Living the Remainder of ‘Your Dash’

Add value by helping clients figure out what they want to see in the chapters that lay front of them.

By Lee Baker
Lee Baker

A book is like our life in that each one has a beginning, a middle and an end. You and you clients have lived a good portion of your lives.  What motivated you and them to go in the direction of this current chapter?

This reminds me of the poem, “The Dash.” If you are not familiar with this poem by Linda Ellis, I encourage you to look it up and read it sometime.  The gist of the story is that a man happens upon a tombstone and is struck by the dates on the tombstone.  He realizes that the most important thing is not the beginning or the end, but the dash in between.

How have you and your clients chosen to live your dash?

None of us has any control or input to our beginning.  Furthermore, we have little input to the early phase of our dash.  As we follow the natural path of growing, from infancy through adolescence and finally into adulthood, we develop increasing levels of independence and experiences that impact our dash.

As illustrated in the poem, none of us know the length of our dash. But if you’re reading this column, you have the ability to think about and make some plans for the remainder of your dash.

Looking Ahead

Going back to my book analogy, what do you and your clients want to see in the chapters that lay in front of you? As advisors, we provide the most meaningful service when we help clients answer that question.

“…what do you and your clients want to see in the chapters that lay in front of you? As advisors, we provide the most meaningful service when we help clients answer that question.”

For some people, their next chapter is born of unexpected connections, such as a sudden illness, divorce, death of a spouse, late in life birth of a child, a natural disaster or the birth of grandchildren. And sometimes what sparks that next chapter doesn’t have to be anything profound.

Jim Peniston had spent years as the executive director of the Foundation for Financial Planning, a pro bono organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. Jim’s next chapter was born five years before he retired from the foundation.  Through a conversation with a friend at his church, who worked as a naturally bearded Santa Claus, “Santa Jim” was born. This is when Jim decided that the day he retired he would shave for the last time.

Not surprisingly, as the leader of an organization dedicated to providing people in need with quality, free financial advice, Jim had a financial plan of his own. His financial plan allowed him the freedom to retire on his terms. We knew that Jim had sufficient streams of income including those that he and his wife Margie could not outlive. Combine that with assets designed to stay ahead of inflation with a modest life style and you get a few of the ingredients for to be comfortable in retirement.

Jim didn’t have a need to become Santa Jim in order to earn money.  While some of the gigs as Santa can be lucrative, this is not a driving force. Jim gets to spread joy to children at Christmastime. This is the kind of thing that pays a dividend that he can’t take to the bank. Jim also frequently provides his services as Santa Jim on a pro bono basis.

Brand New Chapter

Unsurprisingly, when they moved from Atlanta to be close to their grandchildren, it wasn’t long before Jim and his wife got involved in the local community.  Next thing you know, a couple of guys at church, who were driving the service shuttle for a local car dealership, said, “Come drive with us.” And Jim joined them.

He then ended up serving on a few boards that sprang from these new connections. As is frequently the case, opportunities appear even when you are not actively seeking. It gives Jim great joy to use his talents to give back and continue helping to make the lives of others better.

Jim has worked since he was a teenager. One of his fundamental beliefs is that we are made to be in communion with each other. A lack of connection with others leads to our dashes being shorter. Jim is putting his life’s journey to work in his next chapter. Everything leading up to his retirement is being utilized in a fulfilling way.

“Imagine one of your friends rising to speak at your funeral. What would you want him or her to say about how you lived your next chapter?”

Your Own Dash

Imagine one of your friends rising to speak at your funeral. What would you want him or her to say about how you lived your next chapter? Do you imagine stories of the time you spent picking up your grandchildren from school? Perhaps he would share some stories about some of the customers that you shuttled back and forth.  Maybe she will talk about the lives you impacted by giving back to a local charity.

Remember, if you are reading this you can decide how you want to spend your next chapter.

What will it be?

Lee Baker is the founder and president of Apex Financial Services in Atlanta, Ga., and president of AARP Georgia. Baker can be reached at

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