A couple of weeks ago, I asked the question: How Do You Know When It Is Time To Go? I received so many responses that I was inspired to write this Part II.

When a new client begins my You Pivot™ Program, I recommend a couple of books, one of which is Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud. The premise of Dr. Cloud’s book is that we must learn to let go if we are to move forward. 

Often, the idea of letting go, we internalize as giving up. And, giving up is antithetical to our training. Starting from childhood, we are taught “don’t be a quitter.”

So what gives? The answer says Dr. Cloud is in getting to the pruning moment. Throughout his book, Dr. Cloud shares stories of the relief and success people discover once they choose to let go. 

My clients in my You Pivot™ program learn that the pruning moment can only come when they get unstuck. And that getting unstuck is a process that begins with contemplating essential questions. Below is a sampling of these questions:

What Is Your Today Story? 

  • When and where did you begin?
  •  Where are you in your life journey? 
  • How many years/career versions are left? 

What Matters To You? 

  • How does today compare to what matters? 
  • What has worked so far in your career? What has not worked? 

What Is Your Tomorrow Story? 

  • What is the content of the next chapter of your life?
  •  What endings are necessary to achieve your tomorrow story? What will you do to create the story you wrote? 

Once my clients discover the answers to these questions and others like them, without exception, I hear, “I wish I had made this change a year ago,” or sometimes, I hear, “I wish I had made it years ago.”

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the question: How Do You Know When It Is Time To Go? I received so many responses that I was inspired to write this Part II.

When a new client begins my You Pivot™ Program, I recommend a couple of books, one of which is Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud. The premise of Dr. Cloud’s book is that we must learn to let go if we are to move forward. 

Often, the idea of letting go, we internalize as giving up. And, giving up is antithetical to our training. Starting from childhood, we are taught “don’t be a quitter.”

So what gives? The answer says Dr. Cloud is in getting to the pruning moment. Throughout his book, Dr. Cloud shares stories of the relief and success people discover once they choose to let go. 

My clients in my You Pivot™ program learn that the pruning moment can only come when they get unstuck. And that getting unstuck is a process that begins with contemplating essential questions. Below is a sampling of these questions:

What Is Your Today Story? 

  • When and where did you begin?
  •  Where are you in your life journey? 
  • How many years/career versions are left? 

What Matters To You? 

  • How does today compare to what matters? 
  • What has worked so far in your career? What has not worked? 

What Is Your Tomorrow Story? 

  • What is the content of the next chapter of your life?
  •  What endings are necessary to achieve your tomorrow story? What will you do to create the story you wrote? 

Once my clients discover the answers to these questions and others like them, without exception, I hear, “I wish I had made this change a year ago,” or sometimes, I hear, “I wish I had made it years ago.”

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time

There ain’t nothing to it

Any fool can do it

Nobody knows how we got to

The top of the hill

But since we’re on our way down

We might as well enjoy the ride

James Taylor

As I reflect on James’ words, I am reminded of an equally important corollary, the power of the pause. 

Pause and notice what is around us

Pause and consider before responding

Pause and reframe what we hear

Pause and consider an alternate point of view

Pause for perspective, Nobody Died.

After conducting these interviews and writing these YOU PIVOT™ stories for nearly a year now, a common theme for the men I’ve interviewed is a choice to follow Dad’s career path. This choice has worked well for some, reference Flunking Retirement: Marsh’s story of following his dad into the military And for others, like Darnell, not so much.

Darnell’s dad was an engineer at the same company for 43 years. So… Darnell became an engineer.

He realized even before he graduated, that wasn’t what he wanted to do. Darnell knew he was a natural leader and a people person, so he pivoted toward an MBA.

That said, the traditional corporate path was what he knew from his dad, so off he went to a big company. The plan was to “work my way up the ladder, punching the tickets – moving up to responsible positions. My stated goal then was to become president of a company within a company in my 40s”.

Along the way, he realized he is less of a rule follower and that he had his mother’s family genes. She came from a family of entrepreneurs – grandpa started a business in the boom times – followed by a bust. And then another boom. 

“As I reflect on my career, there must have been something about the turnaround, from bust to boom, that caught my attention because everything I’ve ever done has been a turnaround. And, I don’t fit the turnaround stereotype. In my first company turnaround, I was more of a consultant/project manager and observer. From this experience, I learned that if a company is going to survive independently after the turnaround, it has to be about the people, not just the financials. 

