As I approach the “ceremonial” age of 50 (today, May 17, to be exact), many thoughts come to my mind about business and otherwise, not in any order of importance.
Thankfully, I still have thoughts that have to do with business: (1) when I was in grammar school I thought 50 was very old; (2) have I accomplished enough professionally by this landmark birthday? (3) have I made the right choices? (4) have I cultivated the professional circle of friends that I aspire to be around? Most importantly, (5) I can’t believe that I have a daughter in college. I really don’t feel this old -- but I guess I am.
These are just some of my thoughts coming from an entrepreneurial business guy. I only had a corporate job for three years on Wall Street following my graduation from Tufts University. After that, I was ready to take the plunge and be on my own. Now, 26 years later (wow, that sounds like a big number), I’ve started and sold three companies, and become relatively “successful”, whatever that commonplace word denotes. What is my mindset now on my 50th birthday?
Am I having a mid-life entrepreneurial crisis? Am I having a mid-life change? Am I happy? What do I strive for professionally and personally? As I’m sitting at my kitchen table writing this article, I feel like Tom Cruise in the award winning Jerry Maguire movie as he wrote his passionate feelings on the life of a sports agent. Am I the eternal optimistic or the business realist?
Superficial thoughts like “should I have a big birthday party” enter my mind. I don’t think so; we have too many friends and I wouldn’t be sure whom to invite -- and I’m not interested in spending a ton of money for a four-hour party with many people I do not truly care for and may not see until my 100th birthday. How about a fantastic trip with my wife, Jill, who is also turning 50 (please don’t tell her that you know her age) so we can spend quality time together? That sounds like fun and we can reflect upon our 23 years of marriage, three children, two dogs (I’m still not sure why we got the second dog) and the great life we have created. I am a lucky person to have an exceptional woman as my wife and a great support system around me.
Money can’t buy health. Some of my 50-year old friends are experiencing health issues and, of course, it goes without saying, many of my parents’ friends (now approaching 80 years old) are as well. Some of my parents’ friends now look forward to their weekly visits to the doctor more than their daily trips to the mall to shop and people watch.
But this is a business publication -- so, I apologize for getting off tangent and let’s get back to business. Unless you are retired, it’s an obvious statement that we spend more time in the office than we do with our family. Given the forty-eighty hours a week in the office, can you introspectively and honestly answer the question “Are you happy at work?” When I reflect back on my almost three decades in the workplace, I have a myriad of emotions, covering the spectrum of really happy to really sad.
Selling our third business, a payments processing company to a private equity roll-up company was the highlight of my professional career to date; being blind-sided at the tender age of 27 that my “beloved” bookkeeper (whom I enlisted to babysit for my eldest child) was stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from me over a three-year period was definitely the low-point and every emotion in the middle. As a fyi, I did get her convicted and thrown in jail for thirty-nine months and to date, I have earned $2,150 in restitution payments over the past eighteen years. As an entrepreneur, you take the good with the bad, and by the way, I was as guilty as she that I allowed this to happen for not having proper controls and watching my books more carefully.
Am I having a mid-life crisis, a mid-life change, or just becoming more mature as I reach this magical age? Is 50 just a mindset? Maybe I don’t feel 50 mentally, but my body is physically hurting even though I religiously go the gym four days per week and play tennis/golf on the weekends. I even recently started yoga so my body would stay 49 – and I’m hoping that the yoga mantra of mind-body-spirit becomes a reality.
As I have become more “mature” (if that’s the right word because my close friends recognize I’m still quite immature), I do have a different perspective on my business life coupled with my personal life. On accepting my first job as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers, making money was my primary mission. Especially working on Wall Street, money was all around me. It became an insular life and very one-dimensional with 80-100 hours work weeks, regular all-nighters and a dysfunctional approach to life (at least from my perspective).
I am, and will continue to be a hard-working type A person. That will never change as that is who I truly am. With this new chapter in my life, turning 50 has made me commit to blending my “integrated” life of family (this truly does come first for me), work, friends -- and time to continue to grow as an individual.
As I approach 50, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many powerful business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians and “people of influence” (I like this expression as it covers everybody else). When meeting these people, I do feel very comfortable saying “Hi John, nice to meet you (I only say John if that is actually his first name), but why can’t I muster up the courage to greet my parents’ friends that I have known since grammar school by their first names. I just can’t and I never will. They are still “Mr. & Mrs.” to me. Yes, of course I do have those very close family friends that I have awarded with the special honory name of Aunt and Uncle (even though they are not blood relatives).
The concept of growth and learning is critical to staying young. I know many “successful” business people (some people may even call them “rich”). Yes, they have lots of money in the bank, but in my opinion, staying young embraces six essential qualities:
(1) staying connected with your partner/family;
(2) learning new things and starting new interests to keep your brain active;
(3) giving back to the community through involvement in charity and non-profit programs;
(4) exercising and staying healthy;
(5) having fun;
(6) not taking yourself so seriously.
Turning 50 is an exciting time professionally and personally. I hope I’ve amassed the professional and personal skills to continue to build my next business. However, more importantly, I believe that I’ve learned the vital skills how to successfully maintain my solid marriage and family relationships. In the end and regardless of how I am old, this is the most priceless relationship and business venture that I’ll ever enter into!