This transcription belongs to Episode #38: Robert Persichitte’s awkward story about ending up involved in a husband-and-wife financial dilemma, presented to you by Our Beloved Host, the one and only Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!
Morgan Friedman (Host): Hey everyone! Welcome to the latest episode of Client Horror Stories. I’m honored to have tonight the one and only Robert Persichitte. I hope I pronounced that last name correctly.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): You got it.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Aha And I’m already excited for this episode because I always invite all my guests to have a beer ’cause it makes the best episode. But Robert has a beer, so this is fantastic.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): That’s the Denver lifestyle.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Aha I’m jealous already. So let’s jump right into your story. I’m excited to hear all about today’s client horror story.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yeah. So, you know, first, I apologize for being an accountant because usually there are no exciting accounting stories. This is an exception, I assure you. I’m an accountant. I help people understand what their financial future is gonna look like and make plans around that financial future.
One of the horror stories that I went through is with this attorney who was pretty high level, pretty high earner, very high-stress job, and he wanted to retire. He wanted to retire as soon as possible. He hated his job and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
Now, when you’re going through this process, you have to talk to the clients and take input from the clients about what their life is like, what their goals are, and what they kind of expect things to look like because money is useless without context, right? If you’re earning a bunch of money but you’re not spending it, does it matter?
So we try to contextualize that. We try to put everything in the context of goals, but this is where the problem came in with this client. He gave us an estimate, and he gave us an estimate of about $6,000 a month in lifestyle expenses, and what that entails is everything other than your debt payments, your house payments, and your car payments.
This is just your having fun money, paying for things like groceries, going out if you’re like buying a new TV or something fun, that goes into this budget, and $6,000 a month – that’s pretty high in my opinion, but, you know, we go with what we hear. Once he’s been a client for a while though…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Aha Just to be clear, to set up for the excitement that’s surely going to happen, $6,000 a month, was that his goal of what he wanted to have or the $6,000 in expenses was his current budget?
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): That was his estimate of his budget. That’s what he says. I think I’m spending $6,000.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Aha. Earned spending. Got it.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yep. Exactly. So, when we asked him, “How much do you spend them on? How much do you need for this stuff?” He says, “I don’t know. I think it’s $6,000 a month.” Now, it’s very common for clients to not know if they’re a high earner. So, if somebody’s making hundreds of thousands of dollars, they probably can’t nail that number down because they never really had to. There’s never pressure on ’em in the past.
So we’re kind of used to clients lying a little bit. Once they’re a client for a while, you get to see what’s going on, and you’re setting goals for ’em and saying, “Hey, put this much aside from your account.” I expect, based on what you’re told, you know, the things that you’re telling me, based on what you’re telling me, we’re gonna have a certain balance in the savings account by the end of the year.
Now usually what happens with a new client, you go look at that and you say, “Okay, well we’re way off.” Almost nobody guesses it right, and you give ’em a call and say, “All right. Let’s kind of get this in line with what we expect it to be.” Now this guy was way off, way off, and what he was spending, or his household was spending, was about $10,000 a month.
Now what makes it even one step harder, this guy was at work all the time. He was not the person spending it. He was not the one in the household spending that money. He only spent about $2,000 a month, and the other $8,000 a month came from his wife who was spending…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Aha.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): So then we have a really big difference.
Morgan Friedman (Host): We’re not going to mention any stereotypes here because any relation to stereotypes of men and women in marriage is purely coincidental because stereotypes are bad.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): I agree. This is a specific thing that happened to me.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Exactly.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): You know, it could be flipped. I’ve seen it. It may be flipped in this scenario. He was not spending as much as his wife. So, she spent about $8,000 a month, and our job is to call ’em and say, “Hey, your financial plan, that plan we put together, you know, six, eight months ago, it’s not gonna work. It’s not gonna work because you’re not, your reality that you’re communicating with us doesn’t match the actual reality of the situation. It’s kind of a complete fiction there because it’s way off. You’re way off now.”
