Plan to Exit Like an Olympian

My father was thirty-five and my mother thirty-three when they started a preschool in Queens, New York. With four of their own kids at the time, three toddlers and a baby, they became caregivers to thousands of children, including the offspring of former students. This year, they’ll celebrate 40 years in business.

Through them, I appreciate the investments that are required to sustain a business. I also empathize with what it might be like to transfer or sell it, when its life force has been at the heart of yours from conception. This is much like birthing and raising children, a give and take that structures your time with meaning and purpose. My parents’ schools, like their children, were born of them, and grown up with unwavering devotion.

Until this day, at 72, my mother visits public places daily to hand out the same brochures they created in 1976. My 75 year-old father makes weekly trips to BJ’s for snacks and supplies, one of many micro and macro tasks he performs quietly, and with humility. It’s rare to walk the streets of their neighborhood without someone greeting them.

Do you see your parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, or perhaps yourself in their story?
This frame of reference is precisely the reason that thoughtful exits are becoming a core focus of my work as a “quality of life” consultant and coach. Decades of success and toil can be diminished by an unplanned, or poorly planned exit. This is true for both entrepreneurs and employees at all levels, especially senior leaders.

The goal of establishing an exit strategy is to recognize where you’ve been—and where you’re headed, even if your destination is uncertain. Creating a transition plan slows down an ending, and brings into focus a beginning. It also helps to ensure the preservation of your legacy and relationships, as well as the vitality of your organization.

If I were to assist my parents in facilitating their own transition (they’re not ready yet!), we’d celebrate, express gratitude, receive thanks, plan, and implement, engaging many of the building blocks that are required to run a successful business: marketing, sales, succession planning, knowledge transfer, financial management, and career and life planning. There is of course a core emotional component that relates to loss, fears, worries, ambiguity, and anticipated joys.

When my parents started their preschool, their talents, drive, and life stage were congruous with the demand for education and childcare in their environment. Marketplace conditions have evolved since then, along with their quality of life needs. The same might be true for you, or your friends and family. If that’s the case, the timing might be ripe for you to initiate planning for your transition.

About a decade ago, I read about a survey of Olympic athletes. The results indicated that it wasn’t the glory of the games that these athletes missed, but rather the everyday steps that culminated in becoming Olympians. This makes sense given that the significance of an achievement resides in what it requires of you, and of those who travel with you. Like the symbolic opening and closing ceremonies of the games, a passionate start can be best complemented by an honorable exit. It’s the only way you can do justice to your training days.