The Line Between Professionalism and Friendship

During the course of my 12-year career, I have been fortunate to have many clients who have chosen to work with me throughout the majority of said 12 years. Quite a few clients have even grown into more of friends rather than business associates, or clients. I remember early in my career some older Advisors telling me that this would happen if you kept at this long enough. Surely enough, they were right.

Most of the time these days, when I talk with clients, it’s like more like ‘catching up’ rather than a business meeting. Sure, we discuss business, but I’ve found that a lot of time we’re talking about our families, our friends, the weather, what we did over the weekend, etc.

I’ll never forget the first Christmas card I got from a client. It was 2008 during a brutal year in the markets, and a handful of clients mailed me Christmas cards. It was a simple, but meaningful gesture and for the first time I realized that I was having a real impact on the lives of others.

Why am I writing this? Why should you care? Well, I recently found out that one of my longtime clients, passed away just after her 92nd birthday. She lived 92 years, and nearly all of those years were in very good health. We should all be so lucky. I’m writing this as remembrance and a tribute. I guess that’s why you should care. A remembrance because I will never forget her, and a tribute because she was such a wonderful person.

She literally walked into my office one day back in early 2008, unannounced, because her neighbor told her she should come in and talk with me about earning a better rate than “what the banks were offering.” She didn’t know, but at the time I was going through some profound personal struggles. I always thought I hid it fairly well, but she could see it on my face from the start. It was also late spring of 2008. The markets and economy were in a free fall. Things were very scary financially and nearly everyone was in a panic. Watching the news for 2 minutes could send one into a panic attack. It was a really hard time for me both personally and professionally.

She was one of the first clients that I felt comfortable enough with to discuss what was going on in my personal life. I was afraid she might think less of me. I was scared to open up because I felt that I had to ‘have it all together’ and ‘be in control at all times’ for appearances sake. Always remain completely professional I remember being told.

She didn’t think any less of me. She actually sincerely cared how I was doing. I was so incredibly appreciative of her acceptance of the real me.

Over the last (nearly) 10 years, we became friends. It turned out she was not only a Notre Dame fan, but she actually worked on campus for many years! She told me about all the legends she’d met. Being a huge Irish fan, I was captivated by stories like that. She gave me a book written by Lou Holtz once. It was a really thoughtful present. It’s still sitting in my office lobby right now.

I’m sure she doesn’t realize it, but she also gave me some pieces of advice that have stuck with me to this day. Advice such as, “Ya know Rockie, when you’re my age (probably 86 or 87 at the time) all you have left are the experiences. That’s all we do, is talk about our experiences.” I never told her, but that statement had, (and still does) a profound impact on my life. I think about that statement a lot.

She would always ask how I was doing. Not in the casual way a gas station cashier might ask you, but rather in a way that was both genuinely curious and authentically caring. You know what I mean, kind of like when someone knows you’re having a difficult time and they really want to know how you’re doing. She would always say things like, ‘Oh Rockie, I’m so glad how everything has turned out well for you. Your family is so beautiful.’ I knew she meant it, and it meant a lot to me.

I can only hope that I had even a fraction of the impact on her life that she had on mine. I wish I could have seen her one more time because I’d thank her for everything, but knowing her, she’d probably shrug it off, and ask about my family.

The line between professionalism and friendship can sometimes be difficult to toe. You want to, (and should) remain professional, but on the other hand, you can’t but help but become friends with people with whom you see and talk with a lot over the course of many years. Sometimes, such as in this case, allowing yourself to step over that line can be a wonderfully positive experience.

Rest In Peace. I’ll miss you.


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