Culture. It’s a simple but essential word. Most teams, groups and organizations have a distinct culture. Those with a healthy culture excel, while those without one mostly tread water or sometimes drown. I’ve been in the financial services industry for seven years—the last four of them serving as a personal financial planner. I’ve worked for four companies, in six offices, on nine teams. Each of them had their own culture, which flowed from the strategic decisions at the top to the actions of the individual team members and, ultimately, to meaningful experiences for clients.

My Retreat story began when I was offered a NexGen scholarship to attend as a first-timer in April 2017. A year before that, I had formed an advisory team with two established professionals much my senior. We were still trying to build our own team culture while working under a broader corporate culture. I had joined FPA only five months prior to the 2017 Retreat because the organization appealed to me as a young planner trying to navigate through a brokerage world. I showed up in Braselton, Georgia, hoping to take away a few words of wisdom that I could bring back home and try to implement. Instead, I experienced a transformative event.

The culture of Retreat is unlike any other. It’s full of not just the best and brightest this industry has to offer, which you can find at any FPA conference, but true visionaries. Any other conference you attend will talk primarily about historical developments or the current state of affairs; the discussions at Retreat instead focus on the future. You have people with a passion for this industry; they aren’t just trying to forecast where it’s headed but are taking a conscious and active role in shaping its future. You will hear things you can’t hear anywhere else. You will form lifelong bonds with people you meet. Some questions or thoughts will linger in your mind for months and years. Retreat dramatically transforms and connects people in ways no other conference can.

In my case, it led to an epiphany. I met so many smarter, more successful planners—many of them also NexGen members—during that Retreat. All of them seemed to go out of their way to pay it forward to me, sharing ideas, suggestions and challenges that left a deep impression. It left me questioning my own future as a planner. By the time I went back for my second Retreat in 2018, I had left that broad corporate culture behind.

I now work with an independent franchise of a regional brokerage company, collaborating with teammates while also building my own practice. I provide affordable life planning to anyone who needs my help, regardless of their income or net worth. I wouldn’t have made the change without Retreat. I also wouldn’t have close friends and respected industry acquaintances in Colorado, Texas, California, New Jersey, Arizona or Pennsylvania without it. I wouldn’t have a fierce passion for paying it forward to other aspiring NexGen planners without it either. And my own culture, both in and out of the office, wouldn’t be nearly as healthy.