I’m 63 years old and alive and kicking. I’m in awe and thrilled to bits, currently trying to carry on with my life in the midst of the new normal.
Due to the covid-19 pandemic, I’ve been staying at home most of the time. However, despite the fact I may seem retired to others, I have to argue that I’m not. Having said this, I think retirement is probably something I should have done sooner. (I say “think” because I’m not entirely sure.)
Nonetheless, I must confess I’m feeling far from retired for a very simple reason: I’m here! And funnily enough, I’m also not. In fact, I feel more present now than I’ve ever felt before in my entire life. Aware. Observant. Feeling. Hence, not retired. Simply a traveler on a different path.
So, should I consider myself “recycled” instead? Or, maybe it’s more precise to just say I’m “taking a break” (recreo). When I’m in work mode, I am fiercely loyal to my craft. That said, I’m currently continuing to be proactive and come up with ideas. So, maybe it would make more sense to describe this phase as a massive “game-change”. Or, what about “renovation”, “revolution”, “refresh”, “rebirth” or simply “reset”?
Whatever name is assigned to this period in my life, one thing is certain: I’m finally free from all corporate responsibility and am now sitting on the back bench of the entrepreneurial world. Feeling relieved and entertained, I’m loving this “new normal”, moving forward, enjoying the opportunity to make a new difference.
I got here by selling off the group’s companies to different buyers (three of those to renowned multinationals). I also closed down a couple of other businesses. For two of them, the partners completely cleaned me out; while another two, I ended up simply giving up. There were more than 20 in total and they’re all gone and in better hands; it was a fun ride and I learned a lot.
In eight countries, we built a corporate labyrinth that was relatively modest in scope. At its peak, we employed just over 1,000 talented people. However successful we might have seemed, one day I realized I wanted out –and yet it took me years to find the exit.
I was hesitant and thought technology was going to disrupt our business models. However prudent or daring, I simply wasn’t happy and I felt trapped (you’ve probably felt the same at one point or another). I remember living in escapist fantasies from my golden cage.
As a result, I didn’t even leave myself 1% of the businesses I’d started, nor any of the shares I’d acquired or inherited. I don’t have a corporate title to my name, nor a fancy business card, nor an office or assistant. At this stage in my life, I’m choosing to do things differently than before.
I set off on a quest for happiness. And I’m not coming back.
For ten years or so, we’ve moved in small steps as opposed to strides, with our mindset and gaze fixed on freedom. Partnering with my wife Alex, as we’ve done for four decades already, we’re not heading for more of the same nor any other peak. And neither towards conventional success nor a rewrite of the traditional. I have to reiterate as well, this movement hasn’t been towards retirement either. It has been directed towards a new life.
See, in my opinion, retirement implies there’s only one life related to our careers. Hence, you study and work decades and then finally retire from what you were doing for your remaining years. It’s a pretty linear pattern of living, and a bit boring for my taste. Why do that when you could be turning the page and starting a new life, influenced positively by the sum of your previous experiences?
I’m sure more than one young competitor may have wanted to pick my brain or take me on in the business ring. I’m sorry to say I disappointed them. I chose to get out and leave behind those challenges which, I might add, never seemed to get easier. So, if anyone does want to take me on, they’re a little late.
On the flip-side, you reap what you sow, and there’s a sense of “what goes around comes around”. The law of the harvest isn’t a concept, but rather a principle. For that reason, I’ve made great friends – really meaningful ones, in fact – during the 40 years I’ve worked in business.
I’m alive and grateful. With plenty of help, guidance and advice, I’ve been able to let go of everything that I believed defined me, unaware that although these things were protecting me, they were also holding me back at the same time.
I just wanted to be myself –warts and all– and see what was left once I shed this protective skin. Always a pedestal, sometimes a mask and often an armor.
Personal fulfillment can’t be dependent on a company or an award. I realized I was no longer feeling fulfilled; I had stopped enjoying my time when I wasn’t designing, creating or dreaming. To give, to love and to serve.
On the path to fulfillment, I developed an amazing curiosity for looking beyond the rat race to find out what else existed. This has allowed me —amongst other relevant changes —to enjoy the simple moments and the satisfaction I’m feeling today.
For that reason, I’ve been asking myself recently: where does this idea of retirement come from? It’s odd, but with fewer entrepreneurial responsibilities, I feel present now more than ever. I’ve swapped my corporate responsibilities for personal ones; at the moment the only company I need is the one which exists outside of work: my true family and my true friends.
Life now has more meaning; it’s no longer just about keynote presentations, numbers and spreadsheets. As a result, I’m living the most emotional and inspiring start-up of my life. Now, I see, it’s time to disrupt this status quo. Again.
It’s something myself and my friends from the Methodist School, St Francis College, Georgetown and INCAE talk about. Even though so much time has passed, we’ve still remained friends and love each other now even more so. We are all navigating the choppy waters of modern society and aging. In one way or another, it’s about the eternal search for happiness, even in the middle of a pandemic and new threats.
In the wake of these difficult times, a little while ago, I decided to resurrect my blog. If you’re reading this, I’m eternally grateful for you being here. This is both a public and yet, a very private place. I write for myself and also for you; not for anybody else. It’s an exercise I enjoy.
And by taking both big and small steps, I’ve started making sure my life aligns with the priorities of my heart. Admittedly, “I am wrinkled and I am grey, but I’m not old”. (A quote from an old Nike commercial). It also says: “I’m not strong for my age. I am strong”.
As an inspirational outcome for me, I’m walking instead of sprinting. I’m listening more and talking less. I’m still building important dreams and trying to turn personal ideas into a reality, with an abundance of passion and zero pressure from anyone else.
Keeping close to our loved ones, as we all know, is the most meaningful source of happiness. So, I’m keeping very close and cozy to my loved ones. Within a circle of love, intimacy and honesty, we find ourselves protected and secure, which is also the best environment for cultivating our dreams.
With Facebook, Instagram and Zoom, amongst other platforms, people who are oceans apart are actually close together. I’m eternally thankful to technology, as it allows us to keep in touch with friends afar.
I’m alive and I feel positive —even when choosing who to distance myself from and who to connect with—. I read a tweet that sums up this approach perfectly well: “I will unfriend, uncousin, uncoworker, unfollow, unfamily a draining soul really quick. Period”. Yes, we must stay away from toxicity, damage and anything that doesn’t work for us. This is another choice.
Life is hard as it is –so why make it even harder?
As humans, we’ll make progress if we allow life to bring us its great gifts. With intentional serendipity as an object of virtu, I say: welcome to the present moment, the unexpected and the unthought-of into my life.
This makes me smile. And that’s why I’m writing these paragraphs today with loose fingers over my keyboard.
Looking ahead I’ll put in three words:
Love — Live — Matter.
* Featured image. From left to right: Ahmet Uysal, Alexandra Oller, Jorge Oller, Holly Sheffield and Nazim Tokuz. Photo taken on Figure Eight Island, while visiting Gisela and Dan Hood.