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Kelly Stanley: Creating a Fulfilling Career With a Little Luck and a Lot of Planning

As we’ve covered before, most people’s human capital – their career – contributes at least as much to their financial goals as their investments ever will. That said, a fulfilling career is far more than just a money-making machine. Ideally, it’s emotionally and financially rewarding. So, when I’m advising clients on how to make the most of their careers, I draw on my experience as a Certified Financial Planner™ as well as on my good fortune to have discovered my own true calling.  

How did it happen for me? Some of it was just luck. But a lot of planning went into it too, plus a lot of hard work and some sacrifices along the way. By sharing my experience with others, I hope to give you some good ideas, and a realistic perspective about how to chart your own best career course. 

The Early Years (Even as a Child …)

When I was a child, my family and I would play Monopoly, and I was always eager to be the banker. I loved being in charge of handling and distributing all that cash. As I started to earn actual money through an allowance and odd jobs, I was equally excited about my first savings account. I loved seeing the numbers increase in my passbook! 

Based on my youthful interests, it was no surprise that I majored in finance when I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After that, I landed my first job with a large food service distribution company, attracted by the chance to participate in its innovative financial management program. The program consisted of rotating through the firm’s various finance departments every six months, affording me the opportunity to “taste” them all.  

Unfortunately, after 18 months, the company was acquired by another firm, who closed the program. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one often opens. I was invited to stay on for six more months in treasury management … which led me to my next position at a steel distribution company. 

I enjoyed the varied experience the new role offered as I assisted with the company’s 401(k) and pension plans, daily cash management, banking and lending relationships, and risk management activities. I may not have known it at the time, but I also was gaining valuable experience that would strengthen my future career. 

Finding Financial Planning

A few years later, I decided to obtain an MBA. After researching a number of programs, I came across one that offered a concentration in financial planning. This was the first time I had heard of financial planning. It intrigued me, as I wondered what it might have to offer. The more I learned, the more I realized how closely the work I already was doing paralleled with personal financial planning. 

Since I was working full-time, I attended classes in the evening. I soon found my favorite courses were the ones on financial planning. I enjoyed my corporate job and was making a good living. But I didn’t feel like I was truly making a difference, at least not as much as I could by helping individuals directly. 

The experience opened my eyes to the world of advising. After completing my MBA in 2006, I realized I wanted to become a personal financial advisor. 

A Challenging Transition (and a CFP® Achieved)

Being a natural planner, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make this change overnight. It was going to take all my planning skills. I’d need additional certifications and I’d need to prepare for a significant cut in pay during the transition. I was recently married, so I needed to be sure my husband was on board as well. 

Together, we charted out the sacrifices we’d make to increase our savings, in preparation for my pay cut. Then, surprise, we found out we were expecting our first child. This wonderful news didn’t derail our plans, but it pushed them back a bit. 

As “interesting” timing would have it, I finally made the leap into the world of personal finance in January 2008. As you may recall, those weren’t exactly heady times in the stock market! It was certainly going to be a challenging environment in which to embark on a career as a brand new advisor.

Into the unknown I went. I left my corporate job and began studying, six hours a day for two months, preparing for the rigorous exam toward earning my Certified Financial Planner™ credentials … with our four-month-old son by my side. I was blessed with a wonderful support system, so I could go to the library for a few hours each day. Late-night feedings were also a good time to sneak in some studying, even while sleep-deprived. 

In March 2008, I sat for the exam – 10 hours of test-taking over 2 days. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I learned I’d passed on the first try. Not everyone does! 

Still, my prep work wasn’t over. Before an advisor can add those three “CFP®” letters after their name, they must complete several years of hands-on experience as an advisor. So, for the next seven months I immersed myself in networking and interviews, to learn about the types of advisors and firms available. 

I knew from the beginning, I did not want to be in a commission-driven, sales role. I was much more interested in earning fees for my advice. As luck would have it, I was introduced to an advisor whose practice happened to be less than a mile from my home. We clicked, and in September 2008, I became a financial advisor. 

Discovering The Cogent Advisor

I was thrilled to finally be an advisor. But again, the transition wasn’t easy. Markets remained challenging, and my starting income was only a fraction of what I’d been making. Once again, my husband and I reevaluated our spending, especially because we also wanted to expand our family. 

I won’t describe every detail of the next seven years. Suffice it to say, in 2015, another stroke of fate coincided with my ongoing plans: The firm I had joined was about to go through its own transition. This gave me the opportunity to revisit my career and determine what path I wanted to take next. 

I am grateful that I landed at The Cogent Advisor (now Cogent Strategic Wealth). From the moment I walked into the offices and saw the same Carl Richards sketches I had in my office, I was pretty sure I had found a good fit. After 15 years of “transition,” I finally felt at home. 

My path hadn’t always been easy as I juggled my personal, professional and educational interests. But my determination has paid off. While money tends to make things easier, it doesn’t always lead to happiness. I am grateful I recognized that early in my career, and that I had a support system in place to allow me to pursue my career ambitions. 

Back to You

If you don’t find your work personally fulfilling, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your own situation. What do you enjoy doing? What are your unique abilities? It’s never too late to find your dream job. It may mean making sacrifices, and it may not happen overnight. But if it’s important to you, I’m here to tell you: With proper planning, sufficient support and good guidance, it’s possible. It can happen. And you know what? As a seasoned wealth advisor, I’m here to help.