Monday, April 9, 2012
Making a Difference: Retirement and Another Chapter
When I was a young boy, I wrote a letter to President Johnson asking him to stop the war in Vietnam. As a teenager, I wrote a letter to Manachem Begin suggesting a plan to bring peace to the Middle East. In 1980, I had a year before starting medical school. I wrote a letter to President Reagan suggesting that, since he wanted to abolish the Department of Education, that I would be happy to run it for a year! Just two years after joining Kaiser-Permanente, I applied for the job of Regional Medical Director. As I look back at my life, it is clear that I have always been driven to make a difference. Whether it be domestic or international politics, or related to work and business, I set a very high bar for myself. It’s ironic, noting my recent blog regarding setting my race goals too high to achieve. I guess that I set my life’s goals pretty high as well.
Ultimately, I not only reached my goals, but in some ways, I may have exceeded them. First, I became president of a physician practice management company in the late 1990’s. Dealing with large insurance companies and millions of dollars at risk was not a simple or easy task. I spent 3 years commuting from Denver to Orlando, working long hours away from my family. I learned a lot, but ultimately decided to take the chance of developing my own business. Co-founding Senior Care of Colorado in 2001, little did I truly know what type of bar I had set for myself and what the ultimate consequences would be. When you own your own company, you have no choice but to put yourself at personal financial risk. Hiring the right staff, making critical decisions on a daily basis, it wasn’t just about working from 9 to 5. I spent most nights calculating budgets and planning strategy. I also found myself dreaming, or having nightmares, about work just about every night. This only served to highlight the fact that work was all consuming.
I could recount the various stresses and crises that seemed to be around every corner. There were highs and there were lows. There were good decisions and bad decisions. In the meantime, Senior Care grew from a small business with about 20 employees and $2 million in revenue a year to a complex entity with 160 employees and over $17 million in revenue a year in just 10 years. The opportunity to sell Senior Care was not only a reflection of today’s health care environment, but it was also an opportunity to move on to a new chapter in my life.
People ask me if I’m retiring. I feel uncomfortable saying yes, for a number of reasons. Having been a workaholic for the past thirty years, it seems strange not to have a job. At the same time, it makes sense not to have to go to work anymore. What I’m entering is another chapter, where I will still have opportunities to make a difference. This chapter can’t be defined by anyone but myself. When I sold my business sixteen months ago the first thing I told my wife was that I never wanted to be in a position to have to fire or lay off anyone ever again. That is not my nature. That is not who I want to be.
As I’ve been winding down at work this past month, it has become clear that I have a lot to share. Normally, I share my knowledge and insight with a select group of patients and their families. I want to share my knowledge with more than a small group. Our society and health care system is woefully lacking in it’s ability to care for seniors. At the end of the day, my heart has always gone out to the elders around me. This is one of the places where I have been led to make a difference. At the same time, this has to be on my own terms. I am excited to be moving to a new home with my wife, who has been at my side for the past thirty years. I look forward to not having anywhere to be in the morning other than in the kitchen making breakfast for her. I will be near my daughters, who mean the world to me. Work will not define me. That is why I will be retired.
My new chapter will be about my family and me. That is where I will make a difference. It will be about exploring all of the things that interest us and inspire us. It will be about enjoying the little things in life. There are a lot of things around us to appreciate. There will be no more bars to set, just roads to travel. As with my triathlons, it’s not about the results, it’s about the journey.