If you're ever in the mood to feel like the laziest slug on the face of the planet, listen to a mountain climber describe her two (yes, two) expeditions up Mount Everest. Wow. From having to take five to 10 breaths per step as she neared the summit to nearly being crushed to death by avalanching ice sheets on the descent, Alison Levine spun a harrowing yarn when addressing the 7th Annual Employee Benefit Adviser Summit in Phoenix last month.

The former Wall Street insider detailed the painstaking procedures required to attempt to reach the peak, and how the process correlates with her experience in the sometimes thin air of the business world. For example, Levine discussed how her climbing partners would tease her for chatting up every single person at base camp, but explained her actions weren't simply because she's a friendly person. In times of trouble, it's important to have someone to turn to outside of your team, she said, and it's crucial to find that partner before something bad happens. "If you have the right relationships in place, nobody will walk past you in your time of need," she said.

That statement had me recalling the number of brokers and advisers I've met and spoken with whom, in preparation for the unknown future that health reform represents, have already partnered with a property and casualty firm, or made ties with a national association.

The connection to the reality brokers are facing now really hit home for me when Levine described a segment of the mountain with ever-shifting, snow-covered terrain and the rickety ladders needed to cross the deep crevasses that form in that changing landscape. It's natural to be afraid to cross such frightening chasms, she said, but the key is not to let that fear paralyze you.

"Fear is OK. Complacency will kill you," said Levine. "You can't afford to stay still when the environment is shifting and changing around you."

Hmm. Remind you of anything? MLRs, health exchanges, fee disclosure ...

Alex Assaley, EBA's 2012 Retirement Adviser of the Year and cover subject Focused fiduciary, certainly isn't standing still. In fact, he's leading the charge to bring retirement services to the next level by truly focusing on the end user's ability to successfully save for life after work.

In Levine's speech, she described how overwhelmed she felt when thinking about how far she needed to go to reach Everest's summit, and how she was able to overcome that feeling by focusing on small intermediary steps. Likewise, Assaley's micro-level approach to retirement planning provides every plan participant the needed steps to reach the summit of a life-long career: a fully funded retirement.

Most of us will never climb Mount Everest, but living comfortably in retirement is one peak we all deserve to conquer.

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