Our career is a huge part of life. However landing one might not be easy, and it is imperative to know what you want from life and how you will achieve it. Today, we are talking with Nicole Williams, Course Manager at Mindful Money, who explains the importance of committing to a career that strongly resonates with your mission, understanding the impact of financial education, and using money as a tool.
This is part five of the Mindful Money Talks series. Get to know the Mindful Money Team and learn more about how to be mindful with your money.
Andreina Villegas: Hello Mindful Money planners and happiness seekers. We are sitting down with Nicole Williams, who is the Course Manager at Mindful Money. She joined the team in November of 2017 and brought with her 20 years of administrative experience. We are so lucky to have you here. How are you?
Nicole Williams: Thank you so much. I am doing really well. It’s nice to meet you, face to face.
Andreina Villegas: Excellent! We are here to talk about your experience and work at Mindful Money, but, before we do that, we want to get to know you a bit better. Let’s start with some ice breaker questions. So tell us a bit more about yourself.
Nicole Williams: I am a Bay Area native. I like to say that my son is a fourth-generation Alta Bates baby (Berkeley baby). We have deep roots in the Bay Area. My background is all over the place, I am a jack of all trades career wise. Most of my time has been spent in the legal field and in an executive assistant capacity before I found my way into finance. I was working in-person in Berkeley until January of 2020 and I now work remotely in Boulder Colorado. I moved out here with my son and my husband, got lucky, and my team decided that there was still a place for me to work remotely. I love it out here, but I still feel very connected to my team.
Andreina Villegas: That sounds really great! If you could pick an animal, as your spirit animal which one would you choose and why?
Nicole Williams: I'm going to have to go with Galapagos turtle. They are just kind of chill and unconcerned with society, doing their own thing. They look like they have some good stories to tell as well, they live a nice long life and look like the wisdom keepers of the animal kingdom.
Andreina Villegas: Sounds like a good pick! If you had to pick a theme song for your life, what would it be and why?
Nicole Williams: That’s a hard one because I am a big music lover. I was recently listening to a song called “Fight For Your Mind” by Ben Harper and I am going to have to go with that one. I think we all have to think for ourselves in today’s day and age. There is so much influence from every direction and we get a lot of great guidance from the people around us and we do need people to learn from. But I think understanding that we are sovereign beings with our own take on things, and being comfortable with being different is super important. I also think living your truth, that song is about really being the change you want to see in the world.
Andreina Villegas: That sounds amazing. I haven't listened to it, but I am going to add it to my list. What three words describe you the best?
Nicole Williams: I would say passionate, kind, and complicated.
Andreina Villegas: What is one thing that your coworkers do not know about you.
Nicole Williams: I am not sure if this is true or not. I don't remember if I told them. There was a period of time when I was cleaning houses for a living. I have had an interesting career path and this was something that I chose to do after I got my degree. But, the reason behind it is more interesting, which they might not know. I am very mission-oriented, what I do for a living is very important to me. Even though I sort of stumbled into finance, I couldn't do this if I didn't feel a strong mission towards it. I cleaned houses for a while because I wanted to change careers and I was hell-bent on not going back to the legal field because I knew I had a great paycheck there and I was comfortable, but, I knew I wanted to do something different. When I moved away and I moved back, I made a point to do something lightweight, lighthearted, and low commitment, until the right door opened for me. There was a long period in between finding this job, which I love. But that was what I did and it was really educational in a lot of ways. I did that for almost a year, off and on.
Andreina Villegas: It was definitely a risk that paid off in the end. What is something that everyone seems to love, that you don't understand?
Nicole Williams: Today is February 9th, so I am going to have to say Super Bowls. I think I have watched two or three of those in my entire life, but then probably I have only clicked to watch a sports event on my own volition maybe, never. I’m not so into sports.
Wisdom and Experience
Andreina Villegas: Now we are going to move into your wisdom and experience. So, what is one thing you wish you had known when you began your career?
