305: Laura Rotter—Do You Want To Build Your Wealth Or Enjoy Financial Well-Being?

Hear how you can build wealth AND a happy life 

Laura Rotter and I met through the Business Council of Westchester, a wonderful organization that brings together great people, men and women. Laura is the founder of True Abundance Advisors, a financial life planning and wealth management firm. As she tells you her life journey, her story will resonate with you. She is a great woman to interview and share her journey with our listeners. I know you will gain knowledge about yourself, your business, and what makes you truly happy. Are you living to work or working to live?

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Laura Rotter video

None of us find out what we “really” want to do at the beginning of our careers.

We are on a journey. Along the way, we discover all the things that we love to do and those that aren’t in our wheelhouse. Laura did just that. She had many years of managing money for institutional investors, then found that her definition of abundance was shifting. She will tell you how that discovery happened for her—and might happen for you. Her mindset changed from “I must use my life to make money,” to “I can use my money to make a life.” Sounds cool. It is. 

Laura RotterAbout Laura Rotter

Laura’s mission is to empower midlife professionals to use their money as a tool to create more freedom and flexibility. She is passionate about sharing her expertise to guide her clients toward decisions that integrate the attainment of both financial security AND life satisfaction. You can find Laura on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, or you can email her at laura@TrueAbundanceAdvisors.com.

Looking for fulfillment, in your work and in your life? Here’s a good place to start

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Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink: A fresh lens to take you and your business to new heights. Hi, I’m Andi Simon. As you know, I’m your host and your guide. Our job is to help you get off the brink and that’s not always so easy. So I go out looking for people who are going to help you do three things. Can you see in a new way, fresh lens? Can you feel it? Remember, we decide with the heart and the eyes. And then can you think about the problem you may have or the issue you may want or something that is really a trigger for you in a way that can help you actually do it. So I don’t want to skip the action part.

But today, I really am delighted to have Laura Rotter with us. And she’s smiling. And you’re going to smile also as we listen to her talk about her own journey, but also about how she helps people see, feel and think in new ways. Because at the end of the day, we live our story as it is today. And we think that’s reality, but it’s just an illusion. And that illusion is taking care of us, but not necessarily taking us to where we’d like to go. And she’s going to talk about how she helps people pause and rethink their story so they can begin to move somewhere new.

The question is, what’s the problem to solve? It’s not as if we have solutions. And she and I both approach women with the same kind of question, Let’s really get to what matters to you. And what I find often is that they don’t quite know. And then what’s the real problem with getting that going? I don’t know much about that either.

A little bit about Laura. She’s the founder of True Abundance Advisors. Don’t you love the name of that firm. It is a financial life planning and wealth management firm. Her mission is to empower midlife professionals to use their money as a tool to create more freedom and flexibility. And she’s passionate about sharing her expertise to guide her clients toward decisions that integrate the attainment of both financial security and life satisfaction. This is financial well being and it isn’t just wealth. It’s well-being as a sense of purpose.

So we’re going to be talking a lot about being present, encouraging gratitude, which I’m actually writing an article about gratitude. Gratitude improves our well-being in such important ways, clarity and abundance. Laura, I’m so delighted to have you here with us today. Thank you for joining us.

Laura Rotter: Oh, my pleasure, Andi. I’m so excited to be here.

Andi Simon: Why don’t you share with our audience who’s Laura? What’s your journey been like? So who are you and tell us about yourself.

Laura Rotter: Oh, I’m happy to share my story. So I’m a career changer. I had close to a 30-year career on Wall Street. I always like to joke that I started when I was 12. And as I look back on that career, I really see it in thirds. So the first 10 years of my career were amazing. I loved what I did. I had been a nerd. Let’s say in high school and a bit in college. And then when I began to work as an analyst, looking at companies and deciding whether or not I thought it was worthwhile to invest in them, I found a career that was intellectually challenging, that I was good at. And that, frankly, paid me a nice amount of money. And so it became my definition of who I was.

