This one goes to 11. In this special post, founder and CEO of Wealth Legacy Institute, Certified Financial Planner and bestselling author, Kim Curtis, shares her top 11 list—11 books that impacted Kim’s life, writing and her approach to the financial planning industry.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Summary: A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. A fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to totalitarianism just as terrible.
I found Animal Farm at a used book store. It was copyright 1954 and illustrated by Joy Batchelor and John Halas. It had a stamp from Santaluces Community High School Media Center in Lantana, Florida library. What a great find! At this time, I was in my early 30’s and relatively new to financial services.
This book was so accessible in recognizing how easily a human can be deluded into believing that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This book taught me how propaganda, specifically American financial propaganda, can control the opinions of smart, enlightened people.
Orwell’s quiet nagging message inspired me to pull back the curtain on the billion dollar financial services industry in my first book Money Secrets: Keys to Smart Investing, revealing why investors made bad investment mistakes.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.
Summary: Modern medicine has transformed the dangers of birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to mostly manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should do. Through eye-opening research and gripping stories, Gawande reveals the suffering produced by medicine’s neglect of the wishes people might have beyond mere survival.
This book had a profound impact on how I approached my mother’s aging. Dr. Gawande quotes statistics that show 25 percent of Medicare spending goes to the 5% of patients in the last stages of life. Why is it difficult for doctors and/or families to refuse or curtail treatment and how should priorities be set?
After reading this book, I immediately put together some questions for my sister and I to ask our mom about her wishes and intentions. For example, if you had to make a choice for a loved one between ICU and hospice, do you know what they would want? What would you be willing to endure (or not) for the possibility of more time? How do we strike a balance between our fear of dying and our hope for a long, healthy life, while still confronting reality?
Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Summary: Pink reworks the ways in which we think about motivation, that is can be divided into “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” in order to adjust lifestyle habits.
I really like Daniel Pink’s work. He has a knack for teaching in an entertaining way that makes it easy to absorb. He also wrote A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World, and When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, which were also good.
However, Drive stands out because it helped me be a better leader at Wealth Legacy Institute. It provided the tools to create a high-satisfaction, high-performance team of financial advisors. By creating an environment that serves not only the professional but their human needs—to direct their own lives, create new ideas, and explore who they are meant to be in this world. This self-awareness has helped them become more compassionate and better professionals.
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
Summary: The “E-myth” is the Entrepreneurial Myth that passion and expertise are sufficient conditions for launching a successful business. The reality is much different. “The problem is that everybody who goes into business is actually three-people-in-one: The Entrepreneur, The Manager, and the Technician.” Many of us are predisposed to performing the role of the “Technician” but are ill-equipped and ignorant to the realities of addressing the roles of “Entrepreneur” and “Manager.”
This book is on my shortlist of essential books for entrepreneurs. I’ve read many business books, and this book rises to the top with Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.
The biggest impact from this book was in pushing me to create replicable systems at Wealth Legacy Institute that produced repeatable results for our clients. This helped me develop the quarterly meeting touch points as part of our Planning for LIFE Experience™ and helped us systemize new client onboarding.
It also helped make the business a part of my life vision. We often say at Wealth Legacy Institute, we need to work ON the business, not IN the business.
“If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business - you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you're working for a lunatic.” - Michael E. Gerber
The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge
Summary: This book focuses on work performance and how each of us can strengthen our organizational skills, through five systems: Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, and Team Learning.
I was an awardee of Make Mine a Million $ Business Competition sponsored by American Express. This exciting event featured female entrepreneurs from across the nation who competed for business development packages that included business coaching, marketing, PR, and technological assistance to help their businesses grow into million-dollar enterprises.
This was my first coaching experience while CEO of Wealth Legacy Institute. For those who have known me a long time, know the trouble I had at keeping employees. This book, suggested by my coach, taught me how to develop team members through team meetings, 1:1 coaching, and tools for them to succeed. It literally changed the trajectory of Wealth Legacy Institute and created a firm culture of integrity, compassion, high achievement, humility, playfulness, and fun.
The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
Summary: Known as the “top guru of finance and investment,” Benjamin Graham focuses on the three pillars of intelligent investing: long-term, diversifying investments, and maintaining safe and steady returns.
Coming from a sales environment in the brokerage industry, I had been trained on how to sell and had little advanced knowledge on capital markets, factors of return, and research to support the science of investing. This book taught me how to develop a sound intellectual framework for making investment decisions using an evidenced-based investment philosophy.
The secret to financial success is inside yourself. You need to become disciplined and refuse to let other people’s mood swings govern your financial destiny. How your investments behave is much less important than how you behave. This was the biggest take away. A lesson to live by and one Wealth Legacy Institute can’t say enough to our clients.
The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley
Summary: Stanley gives insight to the average American millionaire, highlighting the lifestyle of millionaires through comprehensive research, and to debunk myths about the millionaires. The book shows a behind-the-scenes look at the way “everyday millionaires” spend, save, and invest their money. It shows that what we believe about millionaires may be far from the truth.
