“After over 20 years of giving everything I’ve got to the business, I am so clear that I am more than ready, in fact I am overdue for ‘the next chapter.’ Business has never been so good. My team is terrific—far better planners and managers than me. Our customers want us to grow to serve them better, and we have some potential acquisitions on the other coast. Happily, my daughters are off on their own careers and family lives. My husband and I have planned some extended travel, visiting friends in remote parts of the world. I have an endless curiosity about what can come next in our lives… plus, secretly, I think the business will actually accelerate without me holding it back! I have overcome all the ‘shoulds,’ and now I am so ready to take a few chips off the table from the value I worked all my life to create, dammit. But I am terrified. I have been trying to just kinda steel myself for all the personal criticism and disapproval I know I’m going to get from my friends and the business community here. I mean, I’m not one of those greedy people who just sells out their business to get rich, right? Am I? I am so dreading those conversations and condemnation, and that trepidation is holding me back from acting on what I know I should do.”
Scary? Hell yeah. And that’s pretty much word for word what I heard an Owner / CEO of a successful consumer business say to her attorney a very few weeks ago.
As you consider transitioning your role in the management and in the ownership of your enterprise, you are energized by the thought of a new transformational challenge, new learning and growing. New freedom. And yet, in a small way, it may feel like “giving up”. For a moment, it may even feel like “selling out.” Then your surplus of natural GRIT kicks in; it’s much more natural to redouble your efforts in the business just like you have been doing for all these years, than it is to evolve to a new chapter.
You know in your heart why moving to the next chapter is such a great idea. Your authentic leadership has been superb. Just look how it’s been validated over time by your organization’s superior financial performance, by the big positive difference you’ve made in people’s lives, and hey, look at its Enterprise Value today. At some point however, this strong attachment to “what got us here”—turns into a danger for us. We fell in love, we became infatuated with our legacy mission, vision, enterprise. We fell in love with our ideas and our calling, and we cannot imagine that others wouldn’t too. Of course we do. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the passion and perseverance, the resilience to overcoming adversity it takes to really be an enterprise builder.
The smug critics chattering around you at the weekend farmers market or the non-for-profit board meeting practically hiss “selling out.” But let me ask you: have those chatterers ever faced the challenge you have (are)? You learned your lessons the hard way. Have any of them bothered to pick up a technical book, go to a class, do any serious scholarship, learn anything, invest any effort whatsoever on how enterprises like yours succeed over the long term, over the really really long term?
You studied, you practiced, you failed, you learned, you changed, you succeeded. And still we are susceptible to the negative emotion of disapproval from those around us. We spend large amounts of time, anxiety, and millions of dollars ruminating over how our transition to the next chapter is going to look. That’s like an A-Player (you) worrying about what C-Players say about them. Honestly, who cares? This is just politics. Are you trying to win votes? Trying to be popular? Trying to protect your status with these pretenders? Many are so obsessed with how we look to others that unless we are superstrong, we avoid any kind of negative response by anyone (even chatterers) as long as we can, by choosing not to pull the trigger on whatever action we face.
Whoa. Danger Ahead. Let’s deconstruct what happens when business owners decide not to decide. There are consequences. This is where seasoned successful EOMs can go off track and instead of moving gracefully into the next interesting and rewarding chapter of their lives, surrounded by friends, their positive legacy assured, their independence powered by the fortune just realized…they get stuck. Stuck. They play the same old track over and over again, like an old vinyl LP record with the needle stuck hiss, bump, hiss bump. (If you don’t ‘get’ that metaphor, just Google it).
Some never take action. Some delay action for too long. This inaction is where disasters happen. It is where failures, bankruptcies happen. This is where individuals can lose everything, including their self-identity, confidence, sense of purpose or meaning. They can lose their teams. Sometimes they can even lose their families because they don’t resolve their love for their ideals and move purposefully into the next stage.
When we begin to find our clarity into the next chapter, we often find that those close to us begin acting strange. They may become moody or sulk, they may accuse us of “changing” or not being the person we used to be. We are permitting them to sabotage us. The reason they act that way is they are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, with their own resistance to change. Your awakening clarity or vision for increased learning and growing in the next chapter of your life becomes a reproach to them. Get it?
All successful owner-managers feel this lack of acceptance, even antagonism from the mass popular culture. Entrepreneur Owner-Managers are way ahead. Others are trying to catch up. Creating your next chapter is creating change. Which goes against what many people are doing in their lives. You aren’t accepted as they think they look bad compared to you and your innovative, out front, game-changing ideas.
Even worse, seasoned successful EOMs can sometimes believe they are viewed as a failure precisely at the moment when they are responsibly evolving their organizations to the best next majority owner who will take it to the next stage of thriving. It is disappointing to get disapproval and lack of support from precisely those people around you whom you most expected to get support from. I have personally seen a lot of pain around this. Look, you cannot compromise your launch into the next chapter of your journey simply because to do so is temporarily unpopular. You have already cultivated great strength, courage, even audacity by choosing the entrepreneurial life of freedom and creativity. It is a sometimes painful and often lonely existence. But the rewards are epic.
You know, in the beginning of our professional careers or callings, (the beginning of the EOM Arc), we had an advantage. No skin in the game. We had no experience, no business plan, no access to capital, no name, no image, no reputation to protect. Nothing to lose. It forced us to make all of our decisions very carefully to allocate our finite (scarce) resources. Now when we are successful, we increasingly feel we have something to lose.
The antidote here may seem like very simple advice. Ask yourself this: what am I intentionally evolving and moving toward? What is my next chapter’s generative purpose? How does it fit with my life long calling? Can I make this moment be about my transformation? First you must create a compelling future, because the energy and hunger from that vision is necessary to keep going into adversity. Once you see that compelling future in your next chapter, you can put that vision to work, and then taking action is easy.
Are you a Noun—a static object? Or a Verb—a physical, mental, emotional, continuous learning evolutionary process? This is about your passionate striving to learn and grow, which will bring positive value to everyone around you. Not about others’ response to it.
It is pretty remarkable what we can do with intention. The best thing—in fact, let me argue the only thing—we can do is to roll with the chatterers’ disapprobation and dance into the new chapter filled with wonder and a beginner’s mind. By doing that, you’ll serve as an example and inspiration to other EOMs who are trying to find their way too. Cultivating a way of life that is essentially proactive, intentional, purposeful striving from your inside-out, not worried about how you look, which is outside-in.
This is a new idea worth falling in love with.
References and Continued Reading
Aron, Elaine. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. New York: Broadway, 1997. Print.
Duckworth, Angela. GRIT: The Power of Passion & Perseverance. New York: Scribner, 2016. Print.
Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. Print.
Grant, Adam, and Sheryl Sandberg. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016. Print.
John, Daymond, and Daniel Paisner. The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget, and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage. New York: Crown Business, 2016. Print.
Kelly, Kevin. He Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. New York: Viking, 2016. Print.
Knight, Philip H. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. New York: Scribner, 2016. Print.
Livingston, Gordon. Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. New York: Marlowe, 2004. Print.
Waitzkin, Josh. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance. New York: Free, 2007. Print.
Zoepf, Katherine. Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World. New York: Penguin, 2016. Print.
A Note to Friends of Private Enterprise Value: I am thrilled to report that this is the last post in the current format. By holding a 99Designs design competition, and then working closely on execution of the design with PixelMedia, we have a fresh positive look beginning with next month’s post in August 2016.