Two years ago, I attended George Kinder's two-day life-planning workshop and wrote a column about it. I was forced to admit that I had lost all my journalistic objectivity about Kinder's life planning model. I took sides. Not silently but with great enthusiasm.
The workshop participants were training to help financial planning clients identify their passions in life, get excited about them and get started on their journeys immediately.
When I met George Kinder 15 years ago, he was a CPA and financial planner who wore loud Hawaiian shirts and khaki pants to planning conferences and wanted to spend more time in Hawaii. He accomplished that by setting up a second practice there, and in the meantime took pictures and wrote poetry for a book he would publish about the Hana coastline in Maui, called A Song For Hana & the Spirit of Leho'ula.
In 1999, he wrote The Seven Stages of Money Maturity, a book about the money hang-ups we all have and how they get in the way of living out our dreams. The book was intended to help readers work through the emotional issues around money first so they would be ready to do the nuts and bolts of financial planning.
In 2000, Kinder sold his financial planning practice, and two years later he founded the Kinder Institute to work full time on training planners, which he is now doing all over the world (recent workshops have taken him to the Netherlands, South Africa and London, as well as the United States). Kinder believes each person has a "poetic genius," that can be uncovered and pursued. If a person is willing, he can follow this passion and create the life he dreams of, Kinder says.
In September, I went to one of Kinder's five-day training workshops in Dorset, England, about two hours south of London, for those who want to become registered financial life planners. The participants in the workshop were already financial planners (except for me) and all British. The workshop was held at Gaunts House, a lovely old 2,000-acre estate with an immense red brick 18th century mansion. The house had dormitory style rooms and shared baths, no heat, no water in the rooms, no bar and no coffee but instant. (The British drink tea.) We spent a week there telling each other the most intimate-and sometimes what we considered shameful-stories from our pasts.
After dinner on a Sunday evening, we were each instructed to draw a "life map," in color, on a large sketching pad. We also had to write out answers to questions about our ideal day, ideal week, ideal year. Then we had to compare those to our current day, week and year. When I did, I saw how my entire day is eaten away by big blocks of obligations, and my life-which I thought was totally free because I work for myself-is completely swallowed up by tasks and duties. I'm in a cage. When I realized that I can't even take a morning or an afternoon off, I got really depressed, so much so that I mixed up the time the next morning and was still in my room moping while everyone else was in the library waiting for me.
When I finally got there, we chose partners for the week. Mine was Simonne Gnessen, a life coach who works in Brighton, and who was so delightful and insightful I've promised myself she will be in my life forever. (She agrees!) Each person presented his life map. Tracey Evans drew herself in the middle of the page with arrows of pressure and stress aimed at her from all directions-from her planning practice, from her family and from three children now in high school who will all be going to college at the same time.
Another participant, Christopher Mellor, drew a tombstone with seven words in black letters: Born/Had Fun/Made a Difference/Died. Chris was a man of few words and difficult to crack until George and Tracey persuaded him to open up during the workshop. He claims to be the better for it and plans to continue on this path.
George is perhaps best known for the "three questions" he recommends each person ask himself-and that each planner ask his client: How would you live your life if you had all the money you needed? What would you do differently if you learned you had only five to ten years to live? Finally, what would you most regret if you had just 24 hours left?