Sunday, April 23, 2023

When The Music Stops

Fear of losing what you love is a hell of a thing. It's personally my most difficult fear to overcome. For years I would have revenge fantasies of what I would do to the people who harmed my loved ones. Completely made up punishments, for imaginary bad guys, for crimes not committed. This would occasionally crop up and dominate my meditation practice. I thought I was a freak until I learned a famous teacher had to work through the same issues. It's one thing to accept your own mortality, but to accept the impermanence of what we love is a curve ball. 

We have worked so hard to build our businesses and it's easy to give into the fear it will all go away. And it will absolutely go away one day, in some fashion. Like death, we don't know how, we don't know when. 

This type of fear, and the suffering it causes, arises because of our intense ego investment. Every news report about the economy, the pandemic, the state of American democracy, all feed that fear. Fear sells, and we are buying. Our minds can spin out of control, thinking about the terrible destruction, caused by imaginary problems, created by people trying to sell us insurance and pillows. If it bleeds, it leads. And when it comes to our fears, it feeds.

There is the obvious fact you can't take it with you. You will one day need to turn in the keys, perhaps pried from your cold dead hands, overly dramatic Charlton Heston style. You are personally invested in your business and the thought of its loss, of everything you've built going away, is unbearable. Here are a few ways to overcome this fear of losing what you love:

The first way to alleviate this fear, a temporary solution at best, is to re-invest in what you love. Although it's temporary, it can bring comfort. It's a practical solution that ignores the universal impermanence of it all. But from a business perspective, where we ignore inconvenient universal truths, I think this is good advice.

If you want to weather the storm, you prepare for it. Having my business narrowly survive COVID, you can't go wrong with a big pile of money. Saving for a rainy day is a good plan when a storm is coming. Money in the bank brings clarity and long term thinking. However, at a certain point, money is pointless. A few years ago, with a few hundred grand of government money in the bank, I would tell finance people I don't need more money, I need sales. I needed the blood to flow again through the clogged arteries of my business.

Reinvesting in your business will increase your overall future income. A 10% decrease in sales ten years ago would have crushed me, while now it would be mildly disappointing. My business is larger. There is muscle and fat. There are reserves of both cash and inventory and we are amply staffed. I could go on a spending diet myself, and easily fix my 10% decline. A decade ago, I would have prayed for the business to just fail. We would have had to cut into muscle and make painful sacrifices.

Reinvesting in staff means paying them more, which helps with retention and future recruitment. I'm about to start traveling and having better paid staff is an insurance policy and an accelerator for future recruitment, two things I very much need when I'm relying on other people from 2,500 miles away.

The second way to alleviate this fear of loss is to invest outside your business. By having a backup plan, we are loosening the ego attachment to our one thing. Our ego is still involved with outside investment, but we've spread the risk, we've loosened the attachment. We all know the threat of our businesses failing doesn't go down over time. It stays relatively constant. Besides our own old age, sickness and death, something as basic as a city construction project, a failed lease renewal, or a disaster could wipe us out pretty quickly. COVID was a wake up call to this. 

I've been running my business for 18 years and I have another 18 years until I'm done (more or less). I've seen public tastes change in my favor. Who is to say they won't change in the other direction? Investing in myself, rather than pouring more money into my business, means saving for retirement. I've only been saving in earnest for a few years. There's never a good time, so you might as well start now. Saving for retirement will let you sleep a little better at night, overcoming the fear of your businesses eventual transition. It will also give you freedom later in life to say that's enough. The bigger and more arrogant my vendors get, the more I find myself saying, that's enough.

The third way to alleviate the fear of loss is to get a life. Begin to divest yourself from your ego attachment. Building a business is an all encompassing endeavor. Once you've got a profitable business, it will remain all encompassing, if you let it. A small business will take all the time you wish to give it. You are good at this. You have learned to achieve micro satisfactions that comes from a job well done, even if you're ultimately left with nothing but the fear of its loss. I know rich people who have regrets that their wealth came at the expense of time with their family. They would do anything to get that back. Seek satisfaction, solace, and spirituality outside the business. 

Find your spiritual path. My older friends and I talk about the Hindu stage of life called Vanaprashta. You've raised a family, you're accomplished professionally, now is your time to explore spirituality, knowledge, and peace. As I've gotten older, I've thought many times education is wasted on the young. All the best questions occur when you're older. You don't have to turn your back on your business, but you can certainly de-emphasize its importance in your life. It sounds crazy, I know.

Spend more time with your family. Work on your declining physical condition. Take vacations that aren't more trade shows. When we place such a strong emphasis on one thing, the fear of its loss can be debilitating. Hold on loosely. If you are not your business, who are you? Spend some time finding out. You won't lose focus, you'll gain clarity. Clarity reduces suffering.

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