This is where it gets tricky and awkward for us…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Before we go to where it gets tricky, I just wanna make a client commentary on that, which is, it’s based on just what you said so far, it seems like the challenge is he kind of lived in his world. He didn’t have a sense of reality. So it sounds like he wasn’t purposely lying to you, but he didn’t know his wife was spending this.
This is an interesting pattern in client relationships because what happens all the time is clients lie, but it’s not because they’re malicious or trying to lie to you. It’s because they’re just so disconnected from reality, that they’re not seeing what’s in front of their noses.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Oh, Morgan, you hit the nail on the head, and realistically, this guy had no idea. He had no… something’s not a problem. Somebody’s taking care of something in the background. Who cares? You know, I don’t have to think about this.
It’s not showing up on my desk. I got a million things to think about, especially this client in particular. The guy was a workaholic. I mean, the guy was working between 60 and 80 hours a week. He was working all the time. He didn’t have time to sit down and go through his budget, which is why he had a lot of money to begin with.
But it’s also why he didn’t know. He just didn’t know. I agree with you completely that it wasn’t malicious. It was ignorance. Ignorance, which is, you know, maybe part of the reason why he hired somebody like my firm. So, in solving that, we have to solve it because, again, he’s paying us. “I wanna retire as early as possible.”
And you know, we told him, “58, 59, you, you can retire early, but we were expecting $6,000 a month. At $10,000 a month, no, you can’t retire early. You’re gonna have to work until your mid to late sixties here.”
So we have to have a call and we need to get everybody in the household, the spender, the wife, the spender, the husband, the earner, and us. We all need to get on the same page about what’s important. What are the goals? What’s gonna happen? Are you gonna be able to follow this plan? Once we give it to you, are you gonna be able to listen to us? And there’s a joke in the industry that a good financial planner is part accountant, part marriage counselor, because a lot of times, they might not have the best communication as your clients, and you kind of have to be the go-between to make that work.
Morgan Friedman (Host): It’s a great saying. I had never heard it before, but you’re the only financial planner I know so it makes sense I haven’t heard it before. But what’s interesting is that saying, I think, could apply to almost any professional relationship, like half of a lawyer’s job is just asking clients, “Well, what do you really wanna do? Do you wanna do this or do you wanna do that?” and a lot of marketing, like my profession, is also very similar.
Well, what kind of business do you wanna build? And what are the consequences of those decisions? It’s just helping people think through these big life questions.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yeah. Well, and you know, this is my commentary as a married person, not as a financial planner, but in that relationship, sometimes you have different views on the world and different views on what you envision your life to be like in the future. It’s not just true in marriage. It’s true in business. It’s true in anything where we internalize these assumptions and we internalize what our vision for the future is when you’re talking with a professional, any type of professional.
But in my case, you know, as a financial professional, especially, my job is to quantify these views, and I have to put your vision for the future down into a math problem, and I have to get one specific vision for the future. I can’t just average out what each of you wants your retirement to look like. It needs to be one vision for the future with one outcome.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I love that phrase. I think I’m gonna start using it because it’s very much the same in marketing. Like in marketing, we need to figure out how to get people to buy your product, and you just need a formula.
Okay, wait, this percentage of sales from this funnel that’ll have these numbers associated with it, this cost per client, these to this, this percentage buying leads to this recurring income. It’s just taking their vision for the kind of growth that they want mapping it into formulas and then making it happen. So, I like your way of putting it. This is very generalizable.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): You leave it to an accountant to take a problem and turn it into a math problem. That’s how we see the whole world.
