My first boss shared a piece of professional wisdom with me fifteen years ago, following my first conference attendance, which sticks with me to this day. As a new professional, I wasn’t quite sure what was expected of a person after attending a conference, and I feared I couldn’t make the most of the experience when I left. Her advice was strikingly simple:

After every learning experience, proactively choose one simple action that you can take now to improve your life or the lives of those you serve. Every small action adds up to create a positive impact on the world.

One action. What an easy ask! Except, for me, it’s not so easy to settle on just one. 

As a natural learner and doer, I’m always eager to apply new knowledge. I find myself itching to put everything I learn into practice… at once. For my personality assessment aficionados in the audience, Analytical and Activator are in my top 5 Clifton Strengths talent themes. The shadow sides of each are paralysis by analysis (analytical) and ready, fire, aim (activator). These traits were highlighted in a recent annual evaluation, where ‘no new things’ was noted as a growth opportunity.

In short, I leave conferences with too many plans and ideas to implement at once. Choosing one simple action feels like one big task! Can you relate? 

As we exit Symposium season and close out the year, many of you are reflecting on all that you’ve learned from our colleagues over three days in the bayou. Like me, you likely left inspired with a list of books to read, tools to investigate, and new ways to do and improve your financial counseling practice. You left New Orleans excited to GO HOME & GO BIG!

Action Planning after Symposium Inspiration

To avoid paralysis by analysis, let’s intentionally commit to a few simple, yet impactful actions. 

To make this easier, I’ve identified four areas of focus for my effort over the coming months: the practical, the factual, the conceptual, and the relational. For each area, I’ll choose one simple action that I will take to improve my practice in a BIG way. 

Area 1: Identify the Practical

This is low-hanging fruit. You likely attended a session or two to learn about a tool, strategy, or process that an AFCPE colleague has already implemented. GO BIG by choosing one high-impact strategy, tool, or process that can help you to be more efficient or effective in your work. 

My action comes from Dominique Reese’s AFC®, FCC®, session Demonstrating Client Impact where she shared her use of the Financial Capability Scale to track client progress over time and to promote the value of the service she offers. Her session was the inspiration I needed to refine the client intake and assessment processes in my organization.

Do one thing: Choose one new tool, strategy, or process that will improve your practice. 

Area 2: Incorporate the Factual

What new or updated facts did you hear that stuck with you? Could that new knowledge improve the way you teach about a personal finance topic?  

Working primarily with college students, I encounter the unique financial perspectives that early adulthood brings. Dr. Jessica Parks’ session about cryptocurrency reinforced the fact that my client demographic has one of the highest proportions of cryptocurrency investors across age groups. I heard for the first time, however, that almost 50% of young crypto investors don’t consider crypto to be a risky investment. Yikes!

In the past, our programming has focused on core principles of financial literacy: earning, saving, investing, spending, borrowing, and protecting. Crypto comes up from time to time, but we’ve avoided focused presentations about crypto despite student interest. Dr. Parks’ presentation highlighted the urgency we face to ensure that young adults have an unbiased and informed source from which to learn about investing in cryptocurrencies.

Do one thing: Choose a memorable fact. Consider how it can transform into valuable learning for your clients. 

Area 3: Reflect on the Conceptual

I often introduce presentations by acknowledging that personal finance is both math and “not math.” I know this conceptually but, as a new financial counseling practitioner, I sometimes find myself shifting too far into math mode during client meetings. In doing so, I risk discounting the deep significance that the “not math” has for a person’s experience, and ultimately success, with financial counseling and coaching.  

Symposium presents an opportunity to engage with the many “not maths”’ that influence our clients’ experiences. I attended several sessions about culturally responsive financial counseling that shone a light on a growth opportunity I face. To continue that growth, I plan to read the presenters’ recommended journal articles and books to better understand and empathize with experiences unlike my own. 

Do one thing: Ask what concept made you feel a strong emotion like discomfort, inadequacy, inspiration or excitement. Seek out recommended resources about the topic. Set time on your calendar to not only read, but also to reflect on your expanding ideas. 

Area 4: Nurture the Relational

Let’s promise to check in with our AFCPE friends (and potential friends) throughout the year. Honestly, this seems like it should be the easiest task of all. I find that it’s not. We meet wonderful people with unique stories doing meaningful work in this field. We exchange names and contact information and vow to reconnect. Inevitably, time passes more quickly than I expect, and the first/next interaction becomes “Are you headed to Symposium this year? Let’s meet up!”

At every conference I attend, I dedicate a page in my notes where I list the names and affiliations of people I’ve met or learned from along with a reason I have to reach out. I rarely revisit that list of inspiring colleagues, so I’m committing to put that list to use by making time once a month to connect with a person who inspired me this year. 

Do one thing: Dedicate time once a month to check in with a Symposium friend or someone you admire.

You likely wrapped up your Symposium experience pledging to GO HOME & GO BIG! This is your reminder that GOING BIG is not about trying to implement everything at once; it’s about committing to a handful of simple actions that can grow into BIG outcomes! Identify the Practical, Incorporate the Factual, Reflect on the Conceptual, and Nurture the Relational. 

Now, what is one simple action will you take this year to GO HOME & GO BIG?

About the Author:

Alex Embree, M.Ed., AFC® earned her BA in Communication and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, where she has continued her career supporting student success initiatives since 2009. She is currently the program manager for the Office for Financial Success, a student money management center that provides financial literacy programming and one-on-one financial coaching to University of Missouri students.

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