This past summer on my fortieth birthday I sat on the beach watching our orange star sink slowly beneath the waves, bringing an end to the first day of my fifth decade on this earth. In that very moment, I could hardly believe my eyes as a real-life pirate ship appeared on the apricot horizon. Fueled by the need for adventure (and likely rum), her buccaneers were firing the cannons in rapid succession and her Jolly Roger flags were waving proudly in the wind. The captain of that ship was moving forward full steam ahead, and the mates were gleefully along for the journey.
As the odd boat slipped out of sight, Jimmy Buffett singing the wistful tune “A Pirate Looks at Forty” popped into my head. For those of you who are not Parrotheads, the song is the confession of a washed up drug smuggler looking back at his wasted life. Now admittedly, the life of an accountant is considerably different than that of a modern day pirate, but the theme of retrospection seemed particularly relevant as I passed the threshold of my free-wheeling twenties and thirties.
I am extremely fortunate to have come of age when I did, which I truly believe was an incredible time in American history. I went to college with a suitcase, learned to type on a real typewriter and a word processor. I was introduced to a Windows based computer during my freshman year which totally confounded me. Graduated, received a job from a large accounting firm, worked hard, got married, got promoted, got an offer from a smaller firm, took a leap of faith. Had kids, got a minivan (actually my wife’s), got a Blackberry, got an iPhone, got multiple monitors, needed a change. Took another leap of faith and started my own business. Struggled, discovered the E-Myth, discovered Simon Sinek, discovered my “Why.” Realized the power of working for something bigger than yourself. Realized the unlimited potential of people who are encouraged and inspired. Realized empathy and kindness do have a place in business. Realized it was imperative for me to strive every day to make other people’s lives better. Realized no matter who you are you can positively impact this world. Realized these realizations were the key to this accountant truly loving his job.
The world has changed drastically over these past forty years, so what’s next? Many believe technology will push businesses to evolve more in the next five years than they did in the last twenty. Some will view this as a threat, and I worry that much like Jimmy Buffett’s modern day pirates, their occupational hazard will be their occupation is just not around.
Our firm has chosen to embrace technology as an opportunity. We will use it to cut through the waves of a changing world and invest in a new generation. But there is something even more powerful that we have uncovered: The real safeguard against becoming irrelevant is to focus on people.
Focus on the people you serve.
Focus on helping them reach their goals.
Strive to make their lives better.
Simon Sinek and Michael Gerber helped me see that with their books Start with Why and The E-Myth. But the concept has been real since the days of the wooden ship: Serve your mates. Take them on an adventure. Make their lives better, and your occupation will be around long after the cannons thunder.