I've said it before, but my time spent with younger advisers acting as a mentor is some of the best time I spend with the wider planning community.
I get to talk through their issues, help them explore their ideas around personal growth and development, and occasionally I'm able to offer some insight thanks to a bit of hard-won experience.
To be able to do this is an absolute privilege.
The joy is compounded by the questions which really force me to dig deep to answer. I suspect all mentors enjoy this part most.
It is the sharing of knowledge, exploring different viewpoints, and critically engaging with the topic which really contributes to the shared learning experiences between a mentor and mentee.
The question I was posed by one particular young adviser was this: “How do you make networking and socialising look so easy?”
This stopped me dead in my tracks.
I genuinely never find networking easy, although I will admit to finding it easier now than I did.
This is a subject that's incredibly important in a role such as a financial planner, which will definitely require lots of team interaction, client meetings and very probably public speaking and presentations.
It’s such a simple, direct question, but it talks to so much of self, attitude, environment, work ethic and character.
A willingness to commit
On the outside, the experienced among us can look like we have everything squared away. We are completed sorted, and are without a care in the world.
Everything is going according to our plan. We have everything we need, just when we need it.
We have set and achieved our goals and our priorities are always met. We appear to move freely within our network and engage with ease.
In short, the stars look entirely aligned.
But the truth is to achieve this level of operating, particularly if you are prone to self-doubt and introspection, requires masses of commitment and a willingness to commit to personal growth.
It means showing up.
Not sometimes, always. It means attending when it’s required — willingly and without having to be told or cajoled. Working to purposely position ourselves both tactically and strategically.
It means moving into the thick of the journey, and not coasting on the wake of past accomplishments.
It's definitely not about relying on the efforts of others, or claiming the credit for their hard work.
Nor is it about cancelling on others, particularly if you have been helped to get to your position by the hard work of others around you.
It is about taking personal responsibility for the sheer effort it takes to succeed and, with hard work and possibly a bit of luck, excel.
Excellence in any endeavour takes extraordinary effort.
The examples are endless.
The most gifted sportsmen and women practice constantly to build on their innate abilities, because they know that a hundredth of a second or that extra metre makes all the difference between success and 'almost'.
The most elite in the military exercise continually, working to improve their skills and reaction times. They live by the maxim of ‘train hard, fight easy.’
Surgeons, nurses, scientists, firemen, and hosts of others with real responsibility in their job descriptions never ever stop seeking to improve and to challenge their current abilities.
And so it is with us. We have the responsibility to be the best we can be for ourselves, our team and particularly our clients.
Rules to live by
This responsibility means getting out of our comfort zones, and accepting personal responsibility for our own improvement.
The comfort zone is where the mediocre congregate to congratulate themselves they are in a big crowd of people just like them.
It means asking questions of ourselves and of those willing to help us be better.
I take this responsibility as a mentor and as a mentee really seriously. I take it upon myself to interact with as many successful individuals as possible.
It’s about learning from them, understanding their paths to success, their motivations and personal stories.
This is largely how I replied to the question posed by my mentee:
"Always do what you need to do, not what you would rather do."
It’s a personal rule and one that I use in every role I've ever had.
I try to lead by example, never shirking an opportunity to explore improvement, and to help others do the same. It's a life-long rule I try to abide by.
This one simple insight, gleaned from people far more successful than I, is one which separates the extraordinary from the ordinary, the leaders from the followers.
I believe that by always approaching things with this rule in mind, the opportunity to grow and succeed will likely follow.
Not always, and maybe not immediately, but it helps tip the balance in favour of marked improvement.
Those who don’t work on their own development, and on the areas they know they could be better at, will have a much harder time. They will also over time be outpaced by those who do.
When it comes to personal and professional development, it's worth being prepared for the continual effort that will be involved.
Be prepared for enduring personal discomfort, for creative tension in the workplace, and for considering just how much effort you want to put in.
This will enable you to gain the self-respect of being able to say: "I did that by my own hard work, and by challenging myself when others clearly would not."
Consider your role, its requirements, the endless obligations, invitations and responsibilities, and the people you may need to appease to get you closer to where you're aiming.
Do the things you need to do — the things that will move the dial, before even considering the things you would rather do.
It’s not always easy, but this is entirely why so few people end up achieving the level of success they envision for themselves. It's also why they're unable to make it look easy to others.
Remember, if it was easy everyone would be doing it.