And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.
— Donald Miller
My family genealogy tells me that my great-grandparents helped settle the Nordheim/Yorktown area of Texas in the latter part of the 1800’s. They were hearty folks who worked the land in that area for many years. My grandparents migrated to the budding metropolis of Floresville, TX and opened a family grocery. My dad’s life rotated around the family business, but...
When my grandmother got old and slow, so did the business.
And soon after her death, the business died as well.
Out of the experience of my father’s childhood, he took his two degrees and launched out from his first job at Celanese Corporation to start his own business. He was the hardest working man I ever saw, often grabbing a little sleep on a coach at his office during his all-night work sessions. Even on our weekend custody visits, we got little time with him as he slept most of Saturday to catch up from his exhausting week. Despite working really hard in his business…
When my father got old and slow, so did his business.
And when he got very sick and died, it died as well.
His redemptive perspective for me was to suggest I go get a good job with a good company and work there the rest of my life. I really did try to honor his wishes. Twenty-two years in corporate America, however, mostly spent managing money for a large bank, left me feeling trapped and frustrated.
After a LifePlan retreat made it incontrovertible that I could not continue to sit at a desk in front of a bank of screens managing money, a friend’s offer to help him come run his business felt more like providence than an opportunity to partner with him. We built a team leadership structure, got clear on vision/values, and moved the company toward a newly imagined future. Others heard about what we were doing there and opportunities to accomplish similar things at other small businesses (that seemed to have all the same issues and frustrations) ensued.
My current business partners and I started coaching another company several years ago. The company is now moving toward a much bigger, clearer, and more efficient future. Their leader is truly a different man. Always a great man, he is now operating with extraordinary confidence and clarity. He called me recently to say that an icebreaker at a business gathering posited this question:
There were a variety of answers, but he was the singular one who chose his current age. He said he had never been more confident in his leadership role, the plan for his company moving forward, or the incredible future they were going to realize. He was also enjoying (not unrelated in my experience) the best season in his home life as father/husband. He graciously provided attribution for all that to the work we had done with him organizationally and as a leader.
Him calling to tell me that hit me deeper than I could have imagined. Deep beyond deep, there is something far more foundational driving the work I am now doing. The reason I am so invigorated to do the work that I now do with dozens of businesses has everything to do with…
My father died far too young, his body beaten down by stress, worry, and exhaustion. Somewhere in my subconscious, I always wished that he had not been so alone in his work. That he had worked with partners or a leadership team, had a clear vision, a solid plan, and had imagined a bigger and better future. He deserved better than he got. Owning his own company took decades off his life.
Just like every other small business owner I have encountered, he started his own business for freedom, margin, and the opportunity to have more control of his life. And almost like every other small business owner I know, the business dictated his life and owned him. He was looking for freedom and found the opposite.
Interesting that Jesus sums up his entire earthly ministry by stating healing and freedom as his clear mission in Isaiah 61. Jesus came to restore everything to what it was originally intended to be. Freedom and restoration are the clear and powerful deliverables of the gospel. Ironically, just like most business owners, we have largely realized the opposite (another post for another day!).
Freedom is the cry of all our hearts.
The reason I am so passionate about the work we are doing with so many leaders and their organizations is that it somehow redeems the story of one.
- Is your current age the one you would choose to stay at forever if you had to choose?
- Would you describe your life as one of freedom?
- Are you clear about who you are and where you are going?