There’s a lot written about reinvention these days. Most of the editorials are about companies. The drivers are those who fix their businesses before they break. The passengers are the ones who avoid reinvention for as long as they can, and the roadkill are the companies that never deal with transformation or leave it so late that the business is already toast.
Reinvention isn’t limited to companies. No matter what stage you are in life, you should be prepared to reinvent yourself. Sometimes there’s a catalyst that gives us a shove such as a layoff, a failing industry, or retirement.
This baby boomer faced personal reinvention at 47 when the company I lead as CEO was sold. I ditched the corner office for the consulting world. To be honest, that reinvention was minor compared to the one I embarked on fifteen years later when I retired. Deciding to transform myself from CEO to rookie novelist became the most daunting self-inflicted trial of my entire life.
Other than embellishing business proposals to invest millions of dollars in various ventures, I was a fiction neophyte. My former invaluable corporate network was suddenly benign. So was my experience running a $100 million business. Other than a story idea, I was alone. And after penning a couple of chapters, I felt even worse. I was in over my head. Give up? No. I’d been through several corporate reinventions. They were all tough. I knew that reinvention required tenacity, determination and hard work.
I didn’t write another word for a year, spending my time learning how to write fiction – reading every book I could get my hands on. Two years later I had finished my first draft. It wasn’t good. I needed another 3 years of rewriting and editing. And by the time I convinced a bona-fide publisher to publish the book, 8 years had passed. The Circumstantial Enemy was released by Endeavour Press this month.
Much has changed since I ditched the corner office, including me. And thanks to this particular reinvention and a few other changes in values, I’m loving the challenges of the CEO afterlife. Maybe it’s because I’m just as goal-oriented as I was in my early days.
Looming retirement can be unnerving to business executives who often define themselves by their job. Think about these personal and behavioral characteristics of the stereotypical leader:
- They are visionary.
- They are performance-driven.
- They are energetic and tenacious.
- They are passionate and disciplined
- They are resourceful.
These characteristics are precisely the traits that motivate these folks in their afterlife. Some find satisfaction using their influence and past connections to help others. They get behind philanthropic causes with all the zeal and resolve they exerted in their chosen fields. Others find happiness pursuing interests that evaded them during the demanding years of their careers.
Those who transform tend to find exhilarating second lives. In cases where a retiree has unleashed a new passion to help others, there’s an endless list of beneficiaries from students to sick kids, from aspiring entrepreneurs to lovers of art. If you’re nearing the end of an era, do not fret; a world of challenge and discovery fills the souls of your retired brethren. Embrace the opportunity and join me in the glory of this afterlife.
One other thing, if you’ll pardon the marketer (Business ’68, Marketing major) in me. Based on a true story, The Circumstantial Enemy is an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust and revenge. Rich in incident with interludes of rollicking humor, it’s a story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love and forgiveness. If that blurb stirs your senses, check out the e-book and paperback at amazon.com.
John Bell (Business ’68) is the retired CEO of coffee/confectioner Jacobs Suchard. He is a former strategy consultant and the author of The Circumstantial Enemy and Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World.