." We're going to show you here are ways in which you can do things that, again, go back to your word of empower us, to empower you to make choices. But I always say to people, "Look, I'm not here to tell you how to live your life. I'm here to hear from you what's important to you, take all of the competing priorities you have and help you come up with a plan of attack that you can feel good about not only right now, but where you're headed in the future based on those choices you're making."

Brian Plain (26:10):

It's not me saying, "Nope, you can't do that. Yes, you can do this." This is your life. This is your plan. But again, we want to do it in a way that empowers you to take all of these seemingly individual decisions and just showing you how when you blend them all together to make sense of them so that you can again go back to creating that flexible framework so that every time a new thing presents itself, it's not just, "Okay, you throw your hands up in the air and you're completely back to where you started."

Brian Plain (26:35):

It's, "Okay, we planned for this. We knew that things wouldn't necessarily go according to plan, but we're not starting from scratch." It's we're just at an area where again, we can return to the books, we can return to your overall flexible framework and really just look at one, did this really change anything? Two, if it did, here are the different choices you can make about how you want to move forward. I think, again, that's a very empowering thing once you have that in place.

Susan Boles (26:58):

Yeah, absolutely. I think that is a perfect place to wrap up on. Where can our listeners find you if they want to connect or learn more about what you do?

Brian Plain (27:08):

Sure. The best spot would probably be my website and that's just brianplain.com. That's B-R-I-A-N and P-L-A-I-N.com. On there again, Susan referenced my email so I send out every two weeks, an email to clients and people who sign up for my list, which basically just shares my most recent blog posts. But you can also, again, check out my blog on there. I also record all my blog posts as audio articles as well too so if you want to go to my site and subscribe to those there as well too, you can.

Susan Boles (27:36):

Awesome. Thank you so much for being here, Brian. This was so great.

Susan Boles (27:39):

The point of examining your financial mindset, values and experiences isn't to shame you or to make you feel bad for stuff you haven't done yet, or financial choices you made that didn't pan out. Ultimately understanding your finances, whether that's personal or business, is all about empowering you to make choices that are based on your definitions of success, your definition of what enough is.

Susan Boles (28:06):

I want you to take some actions for me. First, take 10 minutes and write down what enough means to you. That can be a number or maybe even just a feeling. Second, write down what your definition of success is when it comes to your money. Again, that could be a number, a feeling or just a description. If you're up for it, I'd love for you to share it with me. Either tag me or DM me on Twitter at TheSusanBoles. Break The Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMillan. Our production coordinator is Lou Blaser. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt with production assistance by Kristen Runvik.


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