More AUM May Not Make You Happy

May 27, 2014

by Dan Solin

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dan Solin

I know a lot of wealthy people. I also know many “successful” investment advisors. One day, while doing research for my Smartest Sales Book book, I had this epiphany: Most of these people aren’t particularly happy. In fact, they are no happier (and perhaps even less so) than many others who have achieved far less financial success.

My personal journey

This observation really resonated with me. I have always been highly motivated to be financially successful, initially as a lawyer and later as an investment advisor.

I was a successful trial attorney in New York City for many years. Like many lawyers, I worked long, hard hours that took me away from my family. Trying to strike the right balance between my career and my family was difficult. The demands of practicing law can be unrelenting and inflexible. Spending time with family can be deferred. No matter how hard I worked and how well I did, I still felt unsatisfied. I was achieving my financial goals and providing nicely for my family, yet I had a feeling of emptiness and a lack of fulfillment.

I was consumed with these thoughts:

  • Is this all there is? I work, I come home exhausted. I get up and I start all over again.
  • What is the purpose of my activity and my life? I mostly increase the wealth of entities that are already wealthy.
  • When I die, will anyone other than my immediate family and few friends miss me? I’m not leaving any meaningful footprints in the sand.
  • Is life supposed to feel like an endless grind? Where’s the payoff?

These concerns troubled me for many years. I discussed these issues with close friends and family. I know it sounds trite, but really what I was asking was, “Isn’t life supposed to have meaning greater than what I am experiencing?”

After I became an investment advisor, I attended courses and read everything I could about effective salesmanship, but most of the sales advice made me uncomfortable. It was formulaic and manipulative. The people teaching these courses were everything I thought successful people should be: affable, outgoing, charming and charismatic. I am not. Going into a room where I know no one and introducing myself still ranks as one of my least favorite activities.

I was struck by the underlying assumption, which no one (including me) ever challenged: “Stay focused on increasing sales. That’s the only goal that matters.”

Here’s where I chose a different direction. I thought increased sales meant more income, and more income meant a higher level of happiness. I was wrong. I had it backward. Making more money (after you reach a baseline level of income) is unlikely to make you happier. But being happier is likely to make you more successful. I was missing the “happiness forest” for the “income trees.”