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We watched the Olympics in Tokyo and though my daughter with Down syndrome would have preferred watching old episodes of Glee she appreciated the incredible ability of the athletes across the different sports. 

One commercial kept coming up and while I don’t remember what was being advertised, the key phrase is something that sticks with me.  

“You don’t have to be great to start. You have to start to be great.” 

We saw two 400 meter hurdle races where the gold and silver medalists each broke the world record. Amazing. Great athletes like Sydney McLaughlin and Karsten Warholm likely didn’t start at great. Like every other Olympic athlete, at some point earlier in life, they laced up running shoes, looked forward and ran. And they did it again and again and again until they achieved their astonishing level of success. 

Starting, even if it means we don’t get to be great by Olympic standards, looks different depending on what we want to achieve. For many of us with family members with a developmental disability, starting happened before we even knew it. In my case, my daughter was born with Down syndrome. The starting pistol rang out before I was ready. I did not know my daughter would have Down syndrome and once she was born the race was on to learn about parenting, therapies, benefits, financial and estate planning and navigating schools. I’m pretty sure I didn’t look Olympian – confused and exhausted are the terms I think most apply. 

Athletes in their chosen sports use coaches and follow training, diet and mental preparation techniques that others have used to gain success. In financial and future planning for your family, jump into those techniques others have used and then add or change them to suit your family’s needs. 

My Building Blocks are designed to help organize your thinking around your planning to help get you started. From speaking and working with families, I found that those that take these simple steps have a better chance of greatness in their planning.  

  1. Commit. Get out your calendar. Find a free moment. Circle a date that says this is when I begin. Confirm that with your spouse or partner if you can. On that date, begin your “training.” 
  2. Write down every hope and dream you have for the future. Start a bucket list. Put all those heartfelt goals on paper. Don’t censor yourself as you put this together and write it all as it comes. Later, you can decide where to focus.
  3. Envision the future. We get to hear instant interviews from athletes and many of them said competing or winning was their lifelong dream and that they’ve imagined themselves on the podium having a medal around them while singing the national anthem. This is a clear and compelling vision of the future. Create one for yourself and imagine how you will feel when you achieve one of your goals.
  4. Find coaches. Build the team needed to support you as you look to improve your life in some way. If it’s your financial life, find an advisor. If it’s parenting, attend a workshop and read books. There are professionals out there ready to help – find the ones that work best for you. 
  5. Celebrate success. Top performing athletes do not win every time. Soccer goalies let in goals. Track stars don’t win every race. The ones that keep moving ahead look for wins in all cases. Did I get a personal best? Can I learn how to move better to shut down the other team? Financial planning has the same chance for piling on wins in the face of losses. Did I keep my portfolio intact during a market meltdown? I just spent more than I wanted on a vacation, can I find some savings elsewhere this month to stay out of debt? 

Olympic athletes on the medal stand look both proud and humble at the same time and many of those people I know who have achieved a level of success financially feel the same. They have the funds needed to care for themselves and their family members and feel grateful that their efforts have paid off.  

Great planning starts at that moment you put the important thoughts floating through your brain to paper and commit your heart to creating a high quality of life for yourself and each family member. And while planning for the future never ends, the rewards along the way are worth it. Start, even though it doesn’t feel great, and you will look back thinking how great it was that you started.