Morgan Friedman (Host): By the way, my father is an accountant, so I…
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Noble profession. A lot of times when I’m introducing myself to students or new people, I like to tell them that I’m an accountant in my soul. And it’s very interesting the different reactions that I get. Sometimes it’s “Oh, how sad.” That’s kind of my favorite reaction. But I think, you know, all I’m doing is quantifying whatever. If I’m quantifying your desire to retire or I’m quantifying your, you know, wanting to get out of your terrible job. I am quantifying those things. How much do you want to get out there? What number do you wanna get out of there? And making it fit with the rest of the accounting equation or the, you know, financial whatever. Whatever problem you’re facing.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Exactly.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): So anyway, we’re at this head with, you know, it’s me, it’s another planner, and it is the husband and wife. And we call him up on the phone and say, “Hey.” We try to phrase it as positively as possible because we don’t wanna lose him as a client. We don’t want him to be shocked or upset here. So we say, “All right, we have good news for you. Our good news is you can still achieve your goal as you can get your lifestyle expenses down to $8000 a month.”
And, of course, the husband says, “Well, sure, that seems completely reasonable. I thought we were only spending $6,000 a month,” and the wife is extremely quiet. We couldn’t get him in a room together. He had a very busy schedule, so we couldn’t get everybody in the room together. I. It was over the phone. It was over, actually, a conference call. They weren’t even in the room together.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Ah in the pre-Zoom era, so you couldn’t see her face.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yes. Pre-Zoom. We couldn’t see anybody. So all we had was an awkward silence to go off of. And, you know, he’s just like, “Yep, I think that’s reasonable.” And we’re just kind of hoping like, “Hey wife, can you please tell him?”
Surely you know that you’re spending way more than you originally estimated. And eventually, he broke the silence and said, “You know, that’s got me curious. How much are we spending a month?” And that’s where we came in and said, “Well, you’re spending about $10,000 a month.”
And he kind of intuitively knew, “Hmm. I’m not spending that much per month.” And so I mean, I think the guy got it right away of where’s the rest of this coming from and kind of went to his wife and said, “Hey, do you think that that goal is reasonable?” And her response is, “Yes, it’s reasonable.” And again, remember, this is discretionary spending here. This is not your house, everything else.
And so at that point, we kind of got a, for lack of a better term, pass the buck and say, “Hey, you’re on your own now. Thank you. I’m glad we brought this to your attention. Goodbye.” And check back in regularly to see, okay, did this fix the problem? Did she reign that spending in or did they as… I guess he could just stop spending money is another solution. But did they reign that spending in to make their goals achievable?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Okay, so let’s pause here. One question is… I like your voice of the wife saying, “Yeah, I think that’s achievable.” When people talk to me like that, I think it feels like a euphemism, and they don’t actually wanna do it. So like my… so it’s interesting, you’re just like, okay, my response is you said, “Oh, you’re on your own. We’ll check back in.”
But my response would’ve been to be like super clear and strong, “Dude to achieve the goal. This needs to happen. There’s a huge issue. Go figure it out.”
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Mm-hmm. Here’s where I kind of have the philosophical difference, and this is partially where we are in terms of just financial planning of.
We have two competing goals, and one of the goals is I don’t like my high-stress job and I wanna retire as soon as possible, and the other goal is I want to spend lots of money every month. And either one of those goals is achievable. Both of them are not.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Both of them are not. One or the other is.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Right, right, right.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): And so, for me, again, you know, this is where it became so difficult from a professional standpoint of, “Hey, whatever you choose, whatever one of those goals is important to you, we can do it. We can, you know, we can get there. It’s just… it’s gonna take us longer to get there one way.”
And even different professionals in the industry have different views on this, are you more of a coach where you’re trying to steer ’em in the right direction or are you more of the enforcer saying, you know, getting on that phone saying, “Hey, put down the credit card. You have to stop spending. You hit your limit for the month.” And it’s a fine line to walk because if you’re the enforcer if you’re laying down the law, you’re gonna have an adversarial relationship with your client. They’re gonna see your name on the caller ID and say, “Oh my gosh, this guy is gonna yell at me. He, you know, he’s just gonna tell me what to do, and I don’t wanna do it because I wanna spend this money.” And realistically, what it comes down to is your words are stating one goal and your actions are doing something completely different.