Nicole Williams: This is a big one for me. I have always been more interested in the arts and humanities. I would have probably never gotten into business when I was young because I thought it was all about money and status. What I know now is that studying those things is really about you having control of your life, and being able to do what you want to do for a living. Being able to take control of what you choose to do and turn what you are passionate about into a business. So I wish I had known that. If I were to ever go back to school I would take some classes in small business management and entrepreneurial kinds of things.
Andreina Villegas: What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career similar to yours?
Nicole Williams: I would say, whatever you do for a living, whatever you are good at, apply that... if you are not running your own company and you are working for someone else, find something that moves you from a mission perspective, because if you do, then it will not feel like work, regardless of what your little role is in the larger organization. If you are going to work for somebody else, make sure that it is something that does move you or that you can find some personal purpose in.
Andreina Villegas: Finding purpose through working is really important. What is a common myth in your profession that you would like to debunk?
Nicole Williams: This touches on the larger belief systems about money in general. I had been in corporate jobs a lot, but the idea of actually working in finance just never appealed to me. I am so glad that I found this company because it has taught me a lot about what the industry can be at its best. But what I have found since I have worked here is the advisors and the team really do care about their clients. They really do believe that they are helping their clients to live the best lives that they can and they put a lot of personal heart into what they do. The connections and the relationships are very important to them. These people are actual friends outside of work, and I had never seen that before. It’s like the ultimate customer service but it goes beyond that. So, it's realizing that it's not just about their bottom line. They really are building relationships with people and helping them, over thinking about their profit margins.
Andreina Villegas: What's the thing that you like the most about your work?
Nicole Williams: I love that I have been able to do all kinds of things that I like doing. I am always doing something different, but when I look back from the time I started to now I have gotten to develop all kinds of skills, organizational projects, and being more project-oriented. As a support role person, you don't get your hands on as many projects and it's just been one project after another in this job. It is sort of that uncharted territory. If you see something that needs to be done, you are empowered to do that. Our team is really good at empowering people to find the skills that they are good at, and then supporting them in using them.
Andreina Villegas: Great! Can you tell me a story in your profession that has touched your heart or has changed the way in which you have approached your career?
Nicole Williams: In the course of my career it is hard to say. But I can say the coolest thing that happened was when the company added on this whole financial education piece and started to make that a focus. That was really exciting because I didn't grow up with money. I grew up in Burlingame, California which is next to Hillsborough, which is a very wealthy area and my fellow students were living in houses with elevators and had different shoes for every day of the year. We were not exactly destitute, but we struggled. My mom was a single mom, we didn't learn a lot of things about money we really needed to know because they didn't have it to teach. So, I grew up with issues around money, like a lot of us do, and working here you learn so much about money, but it's not something I could necessarily benefit from just yet as far as investing. My friends and family wouldn't be able to be clients, just based on bandwidth. We are structured a certain way and so, that was always a little bit of a disconnect. Like, this is helpful information and some day I would like to put it into use.
Now, we have this whole other thing that is not only reaching out and helping people, but when you have grown up that way, you know how the rest of the society lives. It's awesome now, I feel like this firm has come full circle, where its not just awesome for the people who are right here, but we have created a dynamic where we can help anybody who contacts us - through financial education, and we also have this digital advisor system that is something that I can share with my dad, my mom and my brothers. And, I have money on there now. So it's really fun to participate and to have that sense of mission where we are actually helping everybody.
Andreina Villegas: You definitely get more reach by helping people from different backgrounds and with different plans for their life.
Nicole Williams: Yeah, it's a really fun evolution of my role.
Andreina Villegas: What advice would you give to someone who is starting to plan their finances?
Nicole Williams: I would say don't think about this as just gaining dollar bills. Don't think of it as just building your wealth, think of it in terms of what do you want to do with the rest of your life? What really matters to you? What are your lifestyle goals and the legacy you want to leave someday? Think about that first, and then the money piece is just a support to that. I think that is important for the people that are more focused on money to remember, and for the people that have some negative viewpoints about money to start there. It's a good way to learn why money is such a great tool. Its an energy, it follows how you see yourself and how you see the world.
