It’s one of the themes we are most fearful of, right? We create, build, work—in some cases all our lives—to build positive legacy and enterprise value in our organizations. And most of us want to continue to unlock our personal and professional potential. To move confidently into the next chapter, and transform our life’s work into an enduring legacy.
Owners hope to just possibly have a capital gain “someday.” It validates the value that we and our teams have built. It enables us to achieve some hoped for liquidity, say “thank you” in a meaningful way to stakeholders, perhaps pay off some mortgages and fund tuitions, achieve specific philanthropic goals, and more. We cannot become anything we want, but there is more potential in us than we acknowledge, or know. It’s clear isn’t it, that we and only we own this decision? And yet, we do it all the same: we procrastinate acting on, avoid even thinking about acting on this decision.
It’s said bringing about meaningful change like this is hard. No kidding. Partly it’s because even when we want change, there instantly emerges such a bewildering array of complexity from “experts.” Perhaps it’s that we think by pursuing our same goals, with the same “head down” approach that’s worked well for so long, we will someday arrive at a place called fulfillment—but it isn’t that simple. As owners and leaders, we know our wellbeing is at least partly a function of purposeful, intentional thinking, and ultimately acting. But by self-avoiding this (necessarily) deep thinking, is what we are settling for merely familiarity, temporary comfort zone, the illusion of safety?
As “EOM grown-ups,” when we hear objective outsiders think aloud about the possible futures of our enterprises, we often find ourselves rejecting them, rejecting the very concept of them. Not because they are wrong, but curiously, sometimes because they might be too right, they sound too balanced, too matured, too rational, lack passion. It’s irritating and we resent it. Don’t they know how hard we’ve worked to build it to this point—how hard it is to be us? Their depiction of future possibilities is suspicious and unfamiliar to us: that is not the culture we came from, or created. We confidently insist the next leader or owner should cherish and preserve the particular culture we crafted when…could it merely be us privately yearning for the youthful days of 20, 30, 40 years ago when we got started?
We make mistakes and avoid thinking about these concepts too, because as EOMs we feel so lonely. There are all sorts of “reasons.” Until recently, few private markets existed for owner-managed enterprises. Owners and their families stayed in, or even married into multi-generation businesses for logical sorts of reason. And yet from those seemingly rational beginnings there can flow loneliness, a hardness of heart, animosity, shouting, self-medicating at the holiday table. The mythology around family businesses has not always been useful to us.
Maria Popova asks have we self soothed ourselves into a trance of passive-ness and busy-ness as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations, but avoiding our selves? Seneca, writing in the first century saw busy-ness—that destructive mixture of distraction and preoccupation—as an addiction. Resonate with you at all? Seneca writes that, even more idiotic than busy-ness, is indulging the vice of procrastination, that self-limiting longing for certainty and guarantees.
Seneca the Younger 4 BC – 65 AD.
Why do we procrastinate to assure the sustainability of our enterprise? Hell, we are just human. We all do it. We delay, duck, avoid, procrastinate. We can get in that procrastination state sometimes several times a day. Imperfect, fearful, works-in-progress—never having been on this path before—we are anxiously striving to find our way in the Wild Wild West of the EOM world. The question it seems to me, is not do you self-avoid? The question is how long do you stay in that energy-draining state? Can you change your state, self-confront, and move forward? Too often we accept that self-critical voice in our head as Truth. The truth is every day is new. And there are a finite number of them. Could the identity we cling onto from the past be a burden keeping us from achieving goals in the future?
There are two ways to bring about change, right? We can walk away from something, or…we can walk towards the “next thing.” A big component of wellbeing for high performing EOMs (hell, for Homo sapiens) is about prospection: moving confidently into the future, the next chapter. And the first step towards it isn’t simply—boom—one day we adopt a new mindset. No, the big challenge is to have the courage to let go of the old mindset. Our lives benefit when we swap the view that we or our enterprises have arrived at a permanent destination, for the more realistic view that chapters aren’t permanent. Avoidance has consequences. Staying in one place or role too long is destructive to the organization and the people we care for in it.
Here’s great news. It doesn’t matter if we have procrastinated up to now; a swerve toward action right now is doable. We can free the enterprise and the culture we built to grow and prosper beyond our personal control of it. In hindsight, we will see holding onto the role or the enterprise was not reasonable at all, it became to feel short-sighted, narrow-minded, and exploitive of the younger generation. It’s human to procrastinate; but it’s purely on us to work through our self-avoidance—and even though imperfect, to act.
Produced and edited by Mari Lister.
References and Further Reading:
Eagleman, David. 2012. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. Vintage Books.
Brand, Stewart. 1999. The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility. Perseus Publishing.
Dalio, Ray (2017). Principles.
Deutsch, David (2012). The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World. New York, Penguin Publishing.
Holiday, Ryan (2017). Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts. New York, Penguin.
James, William (1906). The Energies of Men. New York, Penguin Putnam.
Phillips, Adam (2013). Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.
Popova, Maria. 2017. Brainpickings. Retrieved from https://www.brainpickings.org/?s=seneca.
Russell, Bertrand (1996 reissue). The Conquest of Happiness. New York, WW Norton.
Sacks, Oliver (2017). The River of Consciousness. New York, Knopf
West, Geoffrey (2017). Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies. New York, Penguin Press.