Plowing Field

Life is a Business – Chapter 31

A series of essays on the past, the present, and the future

We have all been sitting in front of the TV with a cold adult beverage and a handful of snacks, saddened at the sight of a once great athlete being humiliated in the twilight of his/her professional career.  Quarterbacks, running backs and receivers in football hate to give up the limelight and want to hear the roar of the crowd just one more time. Professional boxers take more fights with much younger men when they should be rocking grandchildren…believing that their old bodies can rally one more time. This denial of reality crosses over into a lot of our own lives as we fight to hang onto what we had as young people. Accepting new ages in life gracefully just doesn’t work well with hypercompetitive overachievers. Some unsuccessfully try both natural and artificial means to stay forever youthful, perky and hot, hot, hot! Some seek to be the alpha wolf making every kill in business, when they can no longer run with the pack. The wolves have a solution – they kill and eat the old guy the first time he fails, then a new alpha emerges.  This is pretty much how our ancestors did it until the Age of Enlightenment, when we began to formalize and institutionalize fairness.

I have thought about this phenomenon for nearly 40 years and always promised that I would not be one of those “alpha’s” who could not/would not pass the torch until it was wrestled from my hand forcefully. I said that I would know when my time of dominance in life’s career sport was over…. that time is here…and it’s OK.

When I retired from the corporate world and started our company at age 55, I intentionally surrounded myself with outstanding younger people and stayed out of the front line, away from personal sales relationships that had always been my specialty as a young man. I was a “sales assassin” that drove or flew around the U.S., both day and night to close deals that looked impossible to most. I thrived on the most difficult situations that challenged my abilities and led the crowd to roar when I brought home the contract.

I felt my step slowing and the faces across the desk becoming way too young looking as they yawned, while playing with their smartphones underneath the table. I suddenly saw myself decades ago as some old man told me how it was done in his day, as I had my Daytimer in my lap, writing down my next event.

Just as Day-Timer’s are now obsolete with the development of new technologies, Baby Boomers are just as obsolete in certain business roles…competing on the court, in the ring, or on the field of play. It is now time for us to teach, coach, cheerlead and counsel the fresh faces of this century, for our era has passed. Being in the dugout, on the sidelines, or even in the stands offers plenty of fulfilling moments, if you accept them as your new career.

Even at 63, personal experiences will still shape your views on business and life unless you are so hardheaded that your eyes and ears are sealed shut! I came out of the semi-retirement sales shadows yesterday and got back into the ring in a somewhat delicate situation. The great skills that won consistently for me in the 1970’s and 80’s are passé and now just seem eccentric.  Like the middle aged woman poured into her teenager’s tight, backless dress, we look good to ourselves in the mirror, but like a fool to those around us at the party.  That’s where the Southern expression “Bless her heart…” started!

It’s time to start the 12 – step program for curing old salespeople… “I am a salesperson and I need help!” My next customer meeting and all subsequent ones will hopefully be as an observer, not a player… sadly, we old racehorses will take off when the bell rings, even when put out to pasture!

If you are also where I am, come join me riding the pine and we’ll chew, spit, scratch and reminisce about the “good old days”… bring us both a cushion, ‘cause this damn bench is hard.

Getting older is like being a “harvest gold” refrigerator…you can still keep the beer cold…but only out in the workshop, out of sight.

Let me tell you about my grandkids.

By Bill Hewgley