Andreina Villegas: Are there any specific roadblocks to watch for during 2021?
Nicole Williams: Not necessarily finance based, but, disinformation in general. There is just a lot of that floating around. But more importantly, divisiveness and the psychological profiling of people who are different than you. I feel like there has been a lot of that, and I feel like it's a construct of culture or media. But I think that is something to be really mindful of. How you see your fellow human being, no matter what side of whatever you are on.
Andreina Villegas: How do you think disciplined behaviors can have a long-term impact on a person's life?
Nicole Williams: Discipline is everything. It is about having integrity with your own personal values and walking your walk. I think that it is something that applies to everything. If you have that awareness, that mindfulness to what you are doing, what you're saying, and why you're doing it, why you're saying it, that's going to have a huge impact on your relationships. It not only affects your choices around money, but it affects who you choose to marry, how you raise your children. Discipline is very important if you want to achieve the things that matter most to you. I'm a mom so I know loving discipline is very important. I can model that for my son and know that he will have a better relationship with money growing up than I did.
Andreina Villegas: What should I ask you that I didn't know enough to ask?
Nicole Williams: There's always that question of, what do you do for fun? I have been singing every Sunday at the spiritual center near my house. That is something that I started up in the summer and I hadn’t performed in about seven years, so that has been super fun.
Andreina Villegas: Sounds great. I'm sure you're a great singer, I would love to hear you someday.
Working with Mindful Money
Andreina Villegas: Now, we are moving to our second topic of the day, working at Mindful Money. How did you become a part of the Mindful Money team?
Nicole Williams: I had come back to the Bay Area, after being gone for a while and I was just working and trying to survive in the Bay Area as a newly married "young" mom. I went through a big layoff at a company that I was really dedicated to, a startup. Then after that I kissed a few more frogs in the career department, I had a few things that just did not work out. I was just exhausted from that and thought, this next job really needs to be a good one - I want a great commute, a great team, I want to be close to my kid. So I went to work at a placement agency - I went to work for them, thinking I will get in here and just wait until the perfect job falls in my lap. It only took a couple months and that is exactly what happened.
I was new to finance, and Jonathan’s book resonated with me. It was funny because I have a children's book series that I have been working on and he talks about these pillars of human happiness - somewhere in the book as I was flipping through, and I thought, that's really weird because that's what my five books are about. This was really a dream come true. I was born in Berkeley, but I never worked there. The first day that I worked I was looking down at downtown Berkeley from the window and when I left I just felt like angels were flapping their wings behind my shoulders. I felt like I was in heaven and I was really happy to finally be able to spend time in Berkeley. And I've just learned more and more about finance since I've been there.
Andreina Villegas: What is your current role at Mindful Money?
Nicole Williams: As of a few months ago, since our financial education courses were formed, I have been helping Jonathan with getting the storefront, the website, and the landing pages designed and up and running. We have a few external teams that we are working with that are helping with some of the particulars. Like the courses themselves I didn't build, but I'm kind of working on the delivery of it. It's really fun. I like design, and I don't really have a background in it but I'm doing a lot of it. The main thing will be servicing all the students that go through, making sure they get all the follow-up support and communications and information they need. I also post our blogs and update the website.
Andreina Villegas: Sounds good, a lot of variety. What does being mindful of your money or financial plan mean to you?
Nicole Williams: To me, it's remembering who you are, in the day to day, because it is easy to forget as we are just plugging along pulling out our debit card for whatever we might need at that moment. It's thinking about what really matters in your life and remembering that what we do now has an impact down the road.
Andreina Villegas: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to be more mindful of their finances? And how do you think these choices can lead to happiness as an outcome?
Nicole Williams: I would say zoom out for a minute and look at the big picture of your life. Do you feel like you're mindful in general with how you live? Do you walk your walk in terms of putting your health and your values first? Are you living the life you want to live? For a lot of us, this is a bigger conversation than just money. Jonathan talks about how for him, it was tackling his health that spurred him back into taking care of his finances, and I think for a lot of us, finances are a reflection of our inner world. So if you are struggling with your finances, that could be why.
