How Financial Advisors Can Overcome Their Self-Doubt: What Would Arlene Say?

12 min read
February 14, 2019

I’ve been on a lot of calls lately with planners who dismiss their own knowledge and doubt the value they offer. This is a common trend among entrepreneurs (or business professionals in general, for that matter).

It’s easy to slide into a narrative where you’re telling yourself your experiences aren’t enough to validate your success (Impostor Syndrome, anyone?).

If you're feeling like this, you are not alone. This type of self-doubt runs rampant. Knowing your worth (and charging appropriately for it), choosing a niche (and believing in it), and acknowledging your financial planning education (and owning it) should all be givens. And yet they’re not.

It’s like the old starfish story:

A man is walking along a beach that’s littered with thousands of starfish, and he sees a boy throwing them back into the sea, one by one. “There are thousands of these starfish,” says the man. “What difference can you possibly make?”

“I made a difference to that one!” The boy says as he throws another into the waves.

When I give a piece of advice, or coach someone on something I’ve covered hundreds of times before, I question my value. But here’s the thing: just because it comes easily to me, and just because I’ve done it before, doesn’t make it not special. It’s special to the person who I’m coaching in that moment.

The same is true for you as a financial planner. You know more than the general public. You know more than some of your colleagues about your specific niche, the type of planning you do, or the subject matter you’re passionate about.

Just because it comes as second nature to you, and just because you’ve built a repeatable process that you know like the back of your hand, doesn’t mean your work is not valuable.

The Common Narratives 

As crazy as it sounds, the narratives I hear people telling themselves over and over again are the same. They may take a unique twist based on the type of insecurities a given individual is facing, or where they’re at in life or their career, but generally, they’re the same at their core. 

Here are a few of my favorites (please note the heavy sarcasm):

My education isn’t enough to warrant any client wanting to work with me.

My life experience doesn’t make me relatable.

I’ve only been in the profession for X years…why would I expect to be successful right now? So many people work for so much longer, grinding it out and hustling, before they achieve a profitable financial planning practice. 

On the flip side, maybe you’ve been in the profession for a while, and you’re thinking: Shouldn’t I be successful by now? I must not have what it takes. 

I’m here to tell you to stop it. Stop it right now. Doubting your value is an incredibly dangerous practice. That may sound dramatic. I promise it’s not.

The Dangers of Doubting Your Value

When I see people doubt their value, I know they have two paths to choose between:

  1. Pull themselves out of the doubt-spiral, dust themselves off, and move forward with confidence toward their own personal definition of success.
  2. Continue the doubt-spiral and, inevitably, get lost. This spiral can lead them to fail themselves, stumble in their business, and experience unnecessary challenges in their personal life. 

Doubting your value becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Bear with me here: have you ever tried putting something positive out into the universe? Maybe you’re desperate to grow your practice, and you keep telling yourself that it will happen. Then, the next day, you have five prospects schedule calls in the next two weeks.  

Or maybe you’ve been thinking about how badly you want to move to be closer to family. You start envisioning your kids hanging out with cousins at their grandparents’ house. You can picture the change of scenery, what your house might look like, and how you’d fill your time. Then, out of the blue, you get an opportunity to up and move. The house you tour accepts your first offer without countering, and the moving truck you call has a special going on so it costs much less than you had originally estimated.

When we put things out into the universe, we almost always have them come back to us. Unfortunately, the same is true when we put negativity into the world!  

If we think negatively about ourselves, or our work, we doubt our value. Then, that lack of confidence causes others to doubt our value. Suddenly, we’re floundering in our business and are left feeling like nothing is going right. In all likelihood, it’s because nothing is going right!  

There are so many downsides to doubting your value, but some of the most common I see are:

  • Undercharging. You’ll never make the money you want to make if you don’t trust that your services are worth every penny.
  • Not doing your best work. As backward as it sounds, when we doubt ourselves, we fail to perform to the best of our ability. (Remember the self-fulfilling prophecy I talked about? This is it!)
  • Not protecting your time. If you doubt your value, you may be more willing to say “yes” to non-ideal clients, or to book calls when you should be focusing on your family or personal growth. Remember, a “yes” that comes from a place of self-doubt or scarcity is never a good “yes.”
  • Sending clients away. I know what you’re thinking: who in their right mind would send clients away if they were worried about growing their practice? Someone who doubts they can serve those clients, that’s who! The next time you question whether or not you’re qualified to work with a prospect, check yourself. It may be true that they need someone who’s more specialized than you, but more often than not, that’s the doubt talking.
  • Impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is an isolating and lonely feeling. The more you doubt that you are the reason for your success, the more you’ll struggle to find success in the future.
  • Spiraling behavior. Doubting your value leads to doubting that people will ever say yes to you. This can permeate your personal life, your relationships, your business or career, and more. This type of doubt quickly spirals and it’s tough to break the cycle when you’re in too deep.

