Taking control means you’ll have no regrets

You’ll recall in last month’s newsletter, I revealed that I’d had a bout of the Covid-19 virus. This month, I’d like to pick up on the some of the financial lessons this reiterated for me, and how taking control of your life now will ensure you have no regrets in the future.

A matter of life and death

My battle with Covid-19 made me think very seriously about what would happen if I became seriously ill and died.  I started to really question what would happen to my family, and who would continue to take care of my client relationships and business.

Making a will and setting up suitable life insurance are two of the most straightforward recommendations I make to all my clients. I’d fortunately taken my own advice, so I was reassured during my illness that my family would be able to live comfortably in the event of my death.

I’d also been prudent enough to follow my own advice when it came to my business. Business succession is always something I’ll raise with clients – making sure you have plans in place to enable decisions about your business to be made by your family, rather than HMRC.

Talking about death is never easy but, as a financial planner, when I talk to clients about their financial plans it’s a subject that often comes up.

However, conversations about death also touch on another subject – that of regret.

No regrets?

I recently read two very different analyses of the regrets people have when they die.

In 1994, the American Psychological Association published a report by two Professors from Cornell University, Professor Thomas Gilovich and Victoria Medvec, entitled  ‘The Experience of Regret: What, When, and Why’.

The full details of the report need not trouble us, but I would draw your attention to their overriding conclusion: When people look back on their lives, it’s the things that they have not done that generate the greatest regret.

By contrast, in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, former palliative nurse, Bronnie Ware, reveals that the most common regret she heard, especially from men, was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”.

On the face of it, these are two different outcomes – one from detailed research, and one from personal experience. I regret working so hard and regret the things I didn’t do.

But when you stop and think about it, the two can be complementary. What if there are things you regret not doing, precisely because you’ve been working too hard?

Nothing to fear but fear itself

Even if you love your business, dying people have learned too late that there needed to be more in their lives, not just their work. That’s the clear takeaway from both Bronnie Ware and Professors Gilovich and Medvec.

One thing stopping people breaking out of the business straitjacket they find themselves in is fear.

Fear can be a very dangerous emotion indeed. Most business owners I speak to admit to three overriding fears:

  • A lack of money
  • Business failure
  • The judgement of others.

Between them, these three fears keep them overly focused on their business at the expense of all else. They realise they need a better work-life balance and more time to do what they want to.

As we’ve seen clearly in the last twelve months, there are some things you can’t control, such as the stock market and a pandemic. So, it’s crucial that you do exert control over the things you’re able to influence.

You are in control of how you run your life, so you can choose to become more independent of your business. This now means work becomes optional and you have the freedom to live a life of no regrets.

So, my challenge to you is – what would your biggest regret be if this was the last day of your life?

The desire for freedom

Freedom is one of the key drivers for business owners, both for myself and probably for you, too. It’s the main reason many of us have set up our businesses in the first place.

One way to fulfill that freedom is to avoid making too many limiting assumptions, which can deny us clarity about what’s important and stop us living the life that we really want to.

I have a network of accountants, close to where I work, who I consult with regularly. Their feedback in the last six months reveals the development of a common theme, namely a significant and marked increase in people looking to sell their businesses.

The reasons for this are varied, however. One common one I hear cited is that the government may increase taxation and make your business more expensive.

I don’t readily agree with that assessment.

People don’t give up their businesses because of taxation. It’s a glib excuse that ignores how financially adaptable people and businesses can be. So, if business costs go up, there are ways to reduce expenses and other outgoings to offset the extra cost of tax.

To my mind, there’s a much more personal and powerful underlying driver.

When speaking to business owners who have sold their business, none of them mentioned taxation. Rather, they said that the pandemic has given them more time to think.

They realised that having freedom – to do what they want, when they want to, with the ones they love – was the reason for setting up their business in the first place. So, the chance to fulfil this was the key driver for selling up.

Their business was stopping them from being happy and the stress was affecting them, their family and their colleagues.

It’s a very simple but important conclusion. A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one that stands above all others is a lack of regrets. Too many people spend time making a living, rather than building a life, which ultimately caused them a lot of remorse.

You have the choice to live a life of no regrets. What are you waiting for?

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