When you live in northeast Wisconsin “One More Year” has significant meaning. From the beginning of his career with the Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre always talked about hanging up his cleats. As his career was clearly waning the annual refrain of “One More Year!” started to grow old. Memes were created of an old and wrinkled Favre in a full football uniform muttering a toothless “One More Year”.
It is easier to retire when you are young. As the years add up, the work we do begins to identify who we are. Stopping said work is akin to suicide. And so it goes for your favorite accountant. I had my chance to hang up my cleats before the turn of the century. One More Year syndrome set in until it is almost a joke when I say I am quitting or retiring.
At Camp Mustache earlier this year (2016) the phrase was often repeated. It felt like it was directed at me because I kept defending my stance of continuing to run my business. Doug Nordman — everybody calls him Nords — was one of the attendees who really struck a chord with me when he spoke on the subject. The last day he was part of a podcast and he really made the sale with his plea for people to understand they have enough to retire even if they think they don’t. Nords retired to Hawaii and is living the good life now.
I always made excuses for why I would keep doing what I do. Deep down I know there is enough money to do whatever I want with the rest of my life. Doug’s warning to not ‘hang on too long’ still haunts me. Life is not meant to be one long haul of work even if it is what makes us happy. Other things can make us happy, too, if we give them a try.
Fear of Retirement
For several months I have struggled with the reasons for not pulling back and enjoying life more. When I dug deep enough I discovered the truth; I am afraid of stopping. I know business and taxes. I found my bliss and pushed all-in.
The problem with “One More Year!” syndrome is that it is really a cry for help. My identity is tied up in the tax and accounting persona. Deep down I also know I am a pretender, afraid of exposure. If the truth came out it would be devastating to my psyche. It is hard for people to believe the truth. I have no college degrees; I only had about 60 college credits to my name before I committed full-time to my tax practice. If people knew how untrained I am they might not trust me. I have to keep running from the truth to feel good about myself. It is a harsh taskmaster.
Clients frequently don’t believe me when I tell them I have no college degree. They think I am lying for whatever reason so I usually break down and say I went to the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Truth is I attended the local UW—Fox Valley extension for the credits I do have. I didn’t even focus on accounting. I had only one accounting class, two economics classes (macro and micro), sociology, and a smattering of archeology and environmental geography classes. Oh, and I had one English class. I might have missed something, but you can see my higher education has in large part been self-taught and from conferences and massive doses of reading.
I make a great living as a business owner. As a non-business owner I am unemployable. My skill sets revolve around creating jobs, not filling one. So I am afraid. Afraid of what I will do if I lose my identity. The clients and employees are my life outside of the home.
Where will I go if I no longer have a business to occupy my day or thoughts? Like Brett Favre, I want to hang up my cleats so my body no longer takes a massive beating. But like Favre, it is hard to turn my back on the cleats that gave meaning to my existence. So I mutter “One More Year” like a coward.
Maybe I am too hard on myself. I am not the only one to keep working until the day I die. Warren Buffett keeps doing what he loves at 85. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos changed directions, but still push hard to make a difference. Why not me? Is it wrong to hang on?
There is a solution (there is always a solution). “One More Year” syndrome is a cop-out and illustrates the all-or-none thinking I have applied to business ownership. Yes, Buffett still runs a business, but he spends most days reading and talking with people. What he does today is different from 30 years ago; same applies to Gates. And need I remind you I am no Buffett or Gates. They both have college degrees. They are the real deal, not pretenders.
In my office it is a running joke that I am quitting, retiring or trying to get my office manager, Karen, to fire me. Karen knows how much I love my work and the people of the business: clients and employees. She knows I smile on the surface while underneath is pain. I have worked a very long time and I am getting tired. My farm is now nearly devoid of animals as I plan my solution. When the steers were finally gone and no new calves replaced them I cried. It was a big part of my personal life.
The tax office is different. Walking away from that would probably kill me. “One More Year” is a sickness and I know it. I need to move beyond the calling card. There is a middle ground. Once upon a time I worked three months a year and did what I wanted the other nine months. My business evolved and destroyed the balance I enjoyed. It does not have to be that way. I have an awesome team I can count on to handle the clients and treat them well. New staff is now hired and digging out from the deluge from earlier this year.
When I had a more comfortable schedule I spent my summers reading and playing on my farm. I lived without any real structure. Along the way I got so good at taxes, demand for my time grew and I forgot to say “no” enough to keep my sanity. Now I am ready to act like a manager again. Tax season is when I am really needed so I will be there at that time.
The summer is a different story. Next summer will not be a “One More Year” summer. Mrs. Accountant and I are planning a twelve week vacation. I never attempted something so large. It actually scares me. For real. What will I do on the road for twelve weeks? I have no idea.
Modern technology allows me to keep writing this blog while on the road and I can log-in to the office any time I want. I can call clients and fix problems and then go back to. . . doing what? Mrs. Accountant has asked me for decades for a Hawaiian vacation. I was always too busy. Besides, what is there to do in Hawaii except sit on the beach all day? Boring! Mrs. A has pointed out there is a lot of exploring to do on the big island with the volcano and all. I am out of excuses. It seems I am a year away from a Hawaiian vacation. God, I hate long flights.
Deep down it is the right thing to do. Once you have reached a high level of skill you have to stop acting afraid. It is time for me to train the next generation and step back. Sitting in front of one person at a time is a waste of talent. For years I have been pressured to step away from the desk and start teaching. I refused because I hate spending so much time on the road. Now this blog is kind of a starting point to share my experiences with others; my way of training and stepping back. It also means more travel to speak to groups. Over the years I have accepted a half dozen speaking engagements per year, most of them local. My definition of local will need to expand.
The part of my life I enjoyed so much is now ending. I want to hang on one more year. It is selfish to do so. My team is better than I ever was. I have CPAs and attorneys as employees. What makes me think I am even close their level? I am a farm boy with no college degree, only a gut full of determination to never quit.
It is not quitting. That is the revelation! I am not quitting, only evolving. My role is to now help others be what I once was: a qualified tax professional. I will still own my business. Now it will be run by a group of highly talented people. I will show up during tax season and periodically throughout the year to provide guidance. It feels good when highly educated people come to me for advice. It is a cheap ego trip I can no longer afford.
Their training is never complete. Neither is mine. I am at the precipice of a new phase of life, a phase where I stop saying “one more year”. It is time to relax with Mrs. Accountant. She has been patient and faithful. I owe her, too. Hawaii does sound kind of nice this time of year. I think I’ll let Nords know I’m headed his way. It will be nice to have a voice of reason while I practice my new lifestyle on a Hawaiian beach. I’ll let you know how it goes.
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That hath such people in’t!
—The Tempest (V,i)