I was sitting across the table from an old friend. As it sometimes does these days, our conversation veered toward the tantalizing topic of starting to scale back on work. We were indulging in a little daydreaming. “I don’t think I want to retire cold turkey”, he mused. “But maybe finding a way to cut back on my hours so I can start doing things like travel and more community work…”.
We were both wondering the same thing – when would we have enough money to confidently change our lifestyle? You can do lots of calculations to come up with an estimate. But what if it’s the wrong question?
You see, we spend most of our working lives marking our progress largely through our earnings. It’s not the only measure of career success but at least in the private sector, it is an excellent proxy. When we’re young, money means freedom, comfort and luxury. Later on, it also represents security for ourselves and our families. But as we get older we gradually notice something disturbing. Some unfortunate people are interrupted along this well-worn path by serious illness or a terrible accident. They are blindsided by events in which personal wealth is meaningless.
The harsh reality is that as we get older, the likelihood that our well laid plans will be derailed by an “act of god” or a lack of health rather than a lack of money, increases. Yet instead of exercising, eating properly, relaxing and smelling the roses, we continue to stress about earning money, preserving and investing it, and staying employed because that’s what we’ve always worried about.
It’s the classic case of getting what you measure but measuring the wrong thing. We do it in our business lives too. We worry about orders but get caught short on cash. We strive for revenue growth but lose customers when quality slips. We invest in incremental product improvement while a new technology disrupts the market. We drive efficiency relentlessly then lose our top employees through lack of engagement. The solution, of course, is being flexible enough to monitor multiple metrics and continually shift emphasis to the one that matters most. This is an essential characteristic of companies, and people, that successfully reinvent themselves.
The more you are single-minded, in life or in business, the more likely you are to be blindsided. Step back and ask yourself whether your go-to metric of success remains relevant as the world around you changes. Challenging your assumptions could lead to a healthy change in behaviour.
Although neither of us mentioned it, when my friend and I parted, I suspect our plans for the next day included a trip to the gym. salad for lunch and some quality time with the family!