When you’re in your 20s, you’re looking for that identity and my work as an analyst on Wall Street gave me that identity. I had been an English Lit major in college. Specifically because I find that when you read books, you know, as an anthropologist like you, you’re becoming aware of what’s the political environment. What’s the economic environment? What’s the backdrop of that story? Well, being what was called a generalist on Wall Street, I didn’t work on one specific industry. I was always learning new industries and what’s affecting the industry, what’s going on in the environment, economically, politically, that’s having an impact. And so I really loved what I did for them.

Andi Simon: You sound like a Curious George. I often think of ourselves as curious Georges. We can’t get enough. That’s fascinating. How can I learn more? Hey, that was the first 10 years. And now you’re going into the next stage. What happened?

Laura Rotter: So the next stage, I had three children, all in diapers under the age of three, which could be a whole other discussion. I was for both financial and logical reasons the primary breadwinner, not the primary caregiver, my husband became Doctor Mom. But still, it was quite a busy household. When I wasn’t working, I was involved in childcare. I was busy. I was raising my children. I don’t really remember thinking that much about what I did. I took it for granted, I was supporting the family. For the last 10 years of my career, so let’s say early 2000s through 2013, I hated what I did. I was miserable.

Oh, first of all, the industry itself had shifted from the nerds in high school, as I said, who discovered that they could do something intellectually challenging and make money. Now, it was more and more the frat boys in college, who realized they could leverage their relationships into making money. It frankly became all about making money. And the economic environment had shifted. So that as interest rates lowered, everybody was chasing the same ideas for a lot of risk and not a lot of reward. And I was bored. I didn’t share the values of the people I worked with. I was miserable. But, I had a story, right. I had a story that I needed to earn a certain amount of money and practically, I had put a lot of overhead in place in my household.

We have a 6000 square foot house on an acre of land. We had a vacation home. I had three kids in private school and camp and we took fancy vacations. I really had become trapped by the life I had created for myself. And around that time, I started to find mindfulness practices, and to practice yoga. I started to meditate. And it slowly occurred to me that like, Oh, I’m not going to get a do-over in my life. This is it. And that I myself was creating a story of victim. You know, that I had no choice in my life and that I was a victim of my life.

And then I had an extraordinary occurrence. I took a day off to go to a silent meditation retreat. I actually found the journal in which I wrote an entry as I commuted into the city the next day saying, I’m not going to be a victim of my life. I was working for Citigroup at the time. And I decided I was going to approach my boss and make some suggestions for changing the morning meeting, changing the way we discussed investment opportunities, so that I felt more engaged, and I was no longer just pushing through.

Well, Andi, I don’t know if it was that same day but perhaps a day or so later, my boss called me into his office and said that there was a group-wide layoff, not for cause. And I was given a very nice severance package and he felt that my services were no longer needed. And I just want to share one more thing about that. So within that week, I accidentally fell down the stairs, like tripping down the stairs at home, and just started bawling. And my husband said, Laura, this is what you’ve been looking forward to. You’ve been wanting to leave, but you just couldn’t bring yourself to do it. And I looked at him and I said, This has been my identity for close to 30 years. 

I mean, you can hold both. And I was excited to have an opportunity to re-create and at the same time I was terrified. Who am I? So I explored a book: 90 Days to a New Life Direction. I explored becoming a yoga teacher. I actually did a yoga teacher training, then I decided with my tight hamstrings that was not my life’s mission. I did interview several friends who had become rabbis later in life. I have a very strong spiritual yearning. And they all loved going to school and writing papers and that really wasn’t drawing me.

Andi Simon: I love the story. I’m so glad you’re sharing. I’m watching your face and I’m saying this is really a journey others need to listen to. And the next part.

Laura Rotter: The next part was becoming a financial adviser to women. I didn’t quite know what that meant. I informational interviewed and ended up being asked to join an already existing wealth management firm, which I did for a little under two years. And there I learned what financial planning was and how much I really loved working with individuals.

