The Business Transition Blog

Why Boomer Entrepreneurs Need a New Mission

Gail Sheehy, author of the ground-breaking book, Passages, said this about people in their sixties:

No matter what your record of external achievement, you will need an internal mission to fortify your resilience in meeting the obstacles and exit events ahead. The optimum goal is to find a pleasurable commitment that allows you to exercise parts of yourself that had to be ignored earlier. A mission can give this stage of life its own meaning and even guarantee you a sliver of immortality.

Mark, a very successful business owner in the Southwest sold his business in 2004. He’s lucky he did because his company built single family houses – 740 of them a year – and he got out just before the big meltdown in the US housing market. At the time, he was so fixated on his goal of selling the business that he didn’t look beyond that event to what he would be doing afterwards.

He said, “The day the deal went through and I looked at my bank account and saw how much money they had wired me, was the happiest day of my life. And it went downhill from there. I got sick. It was as if I had the flu all the time and I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t get out of bed. I went to my doctor who ran a bunch of tests and couldn’t find anything wrong. He referred me to a psychologist who couldn’t find anything wrong. I was in bed for almost a year and it took me two years before I felt better.”

Now think about this for a moment. Here’s a guy who has all the money in the world; he’s very, very wealthy and he loses two years of his life ‘recovering’ from selling his business.

Aside from his doctors, his lawyer and his wife, I was the first person he had shared this with. He was embarrassed. He had been blind-sided by this illness which turned out to be a loss of serotonin or clinical depression – a diagnosis that was especially tough for an optimistic, macho, self-made man to accept. But if you plan ahead, have goals to work toward, and dreams to chase, you can choose to make this transition in your life a positive one.

When I spoke with him four years after the sale, he was feeling much better. He spent a lot of time at the gym and with his family making up for lost time. He was in better physical and mental shape than he had been ten years earlier. He and a couple buddies were talking about starting a bank. He needed a new challenge, a new purpose. Too bad he hadn’t figured that out before he sold his business.

[1] Sheehy, Understanding Men’s Passages, p. 223