This is Why I Blog

I was going to respond to this comment in the comments section, but since I doubt that anyone reads them much, and this was such a good comment, I wanted to deal with it here in the light. This is in response to the Super Bowl post of last week, where I asked about how to create an offseason in the business world.

Tod Hansmann said…

Well, personally speaking, my plan is to start a few simple startups, grow the ones that survive, expand on them quickly, and sell them to a bigger company. Take my 6.7 Million dollars and retire, taking the rest of my life to do amazing things one normally wouldn’t get paid for (like teaching high school kids why they’re bored all day).

There are other routes to the same, but they usually involve resources I don’t have. I think in the end, though, you just need to arrange priorities. Everybody needs to do SOMEthing, and to be honest, I would prefer to be productive rather than what most sports players do in their off season lives. In that regard, I think you and I may have a slight advantage. Now if only our salaries compared.

By which I think he meant “if only our salaries compared to football players’ salaries”, and not “if only they compared to each other”. In that case, I would point out just in passing (this is not why I reposted his comment) that our salaries dwarf the salaries of nearly everyone that plays football. There are some NFL guys that play that make more than we do, but almost nobody else does, even in the profesional ranks. There are lots of other football leagues and most of those guys don’t make anything to speak of. But I digress.

I have a good friend who lives in Boston. He’s a high-powered mergers and acquisitions attorney there, which means he’s reached a level of his profession almost nobody gets to. He’s worked very hard to get there, far harder than I have worked. This is expected, and in fact required. If you are going to make partner at one of the top firms in the country, you are going to arrive at work at 7 and go home, if you go home, also at 7 or possibly later. And you’re going to do this every day, with the exception of Sundays. Some Sundays. Needless to say, this is very hard on families, so the bulk of these up-and-coming attorneys don’t have any families to speak of.

My friend does. He has four children (might be 5, can’t remember for sure), and a wife that loves him, and whom he loves. He holds down an extremely demanding job for his church. I don’t know how he does it. He chalks it up to the Grace of God. That works for me. But he’s put a lot of his own blood into that grace. He was the lead negotiator for the sale of the Boston Red Sox, and for the purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He worked on the deal to get the Montreal Expos into Washington D.C. There have been some incredible successes. He takes almost no time off to celebrate them.

When he got to Boston, he had an interview with one of the partners at the firm, a man of the same faith my friend is. My friend asked this man if it were possible to do it all, to make partner, keep volunteering for the church – a thing that is far more extensive and time-consuming in his church than most careers are in the secular world – and have a family that grows together and learns to love one another. And this man said emphatically that yes, it was possible to do it all. But then he paused, thought for a moment, and said, “but I don’t know anyone that has done it.”

I tell this story by way of comment on what Tod mentioned above. I like the idea – I have had it myself – of starting several small companies, growing the best of them, selling them, and retiring. I read a lot of Inc. magazine because it tells these stories. But my experience is that 1) you can’t stop once you start and 2) the number of small companies that make it at all is very small, so one might have to start a dozen of them to get one that survives and 3) the number that make it to $6.7 million is so tiny that one might have to start a hundred to get one that makes it that big. I also know that since it’s impossible to tell just from the idea whether the company will make it, a tremendous amount of time and energy has to be invested in EACH company to give each a chance to make it big. And I know that for nearly everyone, there isn’t that much time or energy. I’ve started three companies, and been involved in the start of four others. My current company threatens to drown me, but is surviving and improving as I improve. Only one of the other six is still around. It struggles mightily. These startups have consumed the last 20 years of my life. No retirement in sight. I do not believe myself to be atypical in this regard.

So I discover that I have to take the rest of my life to “do amazing things” right now. I don’t have any other life. This is the only one I’ve got. My experience is that most of the amazing things one does one gets no pay for. Certainly the loans where I have performed the largest number of miracles have paid the least to the bank account. I do not get paid for working for either Chamber of Commerce, or for the political party I volunteer at, or for the church, or for the Rotary Club. I will not get paid to go to Master Gardener School (I got accepted! Hooray!). I do not get paid to hold my daughter’s hand while she falls asleep. At least, I do not get money for these things. But offeasons are not created by money. All sports leagues have them. Virtually no sports leagues are paid leagues. There are thousands of champions crowned every fall in football and only one of them is the champ of the NFL.

Creating an offseason cannot mean sucking all the amazing things out of life in the now, for the hope that the future will bring…what? Tod talks about teaching school. School has an offseason. The offseason is not created by the massive salaries of the people that teach, and it certainly isn’t created by the students, but they enjoy the offseason and look forward to the championship game more than the teachers do. There has to be something else, some other way. I don’t want to stop playing the game. I just don’t want to play it every day for 40 years, then try to stop like turning off a faucet. That’s not going to work. It practically never works, despite the financial services ads on CNBC.

I know why Tod thinks this plan will work, and knowing him, he’s probably correct that it will. But it doesn’t meet my definition of an offseason. I’m looking for a way to play hard, win, and celebrate, taking some time before one has to go hit it again. Could be a long season, like the NBA. Could be short one, like college football. But it has to be a repeating – or repeatable – cycle. There has to be a way.

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