Watching the Australian Open whilst writing this (and not enjoying it as much as usual with the early demise of Roger Federer) I pondered one of the tennis commentators’ most regular questions; who is the greatest player of all time? My vote, of course, would go to Roger, but not just because of his wonderful tennis, but more his incredible fitness (only recently has he been known to have been injured) and, even more importantly, his ability to stay driven and to work so hard day after day.
We discussed something similar over Christmas when one of my family, a soon to be retired opera singer, explained her early giving up as being due to her not wanting to keep travelling, keep practicing, be away from home so regularly and battle to stay healthy – of course, she still loves to sing. Whilst everyone else expressed their sympathy, I said that I thought that her world was not so different to mine – which generated quite a lot of debate, not least because in a family of academics, performers and doctors, I am probably the only one that knows what it feels like to run their own business..! And as I am often saying, no-one can imagine what it is like to sit in my chair, unless they have sat in a similar one!
A while ago I attended a conference on ‘leadership’, where one of the things we discussed was the stress involved in running a business, and how, then, to manage it. At one point, the lecturer asked us what we thought the average age of the top 50 most successful companies in the world was, to which we mostly answered between 50 and 100 years old. In fact the answer was 15, which was, initially, a surprise.
However, having discussed this in some detail, it made sense; even the most successful companies were started by someone, and what was proven in our discussions was that very few people can continue building and running a company for any significant length of time before the stress starts to take its toll and they start looking at ways out – merging, selling, closing down, changing course or handing over the reins to someone else.
My own company will be 25 years old this year, and whilst, of course, it is nothing like the sort of companies that we discussed at the conference, it still manages to cause enough sleepless nights for me to go through phases of wanting to get out in some way; and over the years I, too, have found it difficult to stay driven, to keep travelling, ‘practicing’, battling to stay healthy and so on, but it is no easier to give up on business than it is to give up on sport or music; we just have to find ways to manage what we are doing so that we don’t burn out.
I have tried a few methods over the years – not all of them good! But generally I find that whacking a tennis ball gets rid of quite a lot of stress, and there is nothing like running as a way to see a new place (or, in my case, to pick up marketing ideas... seeing what other companies do to promote themselves is an endless source of inspiration!).
Let’s hope that we are all able to sustain our enthusiasm as we go into 2015.