I also realized that I wanted to create a firm in my own image that had a specific way I wanted to work with people. As I mentioned to you, a specific client I wanted to work with, specifically, midlife professional women who were similar to me, were either kicked out from or burnt out by their corporate jobs, and have the sense that there was more meaning and purpose to life than they had been able to feel. And to help them use their money to align with meaning. And so in fact, that was June, July 2016. I named my firm True Abundance Advisors and hung out a shingle, started the work I do today.

Andi Simon: That is just a great story. I want to emphasize a couple of parts that touch my heart, which is: did you have any support along the way? Or was this all your self-awareness as you began to reflect on who you are and who you were? Because you had a good husband, I’m assuming. Mine has always been my support, but he couldn’t decide for me. Now I’m in business 20 years. And when I said to him, I’m going into my own business, he looked at me and said, Okay, what are you going to be? And I said, I don’t know. So I found a PR firm. And John Rasika said, Andi, you’re a corporate anthropologist who helps companies change. And I said, bingo.

I didn’t know anybody who was searching, and I picked up four clients right away. But to your point, though, we need to know who we are. And I always look to John. I can see him saying those words to me, because it was as if he had a mirror and he went, ah, bingo. That’s who you are. Without my husband, I never would have been there. Did you have that support base for this? I’m always wondering whether women look for outsiders or are afraid to trust. How did the journey go?

Laura Rotter: I agree with you, Andi. There’s no journey that’s all alone. And so many things come up. As you asked me the question, the first support is a yoga teacher I found. Because that really opened me up to listening to that still small voice inside that I don’t think I ever truly listened to in the same way. Also, when I was working for the other financial planning firm, I found a group called the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners who both taught a methodology of financial planning as well as a flat annual retainer fee, not taking commissions for selling products. Not necessarily even managing money. So not charging an asset under management fee, though I do manage money, but I really wanted to be agnostic. I just wanted to work on my client’s behalf and not have any conflicts of interest.

And finally, I do want to shout out to my husband. Starting this entrepreneurial journey, I don’t want anyone to have the idea that I hung out a shingle and then life just took off. It’s always a series of peaks and valleys. And there was a time when, there aren’t that many women in the financial services industry in general, and certainly not in my part of the business, and I was approached by several firms to consider joining them as an advisor. And it was during a low point where I felt like, well, maybe it would be good to know how much money is coming in each year with some little incentive to bring more clients in.

And I remember taking a walk with my husband. He has frankly always been more anxious about money than I am. And I told him that I was considering, I was in the middle of interviewing, joining another firm. He looked at me and he said, This is the most creative you’ve been in your entire professional life. Why would you leave that? And I get chills because I really felt responsible to him. I rocked his world by walking away from the income I was earning when I worked on Wall Street and it wasn’t easy. And I really appreciate that he recognized.

Andi Simon: Your husband and mine should get to know each other at one point because they could share notes on their crazy wives who they love dearly, and they’ll do anything. And I often go back, my husband refused to allow me to not finish my PhD. And he sat there while I read this awful document I had written and without a copy editor, and he and I went through this whole big dissertation, and I got my doctorate. But I must say, without his enthusiasm, I’m not quite sure I wouldn’t have walked away and said, yuck.

And then he encouraged me to take my daughters to Greece to do more research. I don’t know, they were four and five years old, and I took my two kids on a plane to go study Greece. You know, you can’t do it in life without a go-for-it person. Right?

So it’s the same for these midlife crisis women. The ones that worry me the most are the solos, who don’t have another. I become their other. And we become remarkably important to each other. Me to listen and provide encouragement in them to begin to craft a new direction in a way that matters to someone. And I watch them transform, I suspect you see the same. I get such joy, because I don’t do anything except help them see themselves through a fresh lens. And all of a sudden, they go whoosh. And then they call back and say, We need a little more time. And it is most gratifying.

So is there a particular approach that you take? Because while you’re talking about it in terms of financial well-being, it sounds like it’s more inclusive of their life journey as well? Do you use your own experience to help them do the same? Or is it most particularly around just wealth management? 

