In our recent post entitled “Are You (and Your Financial Plans) Ready To Take a Sabbatical?” we explored the steps toward taking a sabbatical, to clear your head after all the recent stress. Okay, so if you’re a high-achieving professional, maybe that idea didn’t quite click. But you may still yearn for greater control over where your career is headed, and how to get there on your own terms. 

On the one hand, the pandemic has created immeasurable chaos. It’s forced transitions that may have left you feeling frozen in place, hesitant to boldly go. Then again, all that upset has also created new, previously unthinkable possibilities for high-achieving professionals to seize.  

Why not reimagine your work and personal life? You’re still on the job, but your schedule includes bringing your professional pursuits back into tighter focus. Like rebuilding bigger and better in the wake of a fire, now might be the perfect time to become more deliberate about exploring every possibility—from the obvious to the obscure—and then choosing your own path forward. 

Cogent’s founder and CEO Michael Evans shares his own “imagining” journey since the pandemic hit in March 2020. We hope his experience will inspire you to achieve your best steps toward the level of personal and professional fulfillment we wish for you and your family.  

Surrounding Myself with Love and Beauty in a Pandemic:  How Reducing My Commute from 90 Minutes to 28 Steps Helped

By Michael Evans 

Needless to say, the pandemic forced so many abrupt changes on so many people—myself included. At the same time, it also became a reckoning of sorts. Many high-achieving professionals were forced to determine: What do I really want to preserve in my lifestyle? What could I jettison as no longer relevant? 

On a long bike ride recently, I thought about these questions, as well as what the changes, the volatility, and even the opportunities have meant for me and my family. Following is an account of the journey we have taken during the pandemic. I wouldn’t have wished to take it. But now that we have, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude over where we and Cogent Strategic Wealth have ended up. 

My Chicago Roots Run Deep

For us, everything begins in Chicago. I have lived and worked there all my life, commuting to the downtown Loop since the 1980s. I’ve loved nearly every minute of being in the thick of this invigorating community of academics, commodity exchange professionals, business leaders, and many other high-achievers. Not to mention the breathtaking views from our 45th floor office on W. Wacker Drive.

That said, it took a pandemic for me to stop and think about that commute. For some 37 years, I’d spent approximately 90 minutes each day driving, bicycling, and/or riding the “L” (elevated) trains to and from the office. That’s the equivalent of 36 days a year.  

Then, on March 12, 2020, the pandemic changed everything. 

Business as Unusual

Suddenly, 37 years of 90 minutes of schlepping became 14 easy steps to my home office. Countless daily encounters with teammates, clients, and service providers scattered throughout Chicago and across the U.S. become exclusively virtual. Handshakes and hugs? Forget about it. 

Fortunately, the transition wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Many of our client and professional relationships were already long-distance, and we’d already created the technological infrastructure to do business from anywhere. 

But compared to pre-pandemic conditions, much had changed. Most notably, I no longer had to speed down Lakeshore Drive to make a morning workout, early coffee or client meeting. With those extra 90 minutes, I assumed an easier pace, rising to meditate, pray, journal my gratitude, and prioritize my day. I often am lucky enough to have breakfast or a morning walk with my wife.

The extra time also let me check in regularly with our team and our clients, especially through the first few fear-filled months of the pandemic. Many of the individuals I spoke with were okay; others were struggling. Either way, as the leader of Cogent Strategic Wealth, I was grateful to have the time to lean into offering my support to others, and to receive their support in return.  

A Cogent Model Shines Through 

In fact, this brings me to my thoughts about Cogent’s mission to guide high-achieving professionals through designing, building, and protecting their families’ financial futures. 

Of course, nobody could have predicted the pandemic in particular. But we had many plans in place to deal with unforeseen circumstances, including a formal Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan. The pandemic served as a real-life stress test for our established processes and procedures.  

I discovered another source of gratitude when I realized our prep work by and large worked. Through our home offices, we were able to sustain a great deal of normalcy for ourselves and our clients. We continued to offer hope, guidance, and community; host educational webinars with question and answer sessions; hold virtual client and strategic partner meetings; oversee clients’ ongoing wealth management requirements; and participate in tons of phone calls, emails, and empathetic conversations to advise, comfort, and commiserate. All this, even as the world changed dramatically around us.  

