The Three Act Life - J.E. Wilson Advisors

The Three Act Life

Just like your favorite play, life is organized in distinct segments or acts. Each act has a specific focus and aim. Act One is dedicated to learning, growing and building career capital. Act One might encompass roughly ages 20-45. Act Two is where you have the opportunity to save and accumulate financial capital. Act Two might be ages 45-65. The midpoint in this age range, where earnings likely are at their highest, is where saving should be the strongest. Act Three is where you “wind down” and spend what was accumulated earlier. Act Three might start in the late 60’s and continues for the remainder of your life.

Decisions and Money Happiness

I recently came across some interesting research by Professor Christopher Hsee (University of Chicago, Booth School of Business), on the topic of money and happiness. Dr. Hsee has done work on the relationship between decision-making and subjective well-being. One of his findings relates to how having a clear sense of purpose impacts our financial decisions. This touches on the concept of “enough” that we have written about previously. Seeking “more” without any firm purpose or reason usually does not end up increasing money happiness. We have witnessed this many times in our work with successful clients over the past three decades.

Presumably, all of your efforts in both Act One and Act Two are based on some concrete, even aspirational idea about how you want your future to unfold. Some will remember the Johnnie Lee hit song “Lookin’ for Love” that was used in the John Travolta/Debra Winger movie “Urban Cowboy”. One of the lines from the song is “lookin’ for traces of what I’m dreaming of”. Most of us need some idea, some vision of where the path we are on will lead. If the deliberate act of saving and accumulating has a purpose, this activity becomes a priority. Without the clarity of purpose, not so much.

Act Two Sets Up Act Three

What you do in the first two acts largely sets the course for Act Three. Some plays are filled with music and laughter while others are dramatic and tragic. The same holds true for your financial life. Our educational website,, was specifically designed to address those in Act Two, because that is where the “heavy lifting” needs to happen in order to set the foundation for Act Three. Ready to make some changes? Ready for a real conversation?

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