Laura Rotter: It is wealth management. But that’s a piece of overall financial clarity and organization. It’s a good question, Andi. So I want to say that I feel privileged. Most of the time people don’t pick up a phone and call a complete stranger to talk about their money unless there is some life transition that they’re going through. Often, I’ll get a phone call, and I think you said this earlier in the introduction, people don’t even know what they need. I came into this inheritance or I have this severance payment or what do I do with the money? That’s the question that people have.

And so I feel like I create a safe space to ask questions and guide a journey that they’re not otherwise asked, or they’re not otherwise considering. When I first meet someone, even before they become a client, I ask the question, What about money is important to you? Now take a step back and reflect, what’s the story? What have you made money represent? And it’s important to recognize that to begin with.

I find cash flow, once we do start to work together, is a very important part of the work we do. And before I even look at the cash flow, we do a values exercise. I have 14 different values, chords, broad topics, with little lines underneath, such as community, family, philanthropy, work, what you know. 14 different areas of life, and choose the four or five that you believe that you live your life by. And then let’s look at how you’re spending money. And of course, there’s never going to be always a direct correlation. But you want there to be some correlation between what you think guides your life vision and how you’re actually using it.

We have scarce resources, money is a scarce resource. Time is a scarce resource. Energy is a scarce resource, and we’re all more aware of it since the pandemic started.

Andi Simon: But you’re absolutely right. You know, what matters and you need a process for digging into it. That’s really cool. And keep going though, I don’t want to interrupt your flow because it’s the most interesting one.

Laura Rotter: Yes, so I think a values exercise is really important. There’s a gentleman, George Kinder, known as the father of financial life planning, and he has the three questions: If you learned you had a year left to live, you otherwise will feel fine but you don’t know when your last day is, would you change your life? And if so, how? And drilling down to the third question: If you find out that this is your last day, what would you regret not accomplishing? And these are just questions for me to understand what are the important things for this particular person I’m getting to know and just as importantly, for them to understand, what would you be missing? What is important to you to move forward on?

I use these kinds of questions to frame the journey, the plan going forward. Now, specifically for people in a big life transition, I do belong to an organization called the Financial Transitionist. And it’s also very important when I’ve just started to work with someone who’s had a big award, from a settlement, to take a deep breath, that not everything needs to be done right away. Often, I’ll do a thought bubble exercise: What are you worrying about and what’s coming up, and put together a document with all the thought bubbles and all the questions that come up. And to define this is what we need to take care of.

Now, let’s say you were laid off. Do you still have life insurance? Where are you getting your health insurance? But these things, we don’t have to address them right now. They can be tabled. Yes, you just got a big life changing settlement. Let’s not rush to buy something, a new house, a new place to live. Let’s take a deep breath and take our time. And this could be dealt with later. It’s very important because people tend to get overwhelmed by the financial decisions they believe they need to make, and especially in a big life transition, to help people feel like you’re okay. My yoga teacher would say, you’re being held. Every time I approach a meeting, I remind myself I’m holding a safe space for people because money is a tough topic.

Andi Simon: It is. It is and change is equally tough. So you add the catalytic moments, the transitions and the money question together. And then people are not comfortable with the lack of certainty. And they really would prefer to know if it’s a one box or a different box, but no box is most anxiety producing. And you become that box that moves them from, Oh, I’m scared to death to, Oh, I can at least hold the boxes for a moment and begin to move forward with somebody to guide me and in some ways, that’s okay. It’s okay to have a guide. You don’t need to do it alone. And you’ll need someone who you trust. Because having somebody who is a financial planner that we lost trust in that is not good. And now we have someone who is extremely trusting.

But as I listen, it’s interesting to think about what do we value? And it’s one thing to get great returns in the markets today, when it’s also a good time to think through what are we investing in and why and what really matters. I must tell you, I could keep talking to you for a long time. Mostly, you’re an inspiration to me as I’m listening to you. And having gone through some catalytic moments myself, I remember that feeling. And you’ve come out of this really on a high, to your husband’s point, you’ve created something of great value for yourself and those you take care of. Laura it’s time to wrap up. So let’s give the audience one or two things you don’t want them to forget as they’re thinking about their own lives. You know, what is it that Laura brings to you, my audience here, that you want to remember? Some thoughts?