So take a look at that, is there anything that you're in avoidance of in your own life, anything you can do to springboard yourself to make better choices for yourself, and then the money can follow. Consequently, if someone is watching this and they're already interested in the money part, they might find that it spills over into other areas of their life as a result. If you are feeling good about your finances you might hit the gym a bit more often or spend time in nature more often because you feel a little more free. That's probably the biggest myth or misunderstanding about money that I have had to overcome, which is just that money is never just money, it is about freedom. It's about the freedom that money buys, it's about quality of life. That is a goal that we all should have for ourselves.
Andreina Villegas: What is the biggest challenge you have with your specific role right now and how are you going to overcome it?
Nicole Williams: I feel challenged in the best way because I am learning new things, which I really like doing. The Gemini in me likes change and likes challenging myself. It sometimes feels like building the rocket ship mid-launch because we created the courses and wanted to get them out at the beginning of the year, but every day there are little odds and ends to think about, like does this work, with this payment method, and getting the right email to the right people. I am learning a lot as I go, which is, to me, what makes it interesting and fun. The only challenge is knowing what exactly my role will look like when the dust settles. Then thinking about what to do next, when this thing is up and running. I think it's going to be a lot more of getting the message out.
Andreina Villegas: As you know, there is a lot going on in our world right now. What are you curious about and why?
Nicole Williams: Honestly I'm curious what the very fabric of society is going to look like in one to two years from now, once all this election and COVID madness is behind us. Most critically, how we will all come back together and remember that we are all facets of the same higher intelligence, and that we all have value and have a voice to add to this collective conversation. That's my hope, when all this is said and done, that this will actually make us stronger somehow, and bring us more together and not more divided.
Andreina Villegas: In your own words what does the phrase “mindfulness is a doorway to more rational choices” mean?
Nicole Williams: I think it's that sacred pause. It's just taking a moment before making a big life change or large purchase - it's that pause, just stopping to think it through. But I think that the financial education piece is very closely tied into this, because it is about knowing what you don't know. Maybe there are things about money that you don't fully understand and it's worth taking the time to learn.
I have to use this example because just yesterday, Paul on our team had written a blog post about choosing a 15 or 30 year mortgage. It was explaining the difference between taking a loan and paying it off faster at a lower interest rate versus going the long route. It was really interesting because he broke down what happens when you just have more money in your account up-front versus if you take that money and invest it. To see the long-term effect of how much money you end up with if you take that money, you take the longer mortgage and take that money that you are saving every month and actually put it somewhere and invest it, stuff like that blows my mind all the time because I wouldn't have thought of that. I think a lot of people don't.
So it's about learning what you don't know, being mindful, and then what you learn in the process of educating yourself is that you really need a financial plan. If you are trying to wing it, chances are you are going to go off because that's human nature, you're going to sabotage yourself at some point along the way, because discipline is hard. It's that learning, but also having that accountability, and being in the presence of the experts and people you trust who know how to do this stuff. I think all of that helps you to be way more mindful. Because in order to be mindful, you need to know what you are being mindful of. You have to know that something matters before you can understand that you need be mindful of that. I have learned so much working here, about all of that. I am very grateful to be where I am.
Andreina Villegas: And with that, we end our round of questions. Thank you Nicole for joining us.
Nicole Williams: You're very welcome. Thanks so much, Andreina.
Andreina Villegas: We hope to see you soon so you can meet our next guest. And remember to stop predicting, start planning, and stay mindful.
Nicole emphasizes how to use money as a tool and view it as an energy that follows us, instead of focusing solely on gaining wealth. She also emphasizes how mindfulness and a disciplined lifestyle will have a huge impact on your relationships and future decisions. Lastly, she mentions the sacred pause, where we take a moment before making that huge decision, and evaluate its benefits or consequences.
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