And I suspect that she knew how much she was spending from the get-go just because of her response to the call, her response to why we were there. I feel like she kind of knew the jig was up.
Morgan Friedman (Host): So… We’ll get back to her in a minute. But I feel like your comment on being a coach vs. the enforcer, I think we’re hitting on a super important point, and it’s at the heart of being a professional which is the more boring framing of this whole podcast. Client Horror Stories sounds exciting. But, oh, I wanna hear our horror story. But it’s really about how to act like a professional. And I think you’re hitting on a really important point, and in every episode, I try to get at least one new issue that no one has ever said before in the history of the podcast.
And I think this might be the point in the episode that as a professional, you have to walk this line between being the enforcer so the message is clear. They do what’s needed. But your point is great. If you don’t wanna be the asshole, then they won’t wanna work with you. And like, who wants to work with an asshole?
I don’t, but you need to be strong. And versus the other extreme of just like being the coach, being supportive and do this, and do this and do this, but if you’re like too nice and euphemistic, then there’s too much of a risk that they don’t get the message. And they don’t do the right thing.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Oh. And I think that’s one of the reasons that so many people are drawn to really they call themselves financial professionals, but they’re people that have no business in the industry of… it’s a lot of scams out there where you go to somebody and I think we all kind of hear it with a lot of the multi-level marketing spiel of, “Give me $10,000, and then you can quit your job forever.”
And I think we all kind of know intuitively that that’s too good to be true. I don’t think that if I just give a little bit of money, I can retire and never work again, right? I think we intuitively know. Yeah. Retirement’s kind of hard and it’s a slow road, but when you have me, the accountant, saying, “Yeah, slow road, eat your vegetables, we’ll get there eventually” versus somebody off the street saying, you know, “Party time! Do whatever you want and we’re gonna get there and it’s gonna be super easy.” You know, the quiet is ultimately making that choice. And so sometimes, we do sugarcoat things by saying, “Spend what you want.” You know, and that’s always what I come back to. “Spend what you want. Do whatever you want.”
There’s gonna be consequences down the road. And me, a very math-oriented person, “Here. Yeah, do it. Spend, you know, spend $10,000 a month. I don’t care. You’re gonna just retire six years later and… whatever you want, man. You know, it’s your life.” And I don’t think that’s what you want and, really, to your point, you gotta give that client enough of a push that they’re gonna do the right thing.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Makes sense. I wanna make another observation just riffing on what you were saying.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yeah.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Coincidentally, earlier today, nothing to do with this. I happened to tweet an observation I thought of that the values are meaningless unless you make an explicit trade-off against another value.
And what I realized listening to you right now is this is kind of the definition of a professional, like a non-professional, “Oh yeah, let’s fix this, let’s build this, let’s do this, let’s make this happen.” But the core in any profession, financial professional, lawyer, marketer, doctor, the core of the professional worldview is saying, “Hey, you need to understand the trade-offs of what you’re doing.”
The better the professional, the better and more sophisticated and subtle understanding they have of the trade-offs. But sometimes the trade-offs are easy numbers. “Oh, this number goes up, that number goes down.” But sometimes the trade-offs are emotional. “Hey, you can work hard, but you might burn yourself out.” So I also really like this definition and framing of the professional as the person who lets the client take charge of their own life.
The professional is just the advisor, but helping them make clear and understand the different trade-offs that will come as a result of the different options in front of them.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Absolutely. And the way that I phrase that, you know, I couldn’t agree more. I phrase it as there’s a difference between a goal and a wish.
I wish I looked like Terry Cruz, right? I wish I woke up tomorrow, I had great big muscles, and you know, I could just walk down the street like that. That’s not a goal because I’m not spending 10 hours a day in the gym. If it was a goal, I would take steps towards that goal and steps to do that. And in fact, I kind of intuitively know what, you know, what does it take to look like Terry Cruz a lot? It takes a lot to look like you’re going to be in the gym all the time and it’s the same with retirement and financial planning if I have a wish to retire. I’m not saving anything. I have a wish to have this outcome, but I’m still gonna spend just like I did before. I’m not gonna take any steps to get there.
