Retirement Case Studies: The Business Owner

It’s more than just work to a business owner. While business owners have special qualities that can make them powerful influencers in retirement, the heart-connection they have with their business can pose some pitfalls. I learned this lesson firsthand during a conversation with my wife’s family.

My in-laws are family farmers in southern Minnesota. Many years ago, we were talking about some of the many struggles of running a family farm. At one point in the conversation, to help eliminate some of their misfortune. I nonchalantly suggested to my father-in-law, “Why don’t you just sell the farm?” He responded by saying, “Then, what am I going to be?” The response displayed the true nature of business owners, including farmers.

What are common characteristics of business owners?

*Identity-driven: To a business owner, there is a deep, heart-level connection with their business. Identity is found in work. The question I asked my father-in-law was very one-dimensional. It looked only at numbers. But, to a farmer selling the farm is like selling away their identity.

*Struggle with time away: Many business owners don’t vacation well. It’s hard for them to get away both physically and mentally. Each summer all of our family on my wife’s side spends a week at our family lake cabin. While my father-in-law makes the commitment to come, it’s a struggle. If there’s inclement weather or a project that didn’t get done prior to the “cabin week”, my father-in-law’s mind is back at the farm.

*Project-orientated: Blue-collar workers tend to be more task-oriented. However, business owners gravitate toward larger projects. While they will accomplish the day-to-day tasks, business owners want and need to have bigger month-long or year-long projects on the docket. Busy-work or honey-do lists won’t cut it for business owners in retirement. They will need bigger projects to dive into or business owners will become bored and stir-crazy

*Big-decision makers: Business owners are used to making important decisions. Oftentimes, the decisions have consequences that may affect people or finances. As a result of making big decisions, business owners also tend to be bigger risk takers.

How will a business owner struggle in retirement?

The biggest struggle a business owner will experience with retirement is a loss of identity. Remember, my father-in-law’s response to the proposition of selling the farm? Their work is an extension of themselves. Retirement can almost feel like mourning the death of a loved-one.

Business owners may also be fearful of retiring, being less relevant or letting go. They may even avoid the topic altogether and say things like “I’m never retiring.” Farmers will jokingly mention how they will “drive the tractor until the day I die.” While this is said in jest, it reflects the deep, heart-level connection business owners have with work.

How can business owners prepare for retirement?

It sounds weird, but you need to “practice” retirement before it begins. Start getting away…more. Take breaks away from the office. Plan longer vacations. In fact, vacations should increase closer to retirement. While you are stepping-away longer and more often, this will give you the chance to test the next steward. In every succession plan, the next leader is chosen and prepared. The confidence to leave your business to the next steward will increase with time. Most importantly, begin to shift your identity away from the business. Embrace who God created you to be. Find ways to use your strengths to further the Kingdom.

Want more?

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Jerrid Sebesta

Co-Founder of Retire Repurposed

Co-Founder of Retire Repurposed Jerrid Sebesta