I have been reading Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal this week. It throws a fascinating light on the experience of getting old and I commend it to everyone. As a window on the world of narrowed horizons and the choices available to the elderly and frail it is fascinating. I suppose it was a particularly relevant book for me, given my own father’s increasing frailty but I think the main message in it for me is actually that all of us need to be prepared for this stage of our lives which does not tend to treat us kindly.
There is a section in it which struck a chord with me very loudly. Gawande talks about the change in how we seek to spend out time at different stages of our lives. ‘When horizons are measured in decades, which might as well be infinity to human beings, you most desire all the stuff at the top of Maslow’s pyramid – achievement, creativity and other attributes of “self-actualization”. But as your horizons contract – when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain – your focus shifts to the here and now, to every day pleasures and the people closest to you’. (Gawande, 2014, p.97)
This explains a couple of conversations which I have been involved with over the past couple of weeks. Both during my mentoring session and during the Bristol seminar by Patricia van den Akker (See my last post) I have been asked the ‘where will your business be 5/10/20 years from now’ question. I have found this particularly difficult to answer this time around: I am aware of a definite shift in my energy levels and inclinations recently and I find that my knee jerk response to this question is ‘who says it will be anywhere at all!’ But this makes things very awkward. If I don’t know where I am going why set off? What IS the point?
There are still good friends who are certain that what I do is simply a hobby, that I do it to keep myself amused. I suppose it did begin like that and then there was a stage where I needed an outlet for my work so that, at the final reckoning, my children didn’t enter the loft with fear and trepidation wondering what on Earth to do with all those pots! But now I have to acknowledge that things have gone beyond that. I am chasing a dream of it being successful and so presumably I do need to know what success is going to look like when I get there.
I find that cannot drift about simply making stuff and hoping that people like it, I need a reason to make in the first place and, for me, that needs to be connected to somebody else wanting it. But at the same time, I am not sure that I have to be utterly driven by building the business. I need some aims but they don’t have to be measured in financial terms. And anyway, what does success look like? I don’t think that it necessarily has to have a load of pound signs in front of it. It is something I need to give some more thought to but I do know roughly what it looks like and I will share it as it happens. In the meantime though, I am no longer sure that we do have all the time in the World!