What Every Entrepreneur Can Gain From Being A Real Life Hero

Design your life for constant applause and do your best work for a lifetime.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with a very famous general agent in the life insurance business. His name was Al Granum, and he was from Northwestern Mutual. He was an industry icon. In his eighties, he was still working a very busy schedule of speeches, where he was always an honored guest. I always remember this occasion because he shared a great lesson with me that day.

A valuable lesson: Fish don’t clap.

Al told me that people were always reminding him about his place in Florida, that it was on a lake, that there were fish in the lake, and that he liked fishing. They wanted to know why he was still working — and at such a demanding pace. His answer was classic. He would tell them, “Yah, I like fishing, but something I’ve noticed is that fish don’t clap.”

As an entrepreneur, remember that when you retire, the clapping stops, and you’ll find that much of your motivation to put on the best possible performance and be a hero to your clients will be gone.

I plan to live to 156 and still be coaching at ninety-five.

Even before I met Al Granum, my own father was a shining example of an entrepreneur who continued to be a hero to his clients when he was into his eighties. He embodied the same work ethic as Al, and I learned the importance of being an everyday hero by watching him.

Going to work with my father.

My father was an entrepreneur. He was a farmer for most of his life and then at sixty became a landscaper. Both occupations, of course, involve hard physical labor.

I had the opportunity three or four times when I was visiting my parents in Ohio to go to several job sites with my father. I was curious about what kept him so motivated to keep working because that was unusual in those times. My old school friends’ fathers, even those with their own small businesses, retired by the time they were sixty or sixty-five.

Onsite with my father, I discovered that virtually all of his clients were widows, and my father was hired to fulfill the role their husbands had played as caretaker of the lawn and landscaping. I also discovered that he worked very hard.

Watching him work, you’d see this man in his early eighties, about 5’ 6”, maybe 150 pounds, and he could pick up a 100-pound tree and drop it into a hole, heavy root ball and all. He’d do that about five or six times in a 20-minute period. Essentially, he was lifting weights much of the day, every day.

“The best plan for the future is to die on stage — in the middle of your best performance.” Dan Sullivan

“The best plan for the future is to die on stage — in the middle of your best performance.” Dan Sullivan

A standing ovation.

The physical capability my father had in his eighties was a knockout, which had an incredible impact on his clients. Here he was with all these admiring, doting women in his life. They all thought he was amazing, they baked his favorite cookies, made him coffee, and they told all their friends about their “superman” landscaper — a steady and enthusiastic referral source.

His workday essentially had two parts: one part was working very hard, a “show” that really impressed his audience; the second was the coffee and cookies, the “applause.” He was used to getting this appreciative applause every single day.

Then, at eighty-three and still going strong, he made the decision to retire. I believe that after retirement, he didn’t really know who he was anymore because his whole work life had involved using that amazing physical strength to put on a great performance and receive generous, heartfelt applause for it. He was these women’s hero.

“Applause keeps you alive. Never lose your audience.” #DanSullivan Click To Tweet

It’s all about the applause.

When my father was eighty-three, he had his best year ever from a business standpoint, but, unfortunately, decided to retire. He died within 12 months. This made me think a great deal about that phenomenon, because my father wasn’t alone in having his life play out in this way.

I’ve come to believe the reason people — especially male entrepreneurs who retire while they’re still healthy and making a great contribution — die shortly after retirement is that the “applause,” the experience of being a hero to others, is gone.

When people ask me if I’m ever going to stop coaching, I say, “The day I die on stage is when I stop working.”


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