I recently had a 55-year-old CEO referred to me. In setting the meeting via email, he told me he was interested in angel investing. He wondered if I could share a bit of my experience and give him an introduction to angel investing. His story was interesting. He went from the mailroom to CEO over his 30 year career with the same company. I can’t remember when I met a person who did this. I have read stories like this but never heard one first hand.
Although he was CEO of the company, he is now a division president because a much bigger company acquired his company. He successfully navigated the earn-out from the deal, and he is sitting in a fat job but is unsatisfied. The new environment has relegated his position of leadership to a position of management. It just isn’t doing it for him anymore.
Even though he came to me to talk about angel investing, the conversation took a different turn. We began talking life planning. It became apparent to me that his angel investing interest might be a symptom of his life’s discontent. I also was surprised we were talking “new missions” in life. Usually, these conversations happen with 40 year olds.
Why Am I Unhappy?
One of the most difficult times in my life was in my late thirties. I was working as the president of U.S. operations for a great company who treated me fairly. I had a wonderful boss who couldn’t do enough for me. It was a bright future. The problem was the job was unfulfilling.
I remember looking out from the 20th floor of the Galleria at the cloverleaf of I-75/285 and thinking, “This is the best job I ever had. Over the next five years, I’ll have even more leadership responsibilities, and I’ll make more money than I dreamed. Why am I so unhappy?”
Every thought said, “Stay.” My heart said, “Leave.” But I just could not leave. It made no sense. I had my dream job. I had achieved my goal. What was wrong with me? Who walks away from guaranteed great money for the unknown? I even went so far as to buy a plaque for my office that read “Bloom where you are planted.”
The Right Time
Eventually, I did leave. I thanked my boss for confronting me with my unhappiness. He gave me permission to take action. He gave me the courage to make the decision. Over breakfast, he said, “If this isn’t right for you, then you should leave. Is it right for you?” I thought for a moment and told him, “No.” I walked out of that breakfast unemployed. When I got to the street, I said to myself, “What did you just do? Now what? You have a wife and three kids.”
That’s how it happens. In a moment, you go from being on mission to not having a mission. The goal you chased and now achieved is behind you. The work you were doing doesn’t interest you any more. Now what?
Finding Your New Mission
For this CEO, the next ten years of life, 55 to 65, are super valuable years. Physically healthy, he is highly relevant in his industry and has a vibrant network. He can construct a whole new strategy with these assets. Not only does he have great experience, but he is financially independent. He has options.
I asked him to think about his next 10 years. He needed a vision for his life. With a shared vision (him and his wife), he can create a strategy to achieve the new vision. He knew this was the truth but didn’t know how to go about getting there.
So I shared with him what I did to get to my new mission. Befuddled with life, I prayed to God. I hadn’t talked to God since I was a kid, but I didn’t know where else to turn. I have since learned there are times in our lives like this.
I asked him, “Do you pray?” He said, “Yes.” I shared with him what worked for me and what I observed works for many of us when faced with this life dilemma.
Cutting Deals With God
Here is what I learned, and here is what I told him, “God created you for a purpose, and he gives you this promise: ‘My plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.’” Then God continues and says, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:11-14
Every morning I would get up, find a quiet place and ask God, sometimes plead with God, to help me, to speak to me. In these conversations, I would become so desperate I would cut deals with God. “You make my next opportunity clear and get me back to financial stability and I’ll give you half of everything I make after clearing my living expenses.” I know it sounds ridiculous, but that’s where I was.
But God did give me an answer. He brought a former employee into my life who wanted to start a new business. This business, over time, led me to a model of angel investing which I have pursued for the last 23 years. My new mission was “to help experienced managers achieve their dream of starting and owning their own company.”
Stepping Into the Chasm
The next evening I was at one of my best friend’s son’s wedding. I was sitting next to another life-long friend, and we began discussing his change in mission.
When he was 40 he started experiencing discontent. He was a successful executive with Coca-Cola. He had all the perquisites, including status and salary. What he didn’t have was any relationship with his wife or daughters. They were growing up without him because of his dedication to his career.
I remember him seeking advice at the time because he saw me as someone who made the big move from steady paycheck to entrepreneur. All his other executive friends thought he was nuts to even think this way. He ultimately bought a small manufacturing business and built an incredibly rich life for him and his family.
When we talked at the wedding, he said, “I did this incredibly stupid thing and left the guarantee of a paycheck for the unknown of a small business.”
I asked, “Why did you do it?”
He said, “I just knew I had to. It was now or never.”
Then I asked, “What was it like?”
He said, “Do you remember the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Dr. Jones was told he needed to step off the cliff into the chasm and have faith; then a bridge would appear. That is what it was like in my life at that time.”
My friend never talks about God and seems to tolerate my faith in Jesus Christ. I asked if God played any role at that time. Surprisingly, he said, “I knew up to that time in my life, God had taken care of me. I somehow believed, in this new mission, God would continue to take care of me.”
Seek God when faced with a potential change in mission. He has a destiny for you. If you are experiencing discontent, God has an exciting plan for your life. You just have to have faith.