I’m still working on the harmony between work, home and community but I’ve never regretted jumping from the familiarity of the council chamber into the unknown of a business start-up

Opinion: How am I going to spend the rest of my life? Most people leave this question for when they retire. By then it may be too late. If you’re a serial entrepreneur like me, you may spend quite a bit of time wondering what else you want to do with your life and what will it take to do it. It’s one of the reasons I retired as an Auckland City Councillor in 2001. I didn’t like the person that politics was turning me into. The council chamber had become the bear pit of Parliament.

I was becoming very sarcastic probably because, at the time, I was powerless to be the change I wanted to be. My greatest fear was if I stayed for another three years (making it nine years) I might never leave and then I’d become like some of the much older people around that council table. I worried if I wasn’t true to myself I would lose the courage to do something else. There were plenty of other older politicians around me who saw staying a councillor as their life.

Instead I retired from politics and looked to start a business that fitted my environmental values. I had learned no great city was saying let’s have more cars and Cityhop cars by the hour was born. So when is the right time to move to the next challenge?

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We all know the stories of the founders who built a wonderful business but never spent enough time thinking about succession and then had nothing to sell or no one able to carry it on. It’s a challenge for so many small and medium-size businesses. It’s one of the reasons they benefit from having independent directors on their boards offering guidance and asking good questions.

The Great Resignation resulted from people questioning how much they liked their work and how they wanted to spend the rest of their life.

With a New Year nearly here, it’s a good a time to start asking that question, how am I going to spend the rest of my life?

The organisational psychologist Stewart Friedman has a lot of awards including being chosen by Working Mother as one of America’s 25 most influential men to have made life better for working parents. On his 65th birthday he asked his children: “How would you like me to spend the rest of my productive life? What would you want me to be doing and how would that make your life better?”

He wrote Parents who Lead as a result.

What a great way to get useful insights from people who know you really well and want the best for you. My first thought was what a great idea, then I wasn’t sure I would be brave enough to hear what my children would say and what I might have to change. Maybe that’s always our natural response?

I’m a big fan of Whitney Johnson, the CEO of Disruption Advisors, who describes ‘smart growth’ as being comfortable with the S curve of learning. Whenever we begin something new we are at the base of the s, the ‘launch point’. This place is often the hardest, progress feels slow and it can be discouraging.

The next stage is the sweet spot – the middle of the s, where it’s not too hard or too easy. Our predictions are likely to be more accurate, we’re more confident and competent. It’s probably the faster part – we have more knowledge and we’re heading for the third stage, mastery. We could get bored staying here but this is our chance to jump to the next S curve and begin our next growth challenge.

When we start something new again, like being at the bottom of the next S curve, it keeps us humble and open to learning.

If we think we’re at our sweet spot, maybe this is a good time to do this exercise from Stewart Friedman. He’s not a fan of the concept of work/life balance, saying that forces us to think of sacrifice and trade-offs. We should be aiming for work/life integration.

“Look for ‘four way wins’ possibilities for improved performance at work, home, in the community and for yourself (mind, body, spirit),” he says.

When we examine the different domains of our life – work, home, community and self – we’re probably all at different points on the S curve. So this is an opportunity to ask ourselves what’s important to us. Are we paying enough attention to what we care about the most? Could we get more harmony between the four?

To illustrate the harmony, Friedman explains, “A better metaphor than scales in balance is a jazz quartet trying to make beautiful music together, over time, as they listen to each other and improvise and allow for some parts to rest while others play.”

I’m still working on that harmony between work, home community and self but I’m a lot more in sync than I was in 2001. And I’ve never regretted that decision to jump from something that I was familiar with, the council chamber, into the unknown of a business start-up.

A director of Waka Kotahi, Auckland Eye and Ngati Awa Group Holdings, Victoria Carter is an entrepreneur who founded and sold car-sharing company Cityhop. She was an Auckland city councillor, the first...

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