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Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

By R.A. Monroe June 24, 2016

This week we talked with Meghann McKenna, a financial advisor at McKenna Financial in Bozeman, Mont. McKenna recalls how a question about guardianship helped her realize how perfectionism can be damaging.

I work with a young couple who are both in their 30s and came to see me not long after they had their first child. As part of my role as a financial planner I want to make sure any work I do with them lives beyond them. One aspect of that approach is making sure they had a guardianship in place for their child, in case something was to happen to them.

When I first broached the subject, they both looked uneasy. By now, that look is familiar to me. Deciding on a guardian can be a difficult prospect for many clients. Every family has its own unique dynamics and picking a guardian can really bring all that to the forefront. You have to watch for subtle body language because people don’t want to offend each other.

So instead of coming right out and saying, “I don’t like your sister,” or “I’m afraid your brother-in-law won’t let the boys learn how to play piano,” they just get this uneasy look on their faces. That’s why, even though I have clients across the country, I always try to have guardianship conversations face-to-face.

In this case, the couple suggested they name his parents as guardians. Right off the bat I had my doubts. If something happened to my clients tomorrow, then we’d end up with a situation where two people in their 70s were raising a three-year-old. What was that going to look like? But instead of dismissing the idea right off the bat, I asked if we could talk through their decision. They told me that the grandparents were a good choice because they were geographically nearby, so the kids wouldn’t have to move; they also held similar religious views. I gently asked if they had other possibilities in mind.

It quickly became clear that there wasn’t an obvious other choice and that even discussing the possibilities — her brother? his sister? — was becoming stressful for my clients. I could easily imagine them going around and around in circles, never being able to settle on the perfect option.

But as they were discussing the issue it struck me that their decision didn’t have to be perfect — but they really did need to make a decision. They had an appointment to see an attorney to go over some documents and it would be much better for them to list the grandparents than to not name a guardian at all.

A lot of times as financial professionals we want things to be perfect. We want the exact right choice for our clients. It can be uncomfortable for us to get on board with a decision we know is not optimal.

Ultimately, the couple consulted an attorney and did list the grandparents as guardians in their will. Over the next year, however, they identified another, younger couple — not family members, as it turned out — and amended their will accordingly.

Because I’d given them permission to go ahead and choose the best-for-now option rather than agonizing about making the perfect choice right away, they’d been able to have the time and space to really mull it over and come up with a great solution.

I try to remember this situation whenever I notice that one of my clients is struggling with perfectionism, particularly when it comes to crucial issues like guardianship.

In the end, I’d rather have someone listed in that role than no one at all. It’s helped me understand that sometimes I can serve my clients best not by insisting that we find the perfect solution to a problem right away, but rather by getting clients to a position where they feel comfortable making a decision.

Sometimes that might take a year or two — and that’s okay.