On this 40th anniversary of the summer of 1969, I felt compelled to take a walk down memory lane and recognize a few seminal events that marked that magical summer and in some ways shaped the vision for the current SRI movement, as well as the trend toward financial life planning. In fairness to my memory, I was only 13 years old.
Although I couldn't possibly have known it at that time, I would eventually marry a woman who was an avid NY Mets baseball fan. While this has little to do with SRI, I thought I would give a wink and a nod to those amazin' boys of summer who won the 1969 World Series. Also, since my wife has been my greatest investment, I want to send a good vibration to her and the other forlorn Mets fans that are struggling for any signs of hope with this year's team. Hey, you gotta believe!
The other two big events that made 1969 so special were man's first walk on the moon and the Woodstock music festival.
So, what does any of this have to do with SRI and financial life planning?
Some of the answers can be found in the words of President Kennedy, who on May 25, 1961, announced his intention to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade and to return him safely to Earth. He shared the following thoughts in a speech to Congress:
I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment... we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.
With these words, Kennedy outlined his optimistic vision of what was possible. His vision was not only one of faith in the future but also one of hope for people who were struggling to see reasons for optimism amidst the tumultuous events of the 1960s.
So it is with SRI. As transformational advisors, you help outline an optimistic view of the future for your clients. You marshal the resources required for such leadership because you possess them and because your clients need you to do so. You take a similar risk by doing what you do in full view. You take this risk because you're compelled to share the significance of your work with your clients and the profession.
Over the years we've become familiar with those famous words that Neil Armstrong uttered as he took his first steps on the moon on July 16, 1969: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong fulfilled Kennedy's vision by returning Apollo 11 safely to Earth eight days later on July 24. Perhaps less known was a quote that Armstrong made years later: "I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work." While we'd all agree that the first steps on the moon were a monumental piece of fireworks, the vision and daily work of Kennedy, Armstrong and countless others is what made that moonwalk so special. So it is for us as financial advisors. At the end of the day we are measured not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work.
Earlier this summer, legendary disc jockey Pete Fornatale authored Back to the Garden, to tell the story of the historic Woodstock music festival. His title is taken from the Joni Mitchell song that captured the spirit of that iconic concert and the soul of that generation. The publisher's description of the book includes the following: "Woodstock became a symbol of more than just sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll-it was about peace, love, and a new way of living. It was a seminal event that epitomized the ways that the culture, the country, and the core values of an entire generation were shifting."
Joni Mitchell was a strong voice for that emerging culture that came to recognize the inextricable link between human and natural capital that is a hallmark of SRI. Her lyrics beckon us to reach out for connection to nature and to one another:
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free ...
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man ...
This past year has been a bumpy ride for the U.S. economy and stock market. I'm sure the road ahead will continue to offer its share of surprises. Feel a sense of accomplishment for the work that you've done. Congratulate yourself for hanging on and helping your clients hang on as well. In the long run all that really matters is faith in the future, a shared vision of hope, and love. Love for people: your family, friends and clients. Love for the planet and all its resources. Love for the profits that come from staying the course as they continue to fund your clients' dreams.As the summer of 2009 comes to a close, take some time to reconnect with yourself and what's important to you. Take a walk in nature. Listen to its sounds and maybe some good music. You might even want to reflect on the following words from Joni Mitchell's song:
We are stardust,
We are golden,
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.
James Buro, CFA, CFP, ChFC, CPA, is president of Conscious Capital. He provides consulting, training and coaching services to support the marketing and communications activities of financial services companies and advisors who seek to better understand and serve the conscious capitalists.