One thing that was consistent with the stereotype, every time I got it turned around, I moved on to another adventure. While I was accustomed to moving, having grown up moving every three years, part of me regretted moving on. I wanted to stay around to be part of the growth.”

Darnell got his chance to pivot to a growth company and accepted a position with a German conglomerate. At age 39, he was on a path toward becoming President of a company within a company by age 40. 

It was not to be. 

While moving all the time seemed normal to him, his wife’s experience was the opposite. She lived in the same town all her life and wasn’t keen on raising a family so far from their extended family. They stayed in Germany for a while, but he knew she wasn’t happy being so far from family, and he committed to returning to the U.S. 

While he sometimes wonders what would have been if he had stayed, this spurred his pivot out of corporate and into privately held.  Who Knows What is Good and What is Bad.

He came back to run a failing company. He learned from this position that his knack for turnarounds worked best in a privately held company. His training, combined with his independent nature and leadership abilities, fit best in a private company where politics was not primary. He went on to do three more turnarounds after this one.

Darnell is sixty now and has come full circle. His wife was diagnosed with heart disease two years ago, so time with her is his number one priority. Time to pivot again. His vision is to create a three-legged stool:

  1. Family time
  2. Investor/advisor in stuck companies, i.e., turnarounds
  3. Active philanthropy at the board level with his passion projects 

And, as is often the case, we plan, and life happens. Darnell invested in four small companies, one stalled, one is still trying, one is on-hold, and one… took off.  

Darnell moved from advisor to CEO and is having fun with this role. “I can apply all my experience, all I have learned, without recovering some of the baggage, i.e., the rat race, the emotional need to work more, ego engagement, etc. I still care, but I am not emotionally invested like I once was.”

So what happened to the pivot vision? 

“On the surface, it looks like I just changed jobs. And, my intention is for this to be temporary. I’ve organized my role, my contract, and my compensation to still treat this company as an investment, albeit with a larger role than an advisor. I am giving myself a B on having an exit plan – truth be told, I don’t have a clear path out with a timeline. That said, my 3-legged stool vision is front and center. Every day I am focused on taking actions toward the vision, e.g., hiring key leaders to reach my goal. 

Advice for others

  • Have a vision – Always be looking out a year or two ahead of yourself. Life isn’t always going to happen the way you think it will, so at least be thinking about what is next before exiting. It’s essential to think forward, to wrestle with that map continually –write it down and wrestle with it.
  • Align your actions with your vision – I’ve designed my three-legged stool such that I can spend as much time as possible with my wife and have other things to keep me distracted. While I am having fun building the team at my current company, I am building ahead for the first time in my careerI am doing this intentionally so I can go when the time is right.
  • Make choices that give you the moral high ground – Decide what is important to you and choose accordingly. I am not taking a full salary in my current role to ensure I am treated as, and think like, an investor. This choice gives me the comfort to chose my exit on my terms. 

The Trouble Is, You Think You Have Time.

Buddha

Whether you are a business owner, a professional manager, an advisor, or anyone engaged in an enterprise for an extended time – how do you know when it is time to go?

“Nothing is forever,” the saying goes, and yet sometimes, perhaps even frequently, we stay too long. We watch professional athletes stay past their prime, and we participate in the debate about term limits for our congress. Yet, when it comes to our own engagements, how often do we look inward and debate our own need for term limits?

When I was negotiating my exit from the corporate world years ago, I remember a conversation I had with a friend. My friend asked, “What are you going to do if you don’t get the deal you want?” My answer was, “I guess I will stay one more year.” Her response, “How many more years are you going to say, one more year?” At that moment, I realized it was time for me to go, regardless of the negotiation outcome. And… because I had made my decision to exit, I, of course, handled the negotiation more effectively.

While this topic comes up for most leaders now and then, it typically surfaces in a time of frustration. I wonder if it might serve us to ask ourselves this question as part of our annual strategic planning instead. What if, as part of strategic planning, every business owner or executive answered the following five questions:

  1. What did I give to the business, other than my time, this past year?
  2. What did I get, other than $$, from my engagement in the business?
  3. How do my answers to #1 and #2 compare to previous years?
  4. If my give/get has declined, what do I need to do to change this, and do I have the passion and skillset to do it?
  5. If I didn’t lead or own this business, what would I be doing instead?

If you have asked these questions in the past and have stopped asking them, you may already know that it is time to go.