Design, Wealth… WISDOM: A Holistic Approach to Financial Prosperity


Despite unemployment rates trending at a 50-year low, recent job satisfaction data paints a less encouraging picture: Less than half of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, with a meager 20% labeling themselves “enthusiastic.”

Nearly one-quarter noted they were eager to make a significant career change and one-third of Americans currently engaged in the workforce believe their career has reached a dead end. This apparent misalignment of abundant opportunity, coupled with disheartening job satisfaction, could be indicative of a larger issue—something that could be remedied by a more proactive approach to financial security.

I’m Brandy Chetsas, Communications Director here at Mayflower Advisors, and I am delighted to introduce my colleague Peter Martin for today's Mayflower Portcast conversation, which will share some unique perspectives and solutions. Welcome, Peter.

Peter Martin: Good morning.

Brandy Chetsas: For those that do not already know you, I’d like to share a bit of your background. Peter is a Senior Wealth Manager here at Mayflower Advisors. He has dedicated nearly 30 years to working with families to help people create financial success, while also living a fulfilled and intentional life. When not advising and helping others with wealth management, Peter lives this holistic approach to life by prioritizing time with his wife, three children and Bernese Mountain dog.

What is your dog's name, Peter?

Peter Martin: Bella.

Brandy Chetsas: Bella… I didn’t know that!

An avid fisherman, you are likely to find Peter enjoying the ocean and patrolling the waters of Cape Cod and Nantucket. Peter also serves as a Deacon of his church and enjoys volunteering at the Southborough Senior Center. I love the way you practice what you preach, Peter—enjoying the fruits of well-rounded, intentional living. It is a pleasure to have you here today to learn more about your intriguing approach.

Peter Martin: Thank you. It is good to be here.

Brandy Chetsas: I began this conversation with some pretty depressing data points, frankly, including the sad reality that less than half of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. What’s going on, Peter? Can you enlighten us?

Peter Martin: I think part of the one of the issues is that there is a bit of a “shoot before we aim” approach to getting started: in life, wealth accumulation and starting our direction. A lot of times when I meet with people, I start talking about design first: What are we building?

Imagine if you hired a contractor to build your house and all of a sudden, they just start pouring concrete in the floor and put up a random 4X4 or 2X4 … or start bringing out air guns and drill guns and putting up windows. They’re working really hard. They’re busy. They’re sweating and working all day long—but there is no plan! At the end of the day, there is just this “Frankenstein” house.

It is a ludicrous idea, of course; but we tend to do that sometimes with our lives. We want to just start building, creating and doing things, but without knowing what we are building in the first place.

Brandy Chetsas: That makes good sense. The title of this podcast is “Design, Wealth, Wisdom: A Holistic Approach to Financial Prosperity.” You have just touched upon the design component of that really being foundational before anything else should be considered. How did this idea develop, Peter? How did it take shape in your own life and with your own home?

Peter Martin: It started in a couple of different ways. A lot of clients over the years would say, “Hey, Pete. Can you talk to my kids about money?” When I say “kids,” a lot of times it was anyone from 15 to 40, really. When I heard that question, and I’m sure a lot of financial advisors get that question, I thought, What does that mean to talk to your kids about money?

How can I make that a meaningful discussion like deeply?

Are they looking for career advice?

Are they just wondering how money works, how capitalism works, how to be successful people?

I thought a lot over the years. Focusing on the deign piece, it is never too late. It is never too early to figure it out. What is the design for your life? We write it out, and it does not need to be all that complicated.

We just start with questions:

  • Do I want to live in the city or country?
  • Do I want to get married?
  • Do I want to have a house?
  • Do I want to have a second home up in the woods or have time to travel?
  • What type of career do I want?
  • Do I want to be self-employed or work for somebody else?
  • What type of people do I want in my life?
  • How do I want to be known?
  • How do I want to be remembered?

Obviously, those type of questions are not answered in one setting. But start the journaling process to try to get as much of that down on paper as possible. That is your design.