And just like you said, Morgan, the professionals have to guide people into making something achievable. And having a path to get there and maybe sometimes having hard conversations of saying that you have to give up. You can’t do everything that you want to do to get to this goal. Getting to this goal is gonna require these different sacrifices to get there.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah. And I think this is an interesting point, and then I would take it a step further where these are even, let’s say, more obvious trade-offs, but then as you get more and more high level, you get the trade-offs become more subtle and more complex. Okay, okay. I’m putting away $6,000 a month in savings so I can reach my goal, but I can put them in stocks that are higher risk or bonds that are lower risk. So let’s talk about the trade-offs of where to put the money.
So even breaking free of the having hard conversations dynamic, this is, I think, a broader, more applicable, point to say that at every level of making a decision, let’s think through the trade-offs and consequences.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yeah. Well, and once you commit, you can get more in the weeds. You can get more in-depth.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yes.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): But I can have a perfect financial plan and, you know, perfect investments, and then if you spend all the money, it doesn’t matter. It’s all completely irrelevant. I didn’t have to do all that work. I could have gone home early. It doesn’t matter unless you’re following through with it.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Agreed. So speaking of follow-through, let’s… I’m happy you’re taking another beer. So you had the hard conversation and then how did it turn out, and what happened?
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): So the immediate consequence, like I said, is thank God that that’s over. And I hung up the phone and I put the notes into my system and said, “Oh, I’m not gonna think about this anymore today.” I couldn’t do that ’cause he was still my client. I had to see how that plan was going. Eventually, the spending… I shouldn’t even say eventually. It was really in the course of like two or three months. The spending got under control, and we gotta see those firm commitments into those savings goals.
And he was on track to meet his goal. Just kind of moving through, he was able to… and I always kind of refer back to the lawyer. The lawyer was my client. And so I certainly care about the wife’s well-being, you know, his spouse’s well-being. She wasn’t my client. So, got under control, was able to get to that goal, and is on track for that early retirement, which is what he wanted.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Okay, so crisis averted and happy ending. So the…
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): They’re still married. So that works.
Morgan Friedman (Host): You did not cause a divorce.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): I did not cause a divorce. I did not lose a client.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I’m happy about both of those. So as a professional, the horror of that story is that moment when you’re forced to interject yourself into their relationship to expose this secret bad behavior of the wife to the husband, and that is like a terrorful, if that’s a word, terrorful, full of terror. I think it’s horrible, full of horror. It’s a horrorful moment to be in because who wants to become… Like as a human who wants to get between a husband and wife, but as a professional, you getting between the husband and wife, the husband is gonna choose the wife over you.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Oh totally! And on top of that, you know, I am a very analytical numbers person. Don’t wanna be there. I don’t wanna talk about feelings. I wanna talk about a math problem. I’m good at math problems. I’m not good at feelings. And that was early on in my career. I think as I progressed, I learned a lot more about, yes, it’s numbers. I’m doing math, I’m doing equations and numbers here, but the reason that these people are talking to me, the whole reason that they picked up the phone, is because they have a feeling about something. And that might only be, kind of, related to the numbers. Their feelings are what’s driving their relationship to me in the first place.
So I need to be receptive to that and deal with it. Now, I still would say I do not like being in between a husband and wife, especially when they can’t agree on something because, you know, if they can’t agree in my office, they probably can’t agree in other places either, and I can’t just magically fix that.
But you have to be able to smooth it over enough to get down to your answer, what you need for your job, and for me, that’s what’s important. What is the number one priority here?