This book came out in 1998, when I had recently started in financial services. I found it most intriguing, since I was struggling to get out of my own student loan debt. The big take away at the time was that most of the wealthy in the U.S. don’t live in Beverly Hills or the Upper East Side—they live next door to you or may even be you. Contrary to beliefs, it’s rarely luck or inheritance that decides if you will be a millionaire or not. It’s more about hard work and lifestyle decisions, planning, and self-discipline.
Some surprising characteristics of millionaires:
- They live below their means (50% have lived in the same house for over 20 years)
- They spend 2X more time on financial planning and investing than their friends
- Freedom is more important than showing high social status—two-thirds are self employed (75% consider themselves entrepreneurs)
- Most are age 50+, well-educated, and invest for the long-term
After being in the industry for more than 25+ years, I can attest to the above being completely true—lifestyle decisions, planning and self-discipline are millionaire characteristics.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Summary: Using various success stories, Gladwell investigates what we think about various famous and successful people, judging how we interpret individual merit– while challenging these assumptions about success and fame.
I loved learning that researchers have settled on what they believe to be the magic number to greatness for true expertise, which is 10,000 hours. And that much of success is tied to where and when you grew up—the culture we belong to and the legacies passed down shape the patterns of our achievement. This book helped me be a better practitioner by reframing the traditional explanations of success.
This understanding was important to how Wealth Legacy Institute works with clients around money. Through our Intelligent Investing™ philosophy and the Planning for LIFE Experience™ process, we gain a deeper understanding of our clients by asking: “Where are you from? Tell us your story.”
Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Summary: Seth Godin sends his readers a simple message in Purple Cow, to be remarkable. His book highlights how old ways of marketing aren’t working and the best way to rebrand is by being innovative, unique, and remarkable.
I enjoy reading Seth Godin’s books. He is also the author of The Dip, Small is the New Big, Tribes and other fun reads. This book helped me realize that Wealth Legacy Institute could choose who we work with. From that point, we made conscious decisions to focus on attracting and serving our ideal client, who we often refer to as the “accidental millionaire”. As a result, we became a purple cow in our industry.
The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life by Lynee Twist.
Summary: The book is about our own soul - how and why we often eclipse it, dismiss it, or compromise it in our relationship with money. The way we get money, use money, give money, and or sometimes just try to avoid thinking about money impacts us greatly.
When I read this book, my whole world changed on how to do my job as a practitioner in money. At the time, I was with a brokerage firm and felt completely out of alignment with my values.
Twist reminded me that money comes to us as an instrument of our intention and integrity. This motivated me to create a firm with integrity—one that put clients first, not last. Hence, this book was the seed to the creation of our fee-only financial advisory firm. Once money was in alignment with my soul—prosperity, joy, and sufficiency started to flourish for me, and for our clients.
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware
Summary: When facing one's own mortality, Bonnie Ware sees that people have the great potential to grow, and as a person working palliative care, she discovered that patients often have five common regrets in their lives. It is a story told through sharing her inspiring and honest journey, which will leave you feeling kinder towards yourself and others, and more determined to live the life you are truly here to live.
This delightful memoir is a courageous, life-changing book. Every single patient found their peace before they departed. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1.) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it's easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. It made me realize how important our health is—good health brings a freedom very few realize until they no longer have it.
2) I wish I didn’t work so hard. Male patients, primarily, regret they were so busy spending their lives working that they forgot about their personal life—from seeing their kids grow up, to sporting events and a partner’s companionship.
I suppose the lesson here is to understand your tradeoffs and focus on what matters most. If you let your career govern your entire identity, you may have problems adjusting to life in retirement. Fortunately, retirement is also the perfect time to discover who you really are.
3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people mentioned they suppressed or hid their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses because of the bitterness and resentment they carried.
You can’t control others' reactions, you can only control yourself. Although people may initially react when you are honest with yourself, in the end, it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases an unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way is a win!
4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. In our over-extended lives, old friends get forgotten until your partner dies and you’re alone. When your time comes, status and wealth are not good companions. It’s the presence of loved ones that soothes the soul and makes you feel loved.
Imagine you are dying, but no one is waiting outside your hospital room, not a single person who cares enough to visit you. How would you feel? We encourage our clients to build up their social wealth in retirement, as well as striking up new friendships wherever possible.
5) I wish that I had let myself be happier. Unfortunately, this regret is common. Happiness is a choice. People stay in their comfort zone through life fearing change, stuck in old patterns and habits. You need to take risks, laugh often, and love hard. The incomplete feeling you have, you can change. It’s your life, your choice, your decisions. You still have time to live your BEST LIFE!
By understanding the regrets of the dying, I’m able to ask better questions and assist clients in pursuing what matters most. Retirement Secrets: Keys to Retiring Happy, Healthy & Free was written in large part due to this book’s message.
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