Business and life transitions can occur abruptly, such as when a major client bails or there is an unexpected illness or death of an important family member. They can be orderly with a set deadline (marriage after engagement or planned retirement), or – most intriguingly to me, they can be predicted with some reliability but without absolute certainty. The latter kind of transitions offers us much opportunity for creativity or blundering; and provides us the environment to propel ourselves into the future.
As an example, in 1978 at age 25, I quit my job on a small Alberta newspaper to return to Africa. (I had travelled overland through the continent once, two years previously). My goal: To live through the end of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe civil war as a journalist. At the outset, I didn’t exactly know how I would do this – I had enough money for about three months of travel, and on the way there I learned that the then-white government had a simple policy for foreign journalists who arrived at the border – they were put on the next plane out of the country.
About 18 months later, on Good Friday 1980 in a small Matabeleland village just weeks before Zimbabwe gained its independence, I celebrated the achievement of my goal with an epiphany. Somehow I had solved the problem and figured my way through to the conclusion. The next goal would be in many respects much less dramatic but (for me) much more challenging – to achieve marriage, love and a stable family life. (This required another 13 years.)
Today, as I approach my sixty-second birthday, the next transition approaches. Of course, these days no one has to retire at 65 but it still seems as good a time as any to get my affairs in order to hand over the business to the next generation.
There are plenty of unresolved details, much like I experienced in Africa at 25. To answer these questions, I can listen to others, take on consulting and expert advice, and gather immediate and relevant knowledge.
Clearly there are some parameters. The business, for example, should have no debt other than current trade obligations (more than offset by current receivables). It should be strong enough to be able to pay employees and contractors fair wages, with healthy equity appreciation opportunities. And it should be designed with survival life-blood in its DNA, so it can adapt to new technologies, markets and competitors.
Of course, no one can predict with absolute certainty that things will go the way they should. Plans can be disrupted, unfortunate circumstances can catch up with us, and most importantly, while we can think for ourselves, we cannot determine how others will behave and respond.
Yet, I’ve learned that it can be helpful to set goals, and the best goals have some level of mystery or unresolved circumstance. When you cross the finish line, as I did that Good Friday in 1980, or at the wedding in 1993, you can celebrate for a while, and then set out on the next journey. There’s undeniable satisfaction in achieving major goals, but the best story still is in the future.
Where do you want to go?
Mark Buckshon is the president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies. He has written two books, and publishes a daily blog at www.constructionmarketingideas.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (888) 627-8717 ext 224.