    The more you doubt yourself, the less likely you are to succeed in growing your business. The lack of confidence you show clients and prospects can cause them to leave, or to never sign on in the first place. You may start underperforming, stop yourself from pursuing new leads, and halt any kind of personal or professional growth. 

I don’t want to see any of these things happen for you. I want you to succeed. And that starts with knowing (and owning!) your value.  

Positivity in work and in life starts with you. I’m not saying that life doesn’t throw us unfair situations. There’s discrimination, unexpected health scares, tragedy… But when it comes to your work, and your self-confidence as a financial planner, your success starts with you believing in yourself.

Owning Your Knowledge

When you’re a financial planning professional, you have some kind of education to back up your career. Whether you’re a CFP® Professional or hold any number of the other accreditations available to you as a planner, you’ve earned those. You know who doesn’t have that same type of education? Your clients.  

The people who are signing up to learn more about what you do don’t know the same things you know. Even though financial planning may feel like old hat to you, to your clients, you’re a financial magician. You’re a miracle worker. They don’t have the same education and knowledge base that you’re working with. They didn’t shell out good money to learn this stuff. Remember that. 

Taking that one step further, you may have a specific type of planning you love doing, or niche you love working with. Maybe you’ve always chalked it up to the fact that you’re “just passionate” about working in that specific sector of financial planning. That’s doubt talking, cleverly disguising itself as humility.  

Are you interested and experienced in student loan planning? How about focusing on retirement asset allocation? Do you help tech employees master their RSUs? Do you guide doctors through selling or acquiring a medical practice? Do you help farmers or other agriculture professionals do personal and professional financial planning? 

Guess what? Your unique specialty proves you have value to a very specific group of people—it sets you apart from other planners! I’m a firm believer that every financial planner is unique because everyone brings their own education, specialty, client experiences, and personal life experience to the table. That creates a unique client experience for everyone who works with a planner. Every planner is different, and you all have value in your own unique way. It’s just a question of harnessing that value, owning it, and using it to grow in a way that makes you happy.

Still doubting me, or your value? Let’s take a minute to touch on your Continuing Education (CE). How many other professions require you to continue your education to keep your certifications? There are a few, but it certainly isn’t the majority. The financial planning profession pushes you to maintain and grow the value you bring to the table every single year. Through CE, you’re always getting better and improving.

Finally, I want to address something else that sets you apart and highlights your value. Have you ever met a non-financial planner who nerds out over Michael Kitces’ weekend reading? Probably not.

That’s because you’re passionate about what you do. You’re passionate about learning more, and you’re ready to grow your knowledge base to better serve your clients. That, in itself, is a huge value-add. Don’t doubt that.

Celebrating Your Experience

Education is important, but I don’t want to discount experience. Now, when I talk about experience, I’m not necessarily talking about having decades in the financial services industry. That’s fantastic—and definitely adds a layer of value—but it’s not the only type of experience that defines your value as a planner. I hear too many advisors beating themselves up right out of school because they don’t have the “experience” it takes to be valuable or successful. Quit doing that! Even if you’re fresh out of school, you know more than the average bear. As a brand-new planner, you have your education to add value. But you also have life experience, whether you realize it or not.

The Importance of Life Experience

Your life experience is rich, no matter what stage of life or career you’re in. Maybe you’ve experienced family hardships. These might be:

  • Losing a parent, spouse, or family member
  • Caring for an elderly parent with dementia
  • Divorce
  • Having you or a spouse lose their job
  • Family financial disagreements or tension

Whether these things are big or small, they matter. You never know when someone else might need help navigating similar situations. Your life experiences don’t have to be traumatic or negative to be helpful either! Having kids, buying a house, having a spouse go back to college or change careers, helping your parents through a second marriage as their adult child…all of these things are positive life experiences that add value to your work as a financial planner.

Beyond your family life experiences, you may have a unique experience from a previous career. So many advisors who I speak with weren’t financial planners from the moment they graduated college. They’re career changers who shifted gears after a big life event, or after realizing their passion to help others organize their finances and find fulfillment with their money.

Career changers bring such a unique perspective to the table because they’ve literally “been there, done that.” They can help people who are still in the field they once worked in and can guide them through situations that are completely unique to them.

