Flying home from a seminar trip, I struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me. When he told me he'd been traveling on business, I asked what he did. "I have my own consulting business," he replied proudly. "How long have you had your business?" I inquired. He looked at his watch and said, "Eight months and two weeks."
We talked a bit more and I went back to reading my magazine where I came across a series of ads proclaiming, 'Before there was the Golden Gate Bridge (Times Square, etc.), there was Brooks Brothers. Established 1818.' I smiled thinking that in our Here Today, Gone Tomorrow culture, longevity in business is certainly cause for crowing.
Longevity was certainly not on my mind when I started my business and you may not have given it much thought, either. Whether you want to be in business in 2020, or you have a shorter timeline, you'll build a stronger business if you consciously incorporate longevity factors into your plans. Interestingly, many of the factors that contribute to human longevity are the very same ones that impact the life of a business.
One of the oldest longevity studies is the one Duke University has been conducting for several decades. This study focused on people who are still leading active lives after the age of 90 to find the common denominators in these dynamic elders.
This study suggests that the single most important longevity factor is not whether we eat right, don't smoke, or exercise (although those things count, of course). Duke says you're more apt to live a long healthy life if you spend it doing work that you love.
Like genuine success, longevity is a cumulative process. Anne Lamott talks about that from a writer's viewpoint in Bird by Bird. She says, "Many non-writers assume that publication is a thunderously joyous event in the writer's life. They believe that if they themselves were to get something published their lives would change instantly, dramatically and for the better. Their self-esteem would flourish; all self-doubt would be erased like a typo... But this is not exactly what happens."
Longevity, most of the time, comes about through a relentless series of small successes, not by a single spectacular event. Kahil Gibran said, "The most solid stone in the structure is the lowest one in the foundation."
How well you build the foundation will have a huge impact on your ultimate survival or demise. If your business credo is to build slow, steady, sound growth you're on your way to creating something that will last.
Another longevity study is the one conducted by Dr. David Snowdon and nicknamed The Nun Study since all of his subjects came from the School Sisters of Notre Dame, an order with unusually long livers. One of the obvious traits shared by these active older women was their devotion to continuing self-education.
Having a successful business takes a lot more than clearing out a spare bedroom and installing a computer. Learning to think and act like an entrepreneur requires study, practice and learning over a long period of time. Without that commitment, chances of lasting success are fragile at best.
The most successful entrepreneurs I've met all have their personal curriculum for learning and a curiosity that they consciously keep alive.
Two other big factors, which could not be measured, but which Snowdon came to believe were significant contributors to the active long lives of the nuns were their profound faith and their participation in a community.
Snowdon suggests that spirituality gives us important tools for dealing with loss and disappointment; other longevity studies concur that the capacity to deal with loss is essential to living a long life. Ongoing interaction with like-minded people who cared about each other was integral, also, to an active life.
As entrepreneurs we can and must cultivate our own spiritual gardens and find a supportive community of entrepreneurial thinkers if we're to grow a business that flourishes year after year.
So, it seems the fountain of youth has been within the reach of everyone. If you want to live long and prosper find work that you love and don't stop learning.