Laura Rotter: I’m not sure if this is a financial question or a mindset question. So I’m going to answer it from the mindset point of view, which is, first of all, our values are always shifting. It’s not like I look back at my time on Wall Street and regret it in any way. What was important to me when raising a family, when young, when building my financial resources, shifts over time. And as we age, we have a greater sense of the legacy we want to leave and what the meaning of our lives is that’s quite different in our 20s than it is in our 50s and older. So I guess, then I would ask your listeners to consider their North Star, what are the values that they live by. At this time, not judging what you did in the past, not worrying about what you’re going to do in the future, but presence. I was learning with someone who said all the exercises we do with our clients at the end of the day, it’s all about presence. 

Andi Simon: You sound like my mindfulness video that I listen to as I try to go to sleep at night. And I find that whether it’s meditation or mindfulness, but that story is exactly the story. Yesterday, all is done is done. Tomorrow, it hasn’t come yet. Right now be the moment. And it’s okay to have a presence in the moment while you’re moving into the next day. And so as we were talking, I’m saying to myself, I really love that it leaves me with this feeling like it is okay just to be in the moment. It’s okay. But it is a real interesting time for all of us. And as you think about the folks that you’re helping, they are better because of the collaboration with you. And it isn’t as if you do and they get. It’s together, we become better.

Laura Rotter: Yes, and I do want to make sure that I mentioned: I find that women often as a generalization more than men have a lot of blocks around money. I mean, I’ve worked with couples where the women are the primary breadwinner and yet feel insecure about understanding about money. And so, on my website, I do have an exercise you can access to unblock your money blocks. It’s a cute name, but it has a lot of advice for mindset issues. How to think about your money in a way to move forward.

Andi Simon: That’s worth another podcast because when you work with women entrepreneurs, as we often do, they’re proud of the fact that they have grown their business without any outside capital. And we get irritated that the venture capitalists only give 2.8% of their money to women. But the women have a mindset that says, you know, Sara Blakely can celebrate the fact that Spanx grew without any venture capital money. I hear women tell me all the time: I didn’t have to give it away to grow it. And if we should change the standards a bit. I can do it mom all by myself and watch me here. And that is a female story that I hear over and over again. When you talk to them about getting outside capital, they won’t give it to me anyhow. There’s a whole world there about women and that money, but they do really well in the market. Women really are very good at saving and investing and growing. And sometimes spending too.

Laura Rotter: We’re not chasing the latest greatest sexy investment idea.

Andi Simon: We also think about legacy, though, what do we leave for others? And how does it have an impact? And those are important. It’s been such a pleasure to meet you. I’m so delighted that you came on. I’m glad that the Business Council of Westchester gave us an opportunity. It’s been so much fun. Laura, we will put into the blog that we write with the podcast where they can reach you but you might want to tell the listeners how to best get hold of you. 

Laura Rotter: Well, you can check out my website trueabundanceadvisors.com. And my email address is Laura@trueabundanceadvisors.com. And also on LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter.

Andi Simon: Who isn’t on LinkedIn? I wonder but I know some people who aren’t but LinkedIn is our directory of directories. It has been a fun time today. I hope our listeners and viewers appreciate the wisdom that Laura has brought with her life journey. The experiences are not uncommon, but sometimes you need a story to show you the way out. And that’s just what we’ve had today.

Now, for all of you from across the globe, I can’t thank you enough for joining us. Remember my book is here for you to help you transition as well. And the first book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights that won an award is all about how to see, feel and think in new ways for your business. A little anthropology can help you grow. And Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business is all about women. People like Laura who simply said of course I can and I refuse to accept the barriers or boundaries or the myths that say women can’t. You can find some great stories in there to inspire you with your guy or gal. And I hope you stay healthy and enjoy whatever it is you’re doing because the times are changing, and please stay in the moment. It’s a great time to just focus on the joy for the minute. Hey, thanks again.