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Blue screen of death in your life? Ways to not be dead in the water

August 14, 2019

By Martha Sullivan, CPA, CVA/ABV, CM&AA, CEPA
Partner, Succession Planning Practice Leader

Martha leads HK’s succession and exit planning services division and is a regular contributor to Wisconsin’s InBusiness digital magazine.

You’re in a coffee shop, minding your own business, and cranking through some work. You’re in the zone. Thoughts are flowing, virtually racing from your synapses through your fingers and into that digital playground. The energy!

You pause as the program works to catch up with you, waiting for it to respond so you can fly again. Soon “unresponsive” turns into “missing in action.” The program unceremoniously shuts down, taking all your genius with it, without the slightest decency of a warning or a good-bye. Worse yet, the whole blasted computer is locked up.

No need to panic. Your computer has taken these mini vacations before and recovered from it. Let it rest, reboot, and get back at it.

Only when you reboot, you get the blue screen of death’s evil cousin — a nearly black screen with a small box suggesting you reinstall your operating system. No apology or file to recover. You’re done, cold turkey.

You’re clearly now out of your zone. It’s a message from above. It’s time to go do something else, like call your IT department.

What if there is no IT department? What if all the “little” things you take for granted went “poof” just like that little screen? The little things that are actually very big when you stop and think about them, like IT, your resources, intellectual stimulation, work buddies, structured routines, and so on.

A feisty computer is relatively easy to fix or replace, assuming you’ve been diligent about backing up your files. It’s a pain, but the hassle lasts for only a little while. Replacing the other little things can take much longer.

This is not too different from what occurs when we exit one life situation and enter another, such as retirement or exiting your business. Cold turkey isn’t any fun unless it’s on a salad or sandwich. I believe there are seven key steps to take to prepare and minimize the cold-turkey shock of big transitions.

1. Know what is important — your passions, beliefs, interests, and relationships.

You don’t have to do anything about them right now; just identify them. For example, having witnessed the devastating effects of dementia on several people close to me, I personally believe strongly in finding a treatment and cure for Alzheimer’s, keeping people in their own environments for as long as possible, and palliative care. Being of service, in some form, and learning more about best practices in these areas is interesting to me. I’m also a lifelong learner and don’t want to lose that when I no longer need to keep up with the professional technical knowledge I do now.

What about you? What are you thinking about? Write it down.

2. What is your vision for the next chapter of your life?

What goals do you have and want to set for yourself? Regardless of whether the next chapter involves the “R” word or not, thinking through your vision and goals is very important.

Done well, this is an exercise by itself and could be its own blog post. For now, suffice to say that the better job you do defining and clarifying your vision and goals, the easier the other steps will be. More importantly, you’ll be more satisfied with your results and day-to-day living.

3. What activities would be enjoyable?

Are there projects that are important for you to pursue or accomplish? Brainstorm it for yourself and, again, make a list.

For example, aligning my interests and activities could mean being on a board, volunteering at a hospice, reading and blogging on issues of interest, and public speaking/teaching at workshops. Taking classes at UW, Madison College, or other educational resources could also be fun.

4. Map out what an ideal schedule might look like in your new world.

How much structure do you want? Is structure and a routine crucial as you transition from a daily work routine? Do you thrive when you have little structure and go with the flow? Perhaps it’s a blend.

Knowing which type of environment you do best in, consider the activities you want carve in as structured commitments versus flexible, do-it-when-I-feel-like-it activities. For example, in an ideal world, are you going to commit to going to the gym four times a week, volunteering somewhere twice a month, or getting together with a certain group of people on a regular basis, such as a book or service club?

Write it down. Make a list. Pencil out a mock schedule.

5. Research what getting involved in these activities entails.

What do you know about them? Are you involved now or is it merely a glint in the eye? What research do you need to do to get comfortable with creating a plan?

For example, if you have an interest in supporting palliative care, what information do you feel you want or need to know? What are the options in your area for learning more and/or being involved? What sort of help are they looking for? What’s the commitment in time and duration? Is it ad hoc volunteering or are you committing to once a week for some time period?

Research who you know that is involved with it now. Could he or she introduce you to others in the organization and help you get involved? If you don’t know anyone, how might you introduce yourself?

Get out there and talk to people — test pilot an event, have coffee and explore, gather your intel.

6. Draft your plan and ideas in more specific detail, then share it.

With the research in hand, print a blank monthly calendar off the internet and pencil out what three months might look like.

Examine it against the vision and goals from step two. Are you aligned? (It’s fine if you’re not.) That tells you something. It’s possible that your efforts in steps three through five helped you uncover other things that bring meaning to you and you should update your vision and goals. It’s also possible that you’re in need of more research and sampling to craft your planned activities. It’s OK to experiment. Fine tune it.

Share your draft plan with the important people in your life. They care and are going to be impacted by your plans. Communicate.

Consider what you can share and do together versus solo. If you’re not together, are you leaving them “stranded” figuratively or literally? Is this OK? For example, maybe you love bicycling in big-time rides. You and your spouse share a car but not this love of biking. When you go off to do a ride for a couple of days, is she/he left behind, alone for a week with no wheels?

Communicate, adjust, and support one another.

7. Act now.

Get out of your current routine — explore, learn, test drive, engage. Build your glide path now so when the time comes for a clean break, you’ve already developed a new social circle and can slip into new routines comfortably. Think of it as a way of “backing up the computer” that’s your life.

Otherwise, when you reboot it, you may be sitting there with a dead computer and an evil cousin with no idea what to do next. Believe me, that sucks.

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