Morgan Friedman (Host): What’s also interesting to me is I’m trying to abstract out this lesson into a broader lesson is how frequently people’s personal lives become a core part of their work, and thus, as a professional advisor, the marriage counselor joke ends, ends up being like maybe professionals should be required to get a therapist as well.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yeah. I think there’s like this mistake, this false thing that gets perpetuated, and maybe it’s kind of the same thing when, you know, of talking about kids of you have this view that grownups have their stuff together and that when you stop being a kid and you start being a grownup, then you’re able to make analytical decisions and make good decisions and everything’s easy to do. And I think we extend that one step further in saying, I think these CEOs and CFOs must have all their lives together to get there, because if they don’t have it together, who has it together?
And I think that it couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is we’re all people and we’re all subject to dealing with fear and with desires and even things that might not be surface-visible what do I care about and what’s important to me? And we have to have conversations to draw that up.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah, it’s interesting. I think when you’re growing up, I think the model that a lot of people have of the world is that by and large people 15 years older than them, like, know how things go. So like when I was in high school, I was like, “Wow, college students are so smart and philosophical” and you get to college and you’re like, “No, they’re just drunken idiots.”
But wow. Everyone in the real world has a job and responsibility. You know what they’re doing then you go into the real world and get a job, you’re like, “No, no knows what they’re doing.” You know?
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): And you’re like, “They’re drunken idiots too.”
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And then you’re like, “Oh, no, but my boss,” “Oh no, but my parents.” And then one day, you’re a parent and you’re a boss, and you still think, “Oh, no, no, no.” But those uber-successful 60-year-old gazillionaires, they’re the ones that know what they’re doing. And then you read about the uber-successful gazillionaire. You’re like, after his eighth divorce, and you’re like, no, he is just as much of a disaster as everyone else.
And I think part of being, it isn’t just a professional but being an adult, I think is this realization that, kind of, everyone is a mess. And as a result, your responsibility as an adult and what separates the adults from the children is, or let’s say the adult mindset from the children’s mindset, is to say, everyone’s a mess and it’s my responsibility and only my responsibility to turn my life from not being a mess into some semblance of order.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Oh. And I think eventually in life, you figure out there’s no epiphany moment. There’s no magical moment where you can completely divorce your emotions from your professional life.
And I talk to a lot of engineers. Especially engineers seem to have this view that there is a right answer, there’s a perfect answer, that goes along with everything. And there’s a field that’s emerging of… It’s called behavioral finance, of in accounting, there is a right answer. There is one optimal answer, but we rarely should recommend it because people don’t follow that, so we should do this maybe pretty good answer that they’re going to do and follow and use, and we should not treat our clients like robots who are going to perfectly execute everything.
We should treat them instead of flawed humans who we want to make kind of a tilt in the right direction, a push in the right direction, rather than instantaneously changing their life trajectory.
Morgan Friedman (Host): By the way, I love that point. It’s exactly my approach as a professional in marketing as well. But the way I usually make that same point to people is by quoting a classic.
The best diet is the one that you stick to because everyone always argues about what’s the healthiest diet. Oh, should I be paleo vegan or vegetarian? But the reality is 90% of the time, you’re that way for three months and then you have some life crisis that you start eating candy and you’re eating unhealthy again.
But whichever of the theoretically ideal diets is a lot less important than just having some process, some system, that’s just healthy enough, like vegan, vegetarian, paleo, whatever any of those is better than just eating 3 Musketeers and Twizzlers and candy all day long.
So it’s just having one that you stick to, and that’s my way of making that point. But it’s just like your point about behavioral finance that I had never wired it into accounting before, but it makes perfect sense that rather than saying, “Oh yeah, do this thing that is, that you’re unlikely to do that will save you the most money as opposed to this balance, you’ll be able to do it easily and it’ll save you just enough, go.”
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Exactly. Yeah, I, you know, what you said reminded me. My wife and I were talking recently. I bought the vitamins for our kids, and she came to me and said, “Hey, don’t buy these vitamins for our kids because I see this study that says they should get them from fresh fruits and vegetables,” and I said, “They’re eating macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. What fresh fruits and vegetables are part of this diet? Let’s do this.” We don’t wanna make perfect the enemy of good.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah. Voltaire’s line, that’s the final line of those poems is a great way of saying your point. We can never be reminded of two options. It’s one of my struggles as a recovering perfectionist.