Whatever you do not design will be resulting in default, so I spent a lot of time saying, “Let’s make sure we know what we are creating!” Once we figure that out, then I move on to wealth, based on your goals—not your parents’ goals, not society’s goals, not your neighbors’ goals… your design. Let’s figure out what type of money is needed to create that life that you wrote down on your paper.

What happens a lot, at least from what I have seen too often, is that if you do not know how much money you need. Therefore, you never have enough, and you spend your whole life chasing this elusive number on a computer screen. The alternative is to say, “No, I want money to serve me, not me serving money.” That is the design and wealth piece. Then the wisdom piece is just trying to share lessons along the way that once we know what we want and we have the money to afford it, we do not blow it by doing something silly. That is pretty much the essence of that program.

Brandy Chetsas: You upended the whole thing: It is common sense yet contrary to most people’s approach. I like the way that you put a finite amount on financing specific goals. In the end, assets fund goals, right? So if everything is driven towards that larger purpose, the “why” that you are answering in the design portion, it all just falls into place. It keeps you on track!

Peter Martin: Exactly—that is what happens. We are in the greatest country at arguably the richest time in our history, yet we have a lot of people that are depressed and miserable. How could that be? I think it is just that we are not taking the time to set the foundation and figure out what we are building.

The irony of being alive at this unbelievable time in history is that a lot of people get really busy building. Then, all of a sudden, they do not like the life they have created because they never really thought about design.

Brandy Chetsas: Yes, that will likely resonate with a lot of people. There’s often a converse relationship: The more security and financial/career success that people experience the more frequently they seem to find themselves disheartened and seeking something different.

Peter Martin: A lot of times, it becomes about living up to other people’s expectations or thoughts on success, compared to writing out what they want. What I have seen over the years when having people write out what they want to accomplish in their life, one of the greatest parts of this is that people are excitedly embarrassed about what they write down for their life design.

People will kind of hold back, and I will say, “Hey, you know what? A lot of times in design, you'll actually be embarrassed to read it out loud or maybe embarrassed to share it with somebody because it is so awesome!”

You have got a situation where people just cannot believe they never really took the time to write down what they really want. When they look at it, there is not only excitement but also energy and passion. If we study anything about human nature, where there is energy and passion, things get done!

Brandy Chetsas: That’s fascinating! You mentioned specifically when they write their design, that they are embarrassed to share it. It is almost giggly… with that enthusiasm and trepidation. But you specifically use the word “awesome”: Their ultimate design, that they never before said out loud or put on paper, now, they’ve made themselves accountable. So, one, it might be awesome and, two, it also might be something very simple and, in fact, attainable.

Peter Martin: No doubt about it. The more we study how the mind works, it is like we might be a little afraid sometimes to write down our goals because might think, “It’s impossible. Why even write it down?” But what we are learning about how the brain works is that the brain does not care: It just wants to know what you want. It just wants to know the number. You want a house? Sure! You might not have it in the numbers now.

Your current reality is only a representation of what you used to think. Once you write down what you want, eventually the brain gets into figure mode because now it knows what direction you want to go and now it knows the design of the house that you want to build. It builds. It will do it!

Brandy Chetsas: That is so true, and that is the glory of what you and your colleagues do as wealth managers: You create that plan to make it happen… starting with the ultimate goal and working backwards from that designing with such intention.

There’s so much that you do, of course, the investment management and all the critical financial aspects that people like myself wouldn’t know what to do without your expertise, but it is so much more than that—giving people that voice, getting spouses on the same page, bringing in multi-generational considerations and legacy planning.

You mentioned that as part of the design, what you want the legacy to be. It is so much more than portfolio performance. Of course, that is important and we all expect that, but there are so many pieces of the puzzle, that holistic approach.

Peter Martin: Yes, investment performance is extremely important. Asset allocation, proper planning, tax planning, all that is critical. However, making sure you know your design and where you want your life to go… that is the lighthouse in the fog. Let’s face it, life gets foggy. If there is a period of time that we do not know which way we are rowing, that is a lot of wasted time. I would argue that that is a lot more damaging to our life and our wealth than a bad investment: It trumps all these other tools also that we use.

