Exit Planning: Not for the Faint of Heart

Legal matters, business strategy and life perspectives from the mind of a non-attorney.

I’m a true believer in this: Of the things in life that truly matter, that truly make a difference, that truly help us “level up” as people – those things are almost never easy.

It’s a mindset and lifestyle I first adopted at a team building event in 2009. It was actually more than an event, it was a week-long camp that 90% of our High School basketball team attended. “Do Hard Things” was the challenge our speaker continued to make to us over the course of the week. It just clicked with me, and I latched on right away.

“Hard things” are the things that have been placed in front of us that we DO NOT want to do. We know they are there, but we want to avoid them at all costs (Examples may include: difficult conversations, moving on from something/someone, breaking a bad habit, etc.). For purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to them as “challenges” rather than “hard things”; cuz, ya know, I don’t want it to get weird.

For a little extra context, let me give you a couple examples of “challenges” I’ve taken on in my own life:

  1. Quitting high school football. You should know that I come from a really small hometown. My graduating class had less than 50 students. When you’re in a small school, and you have some athletic ability, it’s basically a sin to NOT participate. “We need all the athletes we can get” is a very public sentiment. So it was a HUGE deal when, during the summer before my sophomore year, I started to get that feeling: “I really don’t want to play anymore.” I tried like hell to brush it away, to ignore it, to avoid it. As the summer grew to an end, the feeling was still there and in the pit of dread in my stomach was unbearable. I didn’t want to let anyone down, and I didn’t want to face the backlash that I knew was coming if I decided not to play. But I knew I had to be true to myself and accept this “challenge”. I definitely lost sleep over it. I’ll never forget the first day of school, when I had to walk into the head football coach’s office and tell him I wasn’t playing. To this day, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The backlash was actually worse than I’d expected it would be: There were a lot of adults who looked down on my decision and former friends who turned their backs on me. To this day, there are “upstanding” adults in the community who won’t talk to me because I didn’t play football in high school. It’s crazy. But it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made, hands down. It was the first time that I can remember choosing to stay true to myself in the face of public scrutiny.

*And by the way, my decision had nothing to do with wanting to “specialize” in a single sport. There is enormous value in participating in multiple sports. There is also enormous value in respecting people’s personal decisions.*

  1. Becoming a financial advisor. I’m naturally introverted. So you can understand my hesitation towards starting a career where prerequisite #1 = ability to talk someone’s ear off. But I did it. In part, because I gravitated toward the analytical side of the job. The other reason that I did it is because it scared the s*** out of me. By the time I was a senior on college, I had begun forcing myself to take the challenging path, when there was one available. I learned a few things:
    • The 10% of the career that is the actual PLANNING, I was really good at. No surprise.
    • I still sucked at “networking”, and my personal network was not large enough to allow my career to truly take off. No surprise.
    • My listen-first disposition actually served me extremely well when I met with clients. I was much better than most at assessing needs, and people really enjoyed working with me. Surprise.

*I’m extremely thankful for my experience as a financial advisor. Again, it was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but the life lessons I learned extend far beyond the three I have listed.*

I promise I’ll tie this into Exit Planning soon… But for the sake of completely beating a dead horse, I want to address what happens to us, internally, when we are faced with a “challenge”:

It always starts with a little voice in our head. That voice, in its own annoying little way, declares what needs to be done. We then have a decision: Act or Avoid. The natural instinct is to avoid, and while every person is different, there are generally two methods for avoiding a “challenge” that pushes us outside of our comfort zone:

  1. Avoidance by procrastination. We suppress the voice and avoid the “challenge” until the window of opportunity to act has expired (Examples: the other person ends the relationship first, the application window for the job has expired, etc.). When we handle it this way, we usually experience a lot of guilt, because we have acknowledged the “challenge”, and possibly admitted to ourselves that we should act, but we avoid action anyways.
  2. Avoidance by rationalization. Others of us have become adept at “walling off” our “challenges” by rationalizing why we shouldn’t act. “That promotion would come with so many headaches. It’s not even worth it.” The rationalization allows us to “wall off” the challenge almost as quickly as it announces itself, and we are able to pretend like it was never there in the first place.

So I’m thinking we’re on the same page now… If I lost you, I’m sorry. That took more words than I thought it was going to take.

But the bottom line is this: life gives us opportunities to “level up”. To get outside our comfort zone. And even though it’s really, really, really difficult to do it, I believe that when we accept those challenges, amazing things can happen.

That’s why I love Exit Planning.

It is the quintessential “challenge” that business owners want to avoid. Why do they want to avoid it?

I’ll give you a couple reasons here:

  1. Business owners are afraid of getting old. Exiting the business represents “the end” of an era that they have spent nearly the entirety of their adult lives building! A classic reason for avoidance.
  2. “I don’t even have enough time in the day to run my business, how am I supposed to have time to plan for an exit?” They have priorities that feel way more urgent than exit planning. A classic rationalization technique.

I would strongly encourage you to read this article to learn more about the various reasons business owners choose to avoid Exit Planning.

Basically, it’s the end of an incredibly long, challenging, amazing, stressful, wonderful, painful, rewarding journey. Business owners, even more-so than “normal” people, have a tendency to allow work to equal life. When that happens, the end of work naturally feels like the end of life. It’s pretty easy to understand why someone would avoid that.

BUT! For the few that are able to accept the “challenge” and proactively PLAN FOR THEIR EXIT, the rewards (financially and emotionally) are unmatched. ß More on the benefits of Exit Planning in a future post.

I am so filled with admiration and respect when we engage with a new Exit Planning client for the first time. Despite the façade of confidence they cloak themselves in, those of us who understand this process appreciate the internal battle that was likely waged in order for that business owner to walk through our door. A major challenge was accepted.

They say, the first step is always the hardest, and so it is with Exit Planning. That fact is not lost on us. I only hope that if I was in their shoes, I would be brave enough to do the same.

I continue to be humbled by the likes, comments, shares and general love that you have shown our blog. If you have questions, comments, or topic suggestions for us, please direct those to: [email protected]

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