I could start a blog for myself, recoveringperfectionist.com, that it’s taken a lot of discipline on myself to realize, it’s the perfect enemy of the good. I want things that are just good enough, and you can tweak them into perfection.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yeah, I tend to look at things with a growth mindset, and it means that you’re gonna do a lot of things wrong, but the very comforting thought that always stays with me is that somewhere in the future, there is a better version of you.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Oh, I like that. I like that. I hadn’t thought about that before.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): But if you go in and you’re trying to make things better, you probably won’t achieve perfection, but there is better in your future. You can achieve better. That better is very easy to achieve. Better just means a slight change, and I think in terms of just the communications of making things happen that are achievable is so much more important than perfect things, and that philosophy’s always really stayed with me of I will be better. I will do this little thing. I’ll read this book instead of going on TikTok, or I will study for an exam instead of playing video games.
Whatever it is, it’s not going to make me perfect. There’s not gonna be this actualization that I hit, but it’s gonna get me a little bit closer to my goal.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah. I like thinking about that from the context of being an adult as well ’cause, in the children’s view, I need to study to get the A on the exam, but as an adult, there’s no exam.
And because there’s no exam, we could either create your exam, i.e., Like there are a lot of structures you can join. People join religions, go to universities, structure jobs to get structure into their life, or you can say, you know, there’s no structure and a good alternative to structure is this sort of the perfect enemy of the good.
I’m gonna compare myself to myself 30 days ago or one year ago and just constantly improve. And what I wanna add to that is I think it’s interesting to wrap this back to this moment of fear on the call of where you had to get in the middle of this marriage. And when you said that 20 minutes ago, I pushed back at it and, you know, I was like, you know, I think I would’ve been stronger because I tend to be strong and dark on these things.
And now having analyzed this philosophically, we’re tying it back in, now it’s clear to me why you took this softer approach because perhaps the harder line might’ve made the message clearer and stronger. Still, there’s like the worst consequence of causing a problem in their marriage or causing a problem between them. So rather than going for the perfect answer, no, you need to cut this off, stop, and cancel this credit card. There. You went for not the perfect but the good. So I like how your actions are consistent with your philosophy.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): You know, being an accountant forces you to do this. And another industry joke, accounting is two months of planning for everything and then two weeks of shrugging your shoulders and saying it is what it is.
When you’re dealing with a tight deadline, sometimes you just have to do it. And I think it pushed me into the… It’s one of the many things in my life that pushed me into the let’s get it good enough. Let, let’s get it as good as it can be. And, you know, to be fair, I didn’t know it was gonna work out.
I didn’t. You know, the benefit of hindsight, I can say, yeah, the soft touch worked. You know, the guy got, you know, everybody got what they wanted. The guy got to retire. Spending was a little bit higher than they originally anticipated, but, you know, not a big enough issue that I ever heard about it.
And I didn’t know that at the time. Another outcome that could have happened was, “Yeah, she’s still spending… you know, she’s still spending, uh, I’m just gonna have to push back retirement and be miserable for five more years.” And, you know, that’s, that’s the point where you revisit it. You don’t have to be done in one outing. It’s not just one interaction with a client and that has to be perfect and solve all of their problems forever.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah, no, um, yeah, that makes sense. And this goes to another aspect of being a professional where, like, as a consistent advisor over months, years, you’re like often you can see, “Okay, I want, I need to convince them of this thing.” And it might take. A year or two or three to convince them. So you can slowly set the clues and the hints. Because people go to one of your earlier points, despite the desires of your engineering clients, people are not robots.
So, therefore, it’s very rare for a human to hear, “Here’s a logically correct reason why you need to change everything in your life now.” No one’s going to, but when you need them to change, you can kind of use some marketing with your clients and throw this hand, tell this story, encourage this, show them worse and worse numbers slowly dial up the fear dial, whatever the approach is until the point where they’re ready ready to make a change.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Oh yeah. Well, one of the things that I do, one of the kinds of tricks that I do, is as we’re looking at it, you can talk to people.
