August of this year I had the privilege of turning 50. That was plenty to take in on its own merit. When I found out that a college friend of mine that works in our industry announced his retirement next year – you read that right, retirement – that really got me to thinking. Where am I in life? Where am I in my career?
If you start your career after college and expect to finish at 65, that puts 50 at about two-thirds of the way through your career. On a grander scale, if you look at an average life expectancy of 75, then that also puts 50 at two-thirds of the way to the finish line. That really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
When I was thirty, industry veterans would sometimes share with me that their greatest accomplishments happened in their 50s. In my naivety I thought that was just something ‘old’ people told themselves to feel better about life. Now that I’m here, I can put it into a new perspective. I have had ample opportunities to make decisions: some have been good, and some have been purely regrettable. What do I have to show for these years (decades) of effort? Simply two things: experience and relationships. I can finally understand why my 50’s will be the best years yet.
It’s no secret I appreciate relationships; but much more important to me are the individual’s behind them. This is something I have talked about often. As important as relationships are, unique experiences with an individual are what I truly value. Again, I now have on average two-thirds of both a career and a lifetime of experience.
One experience lesson I learned years ago is to look at my team members and ask, “if he/she was hit by a bus tomorrow (God forbid!), what skills and abilities do we need to replace and are we prepared for that?” On one hand, this is a reminder to me to appreciate what people do for our company each day. I am not very good a complimenting people, so to collect my thoughts and occasionally recognize their contributions is, in itself, worthwhile. Secondly, it is the boy scout in me that wants to be sure that my company is prepared in case of any ‘what-if’ event. If this company is hit with a devastating blow, how do we recover? The strain and forced changes of COVID-19 makes me appreciate what we have and know we must plan for what is to come.
I conducted this ‘what if’ exercise with our company’s management team a few weeks ago. Because I am part of the team, I had to ask what skills we would miss if I was not available. Besides the fact that I am the ‘eye candy’ of the company (yes, I hope you are smiling now), the other answers were elephant hunting, strategist, excitement creator and new business ideas. I’m both proud and humbled by these comments. Then I asked, “How/who do we find to cultivate these skills?” It was then that my Vice President of Sales looked at me and insightfully asked, “Can that person coexist in the company with you? Is it in you to let go enough for someone else to succeed like you have?” The smirks in the room indicated it was a direct and absolutely fair question. All I could say was, “I don’t know, but I will have to learn.”
Another important lesson I have learned about business is from someone that has been a co-worker, mentor, customer and employee at different times along the 25 years I have known him. He has been a salesman, branch manager, central distribution center (CDC) manager, vice president of sales…this guy has done it all – and been successful – in many facets of our industry. As a leader, it has always been, as he says, to “work himself out of a job”. He hires and trains others to do what he does today so that he can move onto new objectives the further the company. I can honestly say no one does it better than he does.
In conclusion, I’m challenging you to ask yourself three questions: 1) What skills in the people around you do you need to be ready to grow and replace? 2) Are you working yourself out of a job? 3) Can you let go of your pride enough to let others prove their value? According to Simon Sinek, business is an Infinite Game. To make a truly great business means it has enduring value beyond your years because of your generosity.
Yes, I’m 2/3 through my race. I’m more excited than I have ever been because I see and understand so much more than I did even ten years ago. Sure, we have challenges, that is what makes business a game. The challenges and difficulties are what make the race so exciting. We all have a finish line, and it is in sight for some of us; but the race is really beyond us. Our duty is to sprint as fast as we can to hand off the baton to the next runners, setting them up for greater success than we can see today.
PS – The picture is of Ryker who I spent time with at a recent wedding. Being 50 did not make me feel old, but my sister acknowledging that this young man made me a great uncle caused hearing loss and my bones began to ache.