Have you stopped wondering?
As one gets older it’s easy to lose the curiosity and enthusiasm you had earlier in life and start to rest on your laurels.
This fading thirst for knowledge is the death knell for performance. It can make you feel less enthused about your business and life in general.
I have to be honest, a few years back I myself was feeling a bit flat, a bit stuck, and I didn’t know what to do about. I was discussing the issue with my life coach at the time, Kerri Richardson. We were working on all sorts of exciting changes to my approach to life, including some new hobbies (I took up poker, and picked up my guitar again after a 20-year break), and incorporating more travel.
That was all good, but the big breakthrough came as a result of one of those lifestyle changes.
I booked myself onto a ten-week ski instructor course being held from late September to late November 2015 in Saas Fee, Switzerland. I’d spent considerable time in that resort the two previous seasons and was keen to progress my skiing, just for fun.
The course was great, but also very tough. I was 48 years of age and one of the worst skiers in a group mostly aged between 18-23. What the hell was I doing there? I didn’t even want to be a ski instructor, I just felt this would be a good way to improve.
It was when I came home that I realised something in my outlook had changed. I’d re-awakened my passion for learning new skills. All the way through my ‘stuck’ phase I’d never connected the dots; maybe, just maybe, I’d stopped learning. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit that in public looking back, but I really believe it’s true.
It was only when I read Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday that I understood what had happened. Ryan talks openly about this exact issue: a cessation of learning in mid-life
Had I literally stopped learning? Not exactly. Life doesn’t allow for that. I had, however, become a lot less proactive in seeking out new information. I was no longer filling gaps in my knowledge or investigating new things out of plain curiosity.
Other advisers I know have felt this same sense of ‘emotional flatness’ in their business. Some blame it on being at the end of their career, and seem resigned to a boring old wind down until they can just sell out.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Relight your fire
A Financial Planning business I worked with a couple of years ago, specialised in working with successful business owners selling their businesses (in the £20M – £50M range). To give their business a boost from new knowledge, they partnered with a successful entrepreneur in their region who had sold a business for a very large sum in the past. In sending him in to assist with some of their business-owning clients they increased sale prices by around £20M. Not a small thing.
This was his personal philosophy (paraphrased by me):
“Most business owners spend 30 years of their life toiling away. At the end of their careers they are tired and burnt out and sell their businesses for a fraction of what they are worth. If they could just re-focus, work on the right issues and have that final 2-3 year push, they could exit with a much higher payout and put the final exclamation point on a successful business career.”
I’ve seen a similar thing with many advisory firms.
In my article, Behind The Business: Holland Hahn & Wills, I alluded to the point that these guys, all in their mid 50s, are doing some of the best work of their careers. They’re generating major increases in personal income, and upping the value of their business in the process. Most importantly they’re having a ball.
Isn’t this how it should be? You’ve spent your whole life learning your current skillset. Surely the end of your career, when you know the most, is when you should be creating the highest value and having the most fun.
What to do?
If you can relate to any of this, and want to change things up for the better, there are two simple strategies to combat any drop off in your curiosity and up your learning capacity:
1. Go and learn something new – step out of your comfort zone and your traditional sphere of knowledge.
As Ryan Holiday suggests in his book, “This could be as simple as reading a book on a topic you know nothing about, or networking with people where you are the least knowledgeable person in the room.”
It’s why I’m a fan of advisers attending financial planning conferences in the US. You can run into businesses and business owners over there who can blow your mind and get you thinking much bigger. It’s a humbling and mind expanding experience.
But your new interest need not be business-related at all; take an online course in something you’re interested in, learn a language, or take up a new hobby.
2. Hire young people in your business – Bring in graduates and apprentices. Their new eyes on your old problems will get you re-enthused as you create new solutions together.
I can’t tell you the number of clients having great success, not to mention a great time, working with younger newcomers to the profession. One firm I’m working with has hired four apprentices in the last few years. Two of them have been offered full time roles.
Other firms I know are hiring graduates. They are scary smart and often identify major improvements to some sticky business issues due to their knowledge and total familiarity with new technology.
Newcomers’ interest and expansion, as they learn new things about the work that Financial Planners do, is contagious and exciting to be around. It reminds you of what’s so fantastic about this career. There’s no better way to bring back some of the spark you yourself felt when you started your own professional journey.
Never stop learning
The brightest people on the planet are still researching and asking questions. The more they know, the more they realise there is to know. Pretending we are certain is a defence mechanism to overcome our fear of the unknown. Because if we don’t actually know the answers and can’t control everything – then what?
If you want your career and your life to remain interesting and exciting, you need to work to cultivate your curiosity. Commit to lifelong learning. It will transform your life.
Let me know how you go.