Your problem is you think you have time.
Like is full of paradoxes. We’re told to treat every day as our last and live in the moment but on the other, “There’s no time like the present; time waits for no man.”
So let me explain what I mean and why it’s so important to recognise the threat behind those fateful words — ‘you think you have time’.
A couple of years ago, I was settling into our company’s annual Christmas party at a local restaurant. Most of us were standing around, engaged in chit-chat, when our CEO wondered up to me and said, “So how’s it going, Fritzy?” Now, our CEO was one of my greatest mentors. I could write reams about how Ken had helped me over the years — mostly through the example he set and the standards by which he’s lived his own life. He’d worked very hard from a young age and had built a substantial business from almost nothing, whilst managing to lead a balanced and fulfilling life. But he was in his 70’s and still committing a substantial portion of his life to the company.
Some months ago, I’d pressed him about his plans for the future and asked when he planned to retire and spend more time doing the other things he loved. His response was usually the same. “I’m having too much fun to quit.” A reasonable answer. Still I sensed he was sticking around more through an old mindset than anything else. So that day at the Christmas party, I hit him with it. “Ken, your biggest problem is you think you have time.” It caught him a little off-guard. “Say that again,” he said. So I did, to which he replied, “Write it down for me!”
You see, he’d never really considered the reality of how little time was left to him. Nor had he examined the world of opportunity that this realisation would bring. Like so many of us, his work ethic was too deeply ingrained and the idea of restructuring his life to let the most important stuff in had never taken root.
A year later, he announced he’d be stepping down as CEO to take on the role of Board Chairman. I was sad to lose our regular face-to-face chats but happy to witness his transformation. I recall seeing him one day shortly after his role change and the difference was significant. He looked dangerously healthy, visibly happier and almost cheeky in his demeanour.
While he was still contributing to the business, he now had a well-utilised gym membership and his accomplishment with his guitar was improving exponentially. Also he had walked the 800km Camino de Santiago in Spain carrying only a rucksack, and he had travelled to Italy and Antarctica with his wife and friends. Nowadays we catch up regularly for coffee and a chat, which I value enormously and he says helps to keep him in sync with a younger person’s perspective on things.
Contrast Ken’s decision with my dad’s old boss, Joe. He too had built a very successful business — much of it off the back of my dad’s reputation as a craftsman and a builder of substance and integrity. He had acquired a substantial property portfolio and could quite easily have thrown in the towel a decade or two before he actually did. The catalyst for his decision to change was the death of his wife. For years, she had begged him to travel but like so many of us he didn’t stop to think that there was another world out there beyond the endless cycle of work+accumulate.
Joe was an odd one, too. There were many things he wanted in life but his only concession to pleasure was a small yacht that he sailed on the odd weekend. His car was a rusty old Valiant with a potato sack on the seat (to stop the springs from ripping off the family jewels), behind which he towed an equally rusted trailer. He’d always wanted a Mercedes-Benz but despite the fact he could have owned a fleet of them, he never succumbed, saying he didn’t want customers knowing he had money.
After Joe’s wife died, he had his light-bulb moment. He decided to travel! He set on a trip to Antarctica (coincidentally, #1 on his wife’s bucket list), became gravely ill… and died. His biggest mistake was he thought he still had time.
Should I just drop everything and follow my dreams?
If you can afford to, the simple answer is yes! If you can’t, then no.
The real answer, of course, depends on a range of factors, not the least of which is the courage to take the perceived risk. I’ve seen many in their middle years with substantial businesses that can run very well without them or which are ripe for acquisition but they just can’t let go. More often than not, this is fear of identity loss or paucity of post-retirement plans rather than the inability to finance retirement.
Likewise, plenty of us have climbed the corporate ladder; acquiring the requisite trinkets in the process, only to get to develop a mindset that there’s no way back. You may have decades of experience in a particular field, with a unique set of skills and a commensurate salary but your ability to change things dramatically becomes diminished by age. Could you find a job in this field again or switch careers altogether? Could you leave it all behind to start something of your own? How would a dramatic change affect your income, your reputation or your ego?
The real question becomes, can you afford to follow your dreams? Can your ego, your income and your perceived reputation handle such a decision? Unless it’s a resounding “YES”, you first need to get your house in order. Thinking positive, dreaming big and burning your bridges won’t do. It’s easy to bet the farm when you’re in your twenties, but doing this in your forties or fifties isn’t so easy.
Breaking away from your current situation will depend on two things — what you know followed by what you do. This is where the fun starts because once you learn what you need to know, you can start doing something constructive. And simply knowing that you can break away, that you can blaze your own trail, is the most important foundation stone on the path you seek to create.
Originally published at Blaze Your Own.