Are you a “what if” or a “what is”?

April 5, 2024

As a mom, I spend a lot of time driving my kids around. My shift usually starts in the afternoon, when I switch from working to my kids’ personal assistant and taxi driver.  

Fortunately, I like the gig.  What it doesn’t pay in cash, it more than makes up for it in time, one of the forms of wealth I value most. I cherish the car rides together because it’s when I get to hear about the girls’ days, and we get uninterrupted time to connect. Some of our most interesting conversations as a family also begin in the car. 

A few years ago, we were driving to school and Katherine says, “What if unicorns really did exist?”  

“They didn’t!” exclaims Sally. 

“What if, just like Narwals, horses had a tooth that looked like a horn, a long time ago and that’s the origin of the unicorn?” Katherine is now really warming to the topic. 

Sally is undeterred. “Unicorns never existed. They’re made-up, mythical creatures from ancient stories.” 

Later, I realized that car conversation was such a clear example of the different ways my girls look at the world. Katherine is a “What If?” person and Sally is a “What Is” person. 

The difference between “What If” and “What Is” 

What If People: What If people tend to see all the possibilities, the world is at your fingertips. They tend to let their imagination take the lead. 

What Is People: What Is people tend to see the world as it is currently. They start from a place based on reality. 

It’s an interesting dichotomy to parent, and it makes for fun discussions. We’ve had many conversations about how we all see life a little bit differently. One isn’t better than another; we just see the world with different perspectives.  

As parents, we’ve been very intentional to not say one daughter is right or wrong. We focus on how they each processed a situation differently because of the types of people we are.  

When I think about the “What If” and “What Is” friends, clients, family, and acquaintances in my life, I’ve observed something interesting. As humans, we tend to initially approach a situation from our comfort zone – reality or dreaming. But if we allow ourselves to switch between “what if” and “what is” as we make decisions, it helps us think bigger, see new opportunities, and have more fun.  

Whats more, if we lean on others with different perspectives, we’re better able to collaborate and move forward on projects, solve problems, and reimagine solutions.  

I am a realist by nature, a “What Is” person at heart. I need to have a firm grasp on what’s real around me to have confidence to move forward. But I’ve learned that while this is my starting place, I don’t have to remain there. When I allow myself to dream about the possibilities instead of being tied to facts, I end up places I never expected. On my own, I didn’t know to dream about our life after the military, our house with a wraparound porch, land, and adorable farm animals. But when I lean on Ryan or my kids to see what could be possible if I let go just a little and ask “What if?” the world gets a bit more interesting.  

The same holds true for finances.  

Identify Your Starting Place 

At Mosaic, I’ve noticed couples tend to start from different spots. The key is to know where you’re starting, from reality or possibilities. The goal along your financial journey is to remember that no one perspective is right; when we lean on each other to get a whole picture, the decisions become easier and more exciting. 

When I’m working with individual clients, on the other hand, I tend to step in more to help shift perspectives, to help them dream and come back to reality when needed. 

Flex Your Perspectives 

When you work with Mosaic, moving between “what if” and “what is” perspectives is also key to planning for the future. 

What Is: 

  • We start where you need to. Maybe you inherited money and need to know what to do with it. We identify where you’re at.  
  • Then we move on to reality. What do you currently have? Accounts, retirement, income and expenses, etc. This is our foundation. 

What If:

  • Now we can move on to the possibilities, the dreaming–where do you want to go? You get to identify what’s important to you and think through the possibilities.

What Is:

  • We come back to reality and create a plan. This is where we identify what type of accounts need to be opened or transferred. And we use a program called eMoney to aggregate your accounts so we can see your whole financial picture in real time. 

What If:

Within eMoney, we can go back to What if scenarios.  

  • What if you spent a little less money? 
  • What if you wanted to retire earlier? 
  • What if you took that family vacation? 
  • We can see how possible decisions can affect your future outcomes. 

I know I have said it before, but I truly enjoy guiding people on their financial journey. It’s so interesting how we all view life from different perspectives. I learn so much from each person I work with and am grateful to be a part of the process.  

I encourage you to take some time to think about your starting point perspective. Are you a “what if” person or a “what is”? What type of people are you making decisions with? Where do they start, and how could you lean into their unique perspectives? Once you know your starting point, work through the Mosaic process with your finances. If you need some guidance just send me an email. I would love to walk through your financial journey together. 


The opinions expressed herein are those of Anna Nelson and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to sell any product. Forward-looking statements cannot be guaranteed. This document may contain certain information that constitutes “forward-looking statements” which can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “may,” “expect,” “will,” “hope,” “forecast,” “intend,” “target,” “believe,” and/or comparable terminology. No assurance, representation, or warranty is made by any person that any of Anna Nelson’s assumptions, expectations, objectives, and/or goals will be achieved. Nothing contained in this document may be relied upon as a guarantee, promise, assurance, or representation as to the future. Investment Advisory Services offered through Integrated Advisors Network, LLC (Integrated) a Registered Investment Advisor. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training.