People are very eager once you break down the barriers. Once you break down barriers, people are very eager to share with you what they’re spending their money on. And so I can just say, “Oh wow, you know, you went hella skiing last week. Was that worth five more years in this job you hate?” Because if it is great we can revise the plan. It doesn’t matter. You know, if it’s not worth it, then let’s go back and maybe think about that before you buy the trip. I like it.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I also… before we wrap up, I wanna call out one subtle thing you did in the conversation with the wife that just occurred to me now, but I thought was… I now realize is very clever.
So I think it’s a useful lesson for the listeners that have made it this far, that is hopefully drinking beer while they’re listening as well which is this moment of silence where you say, “Oh, the plan is that you know that you should be saving x dollars a month, it’s not happening.” And instead of saying what the problem is, you made him put the two dots together, so he realized that the wife had to be spending it, and what I found as a super, super powerful client management technique, especially in difficult situations, is to not tell ’em the thing that you need to say, but lead the horse to the fountain so that they put together… even if you put together the first 99 dots, if they put together that last dot, it becomes clear and powerful in their minds in a way that it doesn’t if you just tell them.
One of the reasons why this situation turned out well was because you used that technique.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Absolutely. And why I like that technique so much is at that point, it’s his idea. It’s not my idea. I’m not the one saying that it’s a problem. You figured it out. And when people take ownership of their ideas, very different outcomes.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah, exactly. And the idea can be 99% yours. They just need to maybe do that If you’re building a house and the only thing you do is put the final nail on the wall, then you feel like you built the entire house.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Yeah. They’re cutting the ribbon. They got the golden scissors.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And by the way, people talk about that. Like I know people say, “Oh yeah, I built a house, I did this, I did that.” When really, they just wrote the check and cut the ribbon, but they feel that ownership and we understand that on the big level of building a house.
But I thought I think it’s very clever what you did in this micro-situation, in this middle of the husband and wife, in this context of doing that. And I think I’m pretty good at these things, but I think this is also one way I can learn from you and improve ’cause I think my instinct is more to tell ’em to the end, the hundred, other than that 99. And I think it’s ’cause like, maybe it’s because I like the satisfaction of, “Oh yeah, it’s my, my idea,” but it’s so much more effective when you can let go of that and let…
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Well, the other thing that… the silence is excruciating and you do have to kind of get comfortable with that and we just wanna talk. We, our brains are screaming at us when there’s silence of, you gotta fill this up. This is awkward and weird. And you have to work to suppress that and just, “No, everybody needs time to think.” And maybe if he didn’t figure it out, she would’ve felt that pressure to fess up. Everybody’s feeling the same pressure to fill that conversation back up. And if anything, the error is to talk too much.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah. And that’s a great final point to wrap on that this other technique that you use of just saying it and then being silent and like to give them the minute or few to put together that final dot, and there’s such this…
We’re taught to like hate silence. And I’m like in New York too, so I’m like, doubly taught to hate silence. But it’s super powerful because people aren’t robots who are against the earlier point, and because we’re not robots, we sometimes need a moment to wire the different facts together.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Absolutely.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Okay. I think we got a whole bunch of lessons from here. And yeah, it was great, and we did achieve my goal of getting at least one new lesson that hasn’t come up on an episode before. And I can now feel a bit closer to my father as well. I used to think it was a very different profession. What do I know about accounting? Nothing.
But one of the meta lessons of our conversation is that so much of being a professional is dealing with people and dealing with these situations, and you and my father both do that great.
Robert Persichitte (Interviewee): Well, wonderful.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And everyone who’s watching til the end, thank you for making it this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we had, and now we’re gonna continue drinking our beers.
This transcription belongs to Episode #38, please watch the complete episode here!