Are you a baby boomer contemplating retirement? When you take some time to imagine your future, how does it look? Do you see images of happy times with your family? Traveling with your spouse? Finally getting to those hobbies you’ve put off for years? Is the future “you” smiling and laughing? Do you still have dreams to fulfill, “¦promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep,” as Robert Frost so eloquently put it? Do you have a bucket list with many items still unchecked?
You can get to some of these items while still running your company, much as you have in the past. It may require slight adjustments: taking time to go to the gym, going on more holidays, getting home from work earlier, eating fewer restaurant meals or delegating more effectively. All are manageable things to do now.
But as you take a careful look at your future, you’ll likely notice some gaps. There may be a gap between the finances you’d need to retire as planned and what the business currently provides in cash flow (and will later provide in equity). Or, if your personal goals are modest enough that you already have enough to finance the rest of your life without growing the business any more, you may discover a gap that is not financial, but rather related to time, relationships, health or finding a successor to take over your business.
Whatever your current situation, it’s important to understand that these gaps are a good thing.
You may think keeping a to-do list at this stage in your life sounds like more work than it’s worth. After all, you’ve worked hard for decades. You deserve to relax. You should take it easy now.
No, you shouldn’t. Not really. I doubt that’s who you are or what you do. You’re an entrepreneur! You thrive on adrenaline, you like problem solving, you love control and being the head of the pack. You’re probably not that good at relaxing. (Be honest: aren’t you more comfortable in command in the office than you are when you go on holidays?) You may be tired and ready for a break, but shifting from being active and running a business to sitting in a rocking chair might just kill you. Don’t go there!
In his classic work Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote about the importance of purpose and a goal in one’s life. As a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, he witnessed the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. His experience and his subsequent research confirmed that people who lose their sense of purpose can will themselves to die. In the concentration camps, everyone was stressed, hungry and sick. But sometimes prisoners who got word that their wife or child was killed in another camp would give up and they would simply die. It was as if they just flipped a switch and it was over.
We need a purpose. We need something to strive for. We need to be stretching ourselves until the day we die, or that day will arrive sooner than we would like. All your life you’ve been living with gaps that you’ve tried to close. The difference between what is and what you would like it to be. You’ve had mortgages and loans to pay off, properties to buy, places to go, new product lines to launch, new ways of doing business, new markets to pursue and competitors to beat. If you suddenly stop, and there is no creative tension in your life, you’re in danger of losing your purpose and losing your will to live.
When I was growing up, we farmed next to a neighbor who always seemed ancient to me. In his seventies, he still farmed with a team of horses, worked hard every day and, frankly, was stronger than me even when I was a teenager. At 80 he was still wiry and strong, and worked as hard as any of us. His wife, who was much younger, pushed him to sell the farm, move into town and take it easy. At last he agreed. But within 18 months of leaving the farm, he was dead. All his outdoor activity, his exercise, his routines and his sense of purpose were gone. Some of us believed that while his wife had the best of intentions, her insistence that he move off the farm became his death sentence.
Think about the gaps in your life as challenges you still need to address, puzzles to solve, projects to complete and hills to climb. Not only will you get more done and continue to be true to your entrepreneurial self, you’ll be extending your life and be more fun to live with.
So, here’s the good news: If you like what you’re doing in your business and you want to continue to do it (perhaps in a somewhat altered form), it’s probably good for you to do so. If the thought of selling your business is completely unpalatable to you, don’t do it. In fact, exiting your business may bring on a quicker demise.
Wayne Vanwyck is the founder and CEO of The Achievement Centre International in London, Ont. He is the creator of The Business Transition Coach Forum and the author of the best-selling books, Pure Selling and The Business Transition Crisis. He has been training and coaching business owners for the past 30 years.
More columns by Wayne Vanwyck.