Just when you figure things out, game over!

Jan 31, 2021

Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are still doing what you want to do every day. Maybe now is the time to get really serious about your transition.

I’m soon to be 63 and have been working in the A/E business for 41 years now. I got right into it after finishing my MBA degree that I pursued immediately after getting my BS at age 21. I had a grad assistantship for the MBA. It didn’t cost me a cent, plus they paid me $400 a month ($358.95 after tax).

At the time (1979), I could live on about $250 a month, although I had a variety of other jobs and ventures that made me much more than that every month. My overhead was super low. My 1964, two-bedroom “New Moon” mobile home in what was called a “married (trailer) court” was paid for, and the lot rent, including water and sewer, was $50 a month. I had a ‘72 Chevy van with a bed in back and a ‘75 Honda CB550 Super Sport. Life was pretty good.

Of course, after I graduated, I started my long climb up the aspirational ladder, culminating in a large number of houses, apartment projects, commercial centers, and more. I had as many as 20 cars and 10 motorcycles at once, two ex-wives to support, and four daughters and one stepdaughter who is now a freshman in college. On top of it, I was an owner in two companies I founded and working as a 3/4-time college professor. And I spent way too much time on social media. My attention span was about 10 seconds.

A little more than a couple years ago, I started the process of winding down everything. I shed most of my properties, vehicles, business interests, and commitments. The result has been I actually have time to spend doing things I want to do and am much happier.

One could say it’s a rationalization for my life situation. The truth is I was burned out and becoming less effective at everything. While I think I may have been able to carry on like that for a few more years before getting crushed by a real estate recession or having a heart attack, thankfully, for a wide variety of reasons I came to the realization about what is really important in life. That is your relationships with other people and doing some good. But up until recently, much of my motivation has really been driven by my need for ego gratification. That’s not good – it’s not healthy. In fact, it’s rather pathetic. He or she who craves the envy or admiration of others will surely go off-course in their life. I was definitely going off-course.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of friends still (many of which are clients in architecture and engineering firms that I worked with over the years). We did a lot of good and helped a lot of people see the opportunity they had with their businesses, I taught a lot of students, and my older kids turned out to be independent and successful. I also have a wife (third time is the charm!) who is my best friend and has helped me become a better person. We have a beautiful house and still have a couple cool cars and bikes. But I was lucky. It all could have gone the other way.

Maybe now if my diet and other bad habits don’t catch up with me, I may have 15 or 20 years to really live. Being a college professor in a really well-run business college in a state-owned university is a fabulous job, and one I can throw myself into because the mission is worthwhile. Maybe I will still do some other things and start another business some day. Or maybe not.

I know many of our readers can identify with what I am saying. I see way too many of my 60 and 70 year-old architect and engineer friends who are on the same path I was on. I am fairly certain that I have worked with as many of you over the years as practically anyone else. I encourage you to look in the mirror and to ask yourselves if you are still doing what you want to do every day. Maybe it’s time you moved over and let some of those younger, fresher, and more motivated people take over. It doesn’t mean you have failed if you do so. It’s the opposite of that. You have gotten the ball rolling. Now maybe some other people can increase the size of that ball and get it rolling even faster.

Your willingness to back off and let go will be essential to the survival of your business. You don’t want to lose all your best people because you are unable to pass the baton, do you? You don’t really want to be carried out of there on a stretcher, do you? You don’t want your family to say they barely knew you because you were always gone, and when you were there you were distracted, do you?

Maybe now is the time to get really serious about your transition. Design the perfect life for yourself just like you have designed incredibly complex construction projects. Put the same thought into it. And do it before it’s too late to do so!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

Click here to read this week's issue of The Zweig Letter!

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.