For Robert Shaffer, financial advice is more than a series of formulas and spreadsheets. It’s about compassion. That career perspective was honed through years of providing grief support to young children. InvestmentNewsContent Strategy Studio recently sat down with Mr. Shaffer to hear his story, and how his volunteer work transformed his life and his practice.
InvestmentNews Content Strategy Studio: Robert, tell us a little about your background, and how you got involved with a grief support center.
Robert Shaffer: It started around the same time I decided to go independent. I had been working as an advisor at a large bank for years. I liked the work but I was commuting three hours a day. I decided to try something different, but didn’t want to work for another big firm, so I started my own firm closer to home. About two weeks into the transition, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Right in the middle of that move to being independent I went to North Carolina and took care of my father for a month until he died.
At about the same time, I became aware of an organization called Imagine, a group that provides peer-to-peer support for all kinds of grief. A friend I play basketball with was a fundraiser for the organization and was helping them find a building. They were looking for donors, and as someone who had now lost both parents, I thought I should at least look into it. I met the executive director and immediately felt a connection to her and the organization. I donated a substantial portion of my inheritance from my father to Imagine, and soon became a volunteer.
INCSS: Tell us more about the volunteer work.
Robert Shaffer: After going through a fairly rigorous training process from the two program directors I became a facilitator. Shortly after, I was assigned to a group of 10- to 12-year-old kids who had lost a parent. When you work with them, you’re not there counseling as a volunteer. You’re there facilitating. You’re getting them to talk to each other because these are a group of people — and I can attest to this from my own experience — that are in a club that nobody asks to be a member of. But there is some real peace in being with other people that are in the same club as you. Everybody in that room knows that somebody else lost somebody.
INCSS: Has it been hard getting kids to communicate about such a tough loss?
Robert Shaffer: It’s a listening process … a guiding process. It’s not a talking process. As the facilitator, you are not saying “what are you thinking? How are you feeling?” But those conversations end up happening. Those nights can be really emotional. You’ll have kids who haven’t said much – but when they do, it just knocks you over. You’re just so happy that they are letting out a little bit, that they are talking.
INCSS: How has the work at Imagine changed how you work with clients?
Robert Shaffer: It’s made me a kinder person. It’s helped me listen better and helped me listen in a different way. I’m not as quick to jump in or try to entertain, which is my default. I’m also listening with wider ears, not making assumptions or thinking of what something reminds me of. I’m listening differently and being OK with silence.
INCSS: In what other ways has your work at Imagine changed you?
Robert Shaffer: With whatever time I have left, I want to be with people that make me happy. And I want to do everything I can do to make people happy. That’s where Imagine comes together with the work part of my life and really the rest of my life … When somebody asked the Dalai Lama what his purpose in life was, his answer was to be happy and to hope other people will be happy. It doesn’t sound like a bad way to go.
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