Personal Reflections

Even as I threw myself into my role at Cogent, I received another pandemic blessing in disguise when all three of our adult children returned home to shelter in place with us. I recognize, not every family had this luxury. I thank God in particular for the countless first responders, medical professionals, front-line workers, and others who have been keeping our nation afloat ever since. I grieve also for the many empty seats at family gatherings, whether due to serving others, or worse. 

But, knock on wood, the Evans family has been forging new paths, together. Last May, our middle child Matthew returned to Tucson, AZ to graduate college virtually and move back to live in Chicago. I joined him then, and while we were there, we had the chance to visit new places, beautiful and vast.  

The visit made me realize how much the Southwest U.S. had grown on me, ever since our first visit to Taos, NM back in 1990. From Bryce Canyon National Park’s massive hoodoos to the red rock formations of Snow Canyon State Park, the places we saw on our one-week road trip were jaw-dropping beautiful. Around every corner there was more gorgeous terrain. It was truly stunning. I could go on and on. 

Suffice it to say, after returning home, my wife and I began to seriously consider relocating from our beloved Chicago. 

The idea was scary, but super exciting too. First, we conducted an experiment.  We took a weekly rental home in St. George, UT, which is just under the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and has 10% of Chicago’s population density. We soon discovered how effortlessly we could mix our still-full workdays with nearby hiking, running, road and mountain biking, and continued family time. 

Long story short, the experiment was a success. While in another longer rental, we took a deep breath, and a plunge, and bought a home in St. George. Hat tip to my daughter Samantha, whose last-minute suggestion to visit the Kayenta Art Village, a growing enclave of art galleries, studios, theatre, and a great restaurant, led us to meeting a realtor who facilitated this next phase in our journey. 

Professional Revelations: The Best of Both Worlds?

So yes, personally, we decided we were ready for a change. But professionally, I was by no means ready to leave my clients and colleagues behind. The people and purpose of Cogent Strategic Wealth remains as important to me as ever.  

Fortunately, by questioning everything, we were able to come up with something pretty special. Spending more free time enjoying the captivating outdoors actually energizes me as I check in regularly with Cogent clients and their families. Plus, my free time is all the more enjoyable by pairing it with my life’s incredible calling as a wealth advisor.  

Our excellent Cogent team is another priority, and boundless source of motivation. How would we make sure we remained connected as a team, even as we embraced a more scattered, hybrid model of virtual and in-person get-togethers?  

Continued team-building has had its challenges. Some team members were juggling their at-home office time with their children’s at-home learning. Others were relatively new to Chicago, and at risk for becoming overly isolated. 

Basically, our method has been to candidly identify each challenge and collaboratively resolve it. We traveled back to Chicago to meet in backyards. We supplemented team members’ home office services and equipment. We rented a nearby office for my partner who struggled to remain productive in a full, busy household. We checked and doublechecked our security protocols. We made it work.  

A Cogent Path Forward

What does the future hold? I expect we’ll see more changes as we continue to blend what we value most from the past, with what inspires us most about tomorrow’s possibilities. 

For us, that’s yes to more of Chicago’s busy, brawly, beloved ways. Yes, too, to biking and hiking among the red rocks of Southwestern Utah and eating lunch out of a back of a Land Cruiser in the middle of nowhere. Yes to family. Yes to client meetings—in person, virtually, or however will be most effective.  

Most of all, yes to Cogent’s continued presence—now in Chicago’s Loop, its far South Side, and southwestern Utah. We continue to work hard, to build and maintain a community for all of us to grow and serve, even as we cherish and better allocate the 24-hours we have each day to do what brings us and our clients the most meaning and joy.  

When I founded Cogent in 2010, I structured it around an unapologetically disciplined investment approach. My aim was to collaborate with highly motivated clients to design, build and protect their family’s optimal wealth strategy. I love that our Cogent team is carrying on in that vein. In times of chaos and quietude alike, it remains a deep honor to inspire and elevate individuals and families to clarify their goals, minimize their dangers and fears, capture their opportunities, and build on their strengths. 

Has today’s post given you ideas about reimagining your life? We hope you’ll sit down with our team today for a Cogent Conversation. We’ll listen to what success looks like for you, design, build and protect a plan tailored to you and your unique circumstances, and help you execute that plan every step of the way. 

Don’t manage your financial future all on your own. Book your Cogent Conversation today!


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