UPDATE: A financial adviser's long journey from full-time caretaker to entrepreneur
By Morey Stettner
Jennifer Failla's return to work required lots of structure -- and time
Jennifer Failla spoke to her mother every Sunday for years, so when she couldn't reach her one day in November 1999, she started to worry.
"My mother was living alone in a Miami Beach apartment, and I had a bad feeling," said Failla, a certified financial planner in Austin, Texas. "I knew something was wrong."
On Tuesday morning, Failla contacted the police. They called back within hours with terrible news: Her mother, who had been hit by a car while crossing the street, was in a coma. Medical workers needed to talk to next of kin. Frantic, Failla called the hospital.
"I need you to get here as soon as possible," a nurse said. "How fast can you get here?"
Within hours, Failla was on a plane to Miami -- a flight she would take dozens of times over the next three years. It was seven years before Failla would resume her career as a financial planner after taking a hiatus to be her mother's caregiver.
Read: A disastrous car crash inspired an adviser to change the advice she gives clients (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/a-disastrous-car-crash-inspired-an-adviser-to-change-the-advice-she-gives-clients-2017-08-11)
Failla returned from her time off with two lessons learned: She believes in retaining at least some ties to the business world -- in addition to studying for her master's degree, she kept her professional licenses and association memberships current -- and on restarting a career with manageable goals at first.
In 1999, Failla was 25 and living her dream of becoming a financial planner. Employed by an independent adviser who ran a small firm, she had spent four years learning the business after deciding in college that she wanted to be a financial planner. "I knew this is what I wanted to do," she told MarketWatch.
Her mother stayed in a coma for 10 months. Failla struggled to balance her career with her caregiving responsibilities: On Friday evening, she'd fly to Miami to spend the weekend at her mother's bedside and then return to her Austin office by Monday morning.
She never called the hospital during the workday, "working like a maniac" until heading home around 6:30 p.m., when she'd contact her mother's care providers for a daily update.
Eventually, her mother transitioned from a coma to a post-traumatic vegetative state. She could not talk or communicate, except through the limited use of her left thumb. Failla brought an alphabet pad to the hospital so that her mother could tap the letters to communicate.
Determined to move her mother to Austin, she decided to put her career on hold. She left her employer and moved to Miami to help her mother full-time. Failla worried that she was jeopardizing her chance to build a successful financial planning practice, but nevertheless realized "it was the right thing to do."
Read: How this adviser got herself -- and her business -- through cancer (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-this-adviser-got-herself-and-her-business-through-cancer-2017-09-11)
Despite her best efforts, however, her mother's condition worsened. She moved from the hospital directly to hospice, where she died after nine days in 2002.
At that point, Failla experienced what many caregivers feel after the loss of a loved one: a wayward sense of hopelessness. She felt adrift, unable to muster the energy to restart her career. Grappling for answers, she moved to India for a year and even lived in an ashram for a short time.
Over the next four years, she took a hiatus. But because she knew she'd eventually return to the business, she decided to spend part of those years earning a master's degree in family sciences and family financial planning from the University of Nebraska. The online program provided her with a framework to study and stay connected to the industry.
Read: Preparing for a partner's death may have saved this company (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-preparing-for-a-partners-death-may-have-saved-this-company-2017-07-13)
"Even in India, I was very structured," she said. "Every Monday through Thursday, I'd do yoga in the morning and by 10 a.m., I'd study and attend online classes for the next four or five hours."
By 2006, she missed working with clients and decided that she was ready to resume a life in financial planning. "There's only so much introspection I could take," she said with a laugh.
She joined Merrill Lynch before starting Strada Wealth Management (http://www.stradamanagement.com/) in July 2008.
Today, she wishes she'd given herself more time to readjust to work after years away living under heavy stress. "I tried to start out too big," she said. "Instead of breaking my goals down into smaller steps, I set goals like 'I want to meet 25 lawyers right away who could help me get clients.' That's a dumb goal. It's too enormous!"
Failla doesn't go out of her way to share her caregiving experience with clients, but she brings it up when it seems appropriate. "We as financial advisers sometimes set up this persona or barrier," she said. "But the more transparent you can be with clients about how tragedy shapes your approach to what you do, the more they can relate to you."
You're invited: MarketWatch is hosting a free panel discussion on international investing on Tuesday, Oct. 24, in Los Angeles. RSVP required, continuing education credit available. Learn more and RSVP (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/join-us-in-los-angeles-for-a-panel-discussion-on-international-investing-in-october-2017-09-07).
Morey Stettner is a writer in Portsmouth, N.H. He's the author of five business books, including "Skills for New Managers," published by McGraw Hill. Email him at email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org).
-Morey Stettner; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires