I posted something on a Linkedin group once, and one person commented that she had been trying to get her 80 year old mother to retire from the business “for years”, but that she gave up. Her mother went to work each day and was happy. Part of me loves that story and part of me hates it. It’s a bit like saying, ” I’m too old to change, I’ll just do the same things day after day”. Who wants that?
I get that people want to feel useful and needed; it’s human nature. But dying at your desk is really not being truthful. The reality is that we don’t die at our desks; instead we die in a hospital, or a nursing home, or a hospice, or even an ambulance. We are brought into this world by the medical-industrial complex and we will leave the same way.
So what do you say to someone who feels that dying at their desk is a real option? I suggest asking them this: “is dying at your desk the BEST you can do with the REST of your life?” It’s a tough one, but also the truth. For me, I want to work as part of the many activities that give my life a sense of purpose. I expect paid work, volunteer work, faith, family, education and fun to be equal parts of my life in my 60s, 70s and beyond.
Every business owner must face this truth: you WILL leave your business someday; you have two choices: you can plan for it on your terms, or let someone else plan it for you. Which choice give you more peace of mind?
If you are a son or daughter of a business owner (and not working there), how can you be sure that your parent’s business will not destroy the family assets when he/she dies or becomes disabled? It’s tough enough to bury your dad (I have already), but to be consumed with closing down the business, while telling customers, employees and vendors that “mom isn’t here anymore, so sorry you won’t get you order, or your paycheck, or get paid for that invoice”, would be even more stressful. Is that the legacy your dad dreams of today, turning the tragedy of his death, into your living nightmare? I doubt it.
If you are a business owner, maybe you can stop now and ask yourself, “What happens to my business tomorrow, if I die today?” Walk through each stakeholder of your business: vendors, landlord, employees, accounts receivable, inventory, CPA, lawyer, etc., etc. and ask yourself, “what do I owe them?”, or “what do they need from me to wrap up my affairs?”.
If you are selling a business, these are good questions for you as well. Hopefully, you will have many years to enjoy after you sell. If you get some help from a business consultant who has helped others plan for the transfer or wind-down of a few businesses, you will save yourself a lot of time and aggravation.
Of course, maybe what your mom is fearing is a boring, meaningless retirement. In the old days, that was to be expected for retirement, but not today. We have so many options for activities and there is such a need to share wisdom wtih young people (in school and in business). Surely a successful business owner can migrate to a role of mentoring others in the many challenges of life.
So what do you think a son or daughter can say to their parent who refuses to discuss leaving the business?