The Business Transition Blog

Business Owners Should Take a Sabbatical

We took a six month road trip around North America.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some ideas on taking a sabbatical. I took one a couple years ago and I would highly recommend it! But YOU need to know why you want it, plan for it, and then take a leap of faith.

First you need to have put processes and procedures in place and measured and improved upon that over time. I’ll talk more about that later.  But once completed, you should test the waters to see how well you’ve done. Do you have the right people in the right roles? Have you mentored and coached them sufficiently? Are they adequately trained to do their jobs? Do the company’s processes run the company or is it run by the well intentioned but unpredictable whims of the managers and employees? Can you take a vacation without checking in every day? Do you take your BlackBerry with you everywhere you go? Are you mentally ready to begin the process of letting go?

I had some of these issues thrust upon me prematurely. I have a degenerative muscle disease, which doctors think is adult onset spinal muscular atrophy. In my case, it’s attacking the quadriceps – those big bulky muscles in the upper legs. Well, mine used to big and bulky, but now they’re not. They are almost gone.

I’ve lived with it for over ten years. It is a syndrome that progresses slowly and there is no cure at this time. On a practical level, it means that I tire easily, have trouble with stairs, stumble or fall on uneven ground, and cannot participate in many of the sports I enjoyed when I was younger. I often use a cane for balance and the prognosis is that someday I may need a wheelchair. I am doing everything I can to put that off as long as possible.

I consider this disease to be both a blessing and a curse.  The curse part is obvious. It’s painful, frustrating, and sometimes discouraging.  The blessing is that it was a wakeup call for me. Like many entrepreneurs, I had always considered myself invulnerable, forever young, and capable of anything I put my mind to. I was fearless, optimistic, and the future was always bright and beautiful. In fact, the future was so bright and beautiful, I spent a lot of my time there.

I was forever envisioning how great it would be when my company and I finally broke through to the other side – the huge number of people we’d help, our modest but still significant impact on the world, the financial reward… I have always enjoyed what I do, but when I was honest with myself, I had to admit I didn’t spend enough time in the Here and Now. I worked my butt off for the rewards waiting for me in the future, always just around the next corner or bend in the road.

After a few years of denial, my disease forced me to slow down, appreciate the present, and acknowledge that there are things that are important to do now because I may not have a chance to do them in the future. I then realized that many people don’t get that message until it is too late. “I’ll take that trip I’ve always dreamed of when I retire,” they say, only to drop dead of a heart attack before they get around to it. I won’t go so far as to say I’m thankful for my disease, but I know it could have been a lot worse — I have had the opportunity to do some things I would have otherwise put off. And for that, I am grateful.

Stay tuned for more…