As I settle into my fifties, counting my cash, it’s comforting to find myself in the fortunate position of thinking that, financially, I should be pretty set. I look at my personal pensions, investments and tell myself to relax, it looks sorted. Even if we go through another 2008 and everything drops by 40%, I’ll probably survive.
That’s the upside, sitting warming my hands by this financial fireside. But there’s a downside. I’m stuck! Okay, I can survive a 40% decrease in my pile in any given year, I suppose, but I’ll probably NEVER see a 40% upside over that year in those same funds. Why? Because to get that return, I’d have to risk a sizeable element of my funds to get it. And risk is not something I want to entertain when it comes to the money I’ve amassed to date.
I find this quite sad, in a way. I think I’m thinking this way at the moment because I’m reading “Shoe Dog”, the autobiography of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. His story of building the company up from nothing is exciting, dramatic and full of life. It feels like he never had a dull moment, although his early days of building the business were mostly full of stress, flirting with bankruptcy, dealing with corrupt suppliers, ruthless competitors and even more ruthless banks. He risked everything to build his company, and now – he’s worth over $28 billion dollars – he’s sitting on the rewards.
In my current job, I’m dealing with quite a few start-ups and spend a bit of time with the “entrepreneurs” behind them. Generally speaking, they’re a colourful bunch who are driven to get things done. There’s always a way for them to continue to move forward, get what they want and they’re prepared to put their money where their mouth is. They have to. Most of their money goes into their business and not many of them are living flash lives – as neither did Phil Knight for decades either. I don’t envy them the stress of what they’re trying to achieve, but I do envy their willingness to take the risk.
I don’t know too much about their personal circumstances – have they a pile of cash sitting somewhere they can fall back on? Do they have a pension? Is their partner a secret millionaire? Are they secure in the knowledge of a big inheritance eventually coming their way? It’s possible, but even if this was the case, why not live a cushy life instead of throwing bundles of cash at something that has a damn good chance of ending in misery?
Now, in my fifties, I wonder if I’ll ever know that excitement that I feel must be involved in throwing yourself into trying to build a business? In my career, I chose the corporate life and can’t knock it for the relative security it gave me, and the perks I enjoyed too. And I often asked myself just what kind of business I’d have to build to pay me the kind of benefits I eventually enjoyed in that role? It would have to have been pretty damn successful, I know that.
Over my career I used to think and chat about having the chance to build my own business, but latterly I used to qualify this dream by stating I’d loved to have had the chance to “build my own really successful business!” There was no guarantee of that, which makes all the difference. I have two personal friends who pretty much ruined their lives trying to realise their own dreams on their own terms. Phil Knight is a winner, I suppose, so it’s their histories we read about and envy. Real life for the rest of us is often very different and it was partly the “real life” that I saw that helped keep me where I was.
I have the option, of course, of scooping some money out of my savings and plunging it into a new venture that, potentially, could pay me millions in ten years’ time. Or at least will give me an interest and side income in my next shot at “retirement”. After all, the brilliant podcast, “How I Built This” showcases loads of people who have done just that, often with a lot less than big bucks to start with. I don’t have to risk a massive amount – the first “How I Built This” interviews the first female billionaire business woman who, I think, started with an idea and five thousand dollars she’d saved. The rest was hard work, more hard work and a bit of luck.
So, that whelk stall down the front of Scarborough could be in for a new owner soon.