Brandy Chetsas: That’s such a good perspective on those ideas, Peter. In terms of timing, you said, “Never too late, never too early.” Initially, when I heard you describing it, this sounded like the kinds of things you would be planning in the beginning of your life, but then you mentioned legacy planning and things that are typically considered later, as we have moved through life and have people that we want to provide for. When you are counseling your clients, what is your framework?


Peter Martin: I put it into two groups: For those that are kind of either near retirement or already in retirement, the first thing that we spend a lot of time assessing is what we have done. I use the dirty garage analogy sometimes: “Okay, we have all had a dirty garage at some point in our life. Let’s get everything onto the driveway, so to speak. Let’s go through what we have. Do we need it? Where is it? Do we know why we even have it? Do both spouses know everything?” This is really the beginning—getting organized with what we have done.

Then, we revisit this question: “This is where we are in life, so what is the next phase? What does the next 10, 20, 30, 40… years of our life look like? How do we bring meaning into that?” That is a big piece of the work that we do.

I’m equally talking to a 50 or 40-year-old about the design piece. What I have found is that that age group is very excited about that conversation—even more so, I found, than wealth accumulation. I think this is because they have accumulated money with very little discussion about design.

Brandy Chetsas: That is fascinating, and I also like your emphasis on the two groups’ design phases. It comes down to always reassessing. Life is not a one and done, and if you do not put it on paper, nothing ever changes. We know it makes good sense to have a plan. We need that plan—but also a very good sense of humor when things shift, right? I appreciate your perspective on regrouping and dusting ourselves off and revisiting/finetuning that design.

Peter Martin: 100%! The fun thing about this, and I really do mean the word fun, is that there is no guilt. It is not like guilt is like the gift that keeps on giving. There is no room in our life for guilt. We are where we are, and we are going to work with what we have.

From a design perspective, the inquiry is better than the answer. You can say, “What is the design for your life today?” The response might be, “Well, I want to live on Cape Cod and weigh X amount and have a great relationship with my wife.” While that is a great design, I’m going to keep the inquiry: You know what? I want to live on Cape Cod, and I want to spend the winters in Portugal, and I want to have a great relationship with my kids and my grandkids, which means I talk to them twice a week. That is a better answer because you’ve kept the inquiry alive.

Brandy Chetsas: That’s terrific and brings it all home. Speaking of bringing it home, just in the interest of time here, let’s close on a final thought. You have lit the fire for me and I am sure a lot of our listeners, as well. What is something they can do right now to take some action to create positive change and get started?

Peter Martin: It might sound interesting coming from a financial advisor, but if we are truthful about it, one of the hardest things for a human being to face is a blank piece of paper. I would ask you to take on the challenge of looking at a blank piece of paper with a pen in your hand and thinking about what you want to have your life design look like.

Just start! Literally grab a blank piece of paper or start a journal and begin the inquiry into your own self about what you would like to do with this unbelievable experience of life today.

Brandy Chetsas: We all have our marching orders—done! Thank you for sharing your truly unique design-based approach to life, Peter. This is fascinating and inspirational!

Peter Martin: Thank you. Great to be here.

Brandy Chetsas: You have reminded us to act with intention and design. You’ve connected the dots to reveal the impact that our life choices, our perspective have on financial security, certainly, but ultimately because assets do fund our goals to our larger happiness. In your words, I am going to be left with the thought that inquiry can be better than the answer. Thank you for this perspective, Peter; and thank you, listeners, for taking the time with us today.

It is important to do this material is prepared for informational use only gathered from sources believed to be reliable or may be subject to updates. Listeners are advised to seek professional accounting tax and legal assistance to address unique considerations. Mayflower Advisors does not provide accounting, tax or legal advice.

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All information contained herein is informational in nature and not intended as individualized financial, legal or tax advice. Wealth management and financial planning decisions are complex and fluid and should be structured around each client’s unique situation and needs. Parties should carefully consider all related benefits, risks and costs and speak to their trusted advisors before making any significant decisions. Listeners are advised to seek professional accounting tax and legal assistance. Mayflower Advisors does not provide accounting tax or legal advice.

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