Your Culture and Background

I’m a big believer in celebrating diversity and inclusion within the financial planning profession and beyond. I really do think that your culture, your background with money, your family’s money story, and all of the other pieces of the puzzle that make you you bring a unique value to your life as a planner.

Being able to help people who have a similar background, grew up with similar concerns, or have experienced what you have experienced is such a beautiful, valuable aspect of planning. Don’t ever under-value who you are, because it alone is such a big part of the value you bring to financial planning and to the world.

Your Values and World View

I heard an awesome story recently about a financial planner who was able to teach his clients the joy of charitable giving. When the planner first asked them whether or not they were interested in charitable giving, their response was, “Why would I do that?” 

This planner had them dip their toe in the charitable giving pool by organizing a small, $100/month contribution to a charity they were passionate about. Now this same person has a goal of donating up to $30K a year and leaving a legacy. This planner was able to walk them through the value and beauty of giving back to causes and people you care about, and was able to effectively show them how amazing it can be to make your mark on the world.

I know another planner who takes the time to teach their clients about ESG and SRI and how that impacts both their money and the world. You really do have the power to help people change the world and empower them to do good with their wealth. 

Sharing your values and world view doesn’t have to be exclusive to charitable giving. I know people who never intended to leave money behind for their family or their kids, weren’t interested in helping their kids or grandkids save for college, or weren’t even focused on contributing to an HSA to protect their own health during retirement. As a planner, you have the possibility to break down these walls and help to guide people to use their money in a way that benefits them, helps them leave a legacy, and promotes generational wealth.

Wisdom from All Ages

I remember sitting on a bond desk on Black Monday. I was a young assistant in my first job out of college. It was a crazy, exciting day to be part of the industry. Then I sit and think about how, when I wasn’t quite as young, I was excitedly investing during the tech stock bubble.

“If we ride this wave 6 more months, we’ll be able to pay cash for that ski condo!” I thought out loud to my husband. As you can imagine, that’s not how it worked out.

Then, when the 2008 crash finally rolled around, I had been around the block a few times. The lessons of 2000 helped us out, and now we’re sitting here in 2019 with a ski condo, a fair-to-middling retirement account, and a healthy dose of perspective. I know many planners who are in the same boat right now. Things like Black Monday are just blips on their radar because they have the wisdom that comes with age.  

I don’t want to discount the wisdom that comes from youth either. If you’re one of the next generation, you see so much that we may not see. I don’t know what it’s like to wake up worried about student loan debt. I have no idea what it’s like to deal with a consistent influx of unpaid internships, underpaid “first job” opportunities, the gig economy, and an ever-up-and-down job market for new grads. You, as someone who is a new planner, bring wisdom to the table too.

How Do You Combat Self-Doubt?

There are so many different ways to combat self-doubt. Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:

  • Self-affirmations. Talk to yourself. Use a power pose if you need to. Breathe confidence into your life.
  • Mastermind groups. Having a group of people to bounce ideas off of and to help you when you start feeling down on yourself is invaluable.
  • Accountability partners. You know that one colleague you can always turn to when you feel Impostor Syndrome start to creep in? Hold them close. They’re going to help you through so much of your career.
  • Sometimes just being near other planners is enough to balance the stress you’re feeling. You can get re-energized about your profession, solidify your knowledge, and go back to work feeling refreshed and renewed.
  • Get a coach. Shameless plug! I help my clients combat self-doubt all the time! I’m a self-proclaimed cheerleader and butt-kicker. It’s literally my job.
  • Speaking at conferences or volunteering for panels. If you’re not sure you bring value to the table, step outside of your comfort zone and speak as a subject matter expert. Still doubting your value? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
  • Pursue further education. Whether you want another designation that will benefit your clients, or you just want to go above and beyond your required CE, choose to grow intentionally in the areas of your career where you doubt yourself.

Remember: even when it feels like you don’t have value, you do. The people around you all see it. In grade school and beyond, I had this habit of muttering answers under my breath in class. I was never confident enough to speak up, but I also can’t keep my mouth shut to save my life. I always hoped someone else would answer, then we’d move on. Finally, a classmate said, “Would you just raise your hand? We know you know the answer.”

It was a jarring moment, but I think it’s applicable here. Even when you don’t believe in yourself, someone out there does. So, stop mumbling under your breath. And if you’re still unsure of yourself, turn to that classmate (or colleague, or coach, or mastermind group), and ask for the encouragement you need. They know you have value. You should, too.


About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach

Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.

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