Like all Baby Boom geezers, I really think that I will live forever, that I will always be healthy, that I will be able to work productively and creatively into my 90s and beyond, and that I will always look like I did back in the 1970s.
I really don’t feel my age, and I certainly don’t act it. But a number of recent events have convinced me that the ravages of time are slowly catching up with me.
My Dad warned me about this. A star high school athlete, he once told me that when you’re young, “your body does whatever you tell it to do. You order your body to ‘jump’, and it asks ‘how high?’ You tell it to stay up all night working – or partying – and it gives you a crisp salute and a ‘yes, sir’ in return.”
“But when you reach a certain age, your conversations with your body become more of a negotiation. You tell your body to do something, and it says ‘well, okay, I can give you that, and maybe I can give you that, but that one over there? No way!’”
Faithful reader, I have reached that certain age.
I never used to get sick. Okay, maybe a cold once in a while, and seasonal allergies (to anything green that blossoms between March and November), but nothing that would ever stop me from doing whatever I wanted to do. As a student, I never missed a day of school. And I can count on the fingers of no hands the number of days I have missed working the past 25 years.
Until a couple of months ago.
I woke up one morning in late May having difficulty breathing. Since it was peak allergy season, I didn’t worry about it. But later that afternoon, I started coughing – a raspy, “smoker’s hack” that wouldn’t go away. My temperature soared to 103 and I took to my bed, sleeping for more than 24 hours solid – something I haven’t done since college.
That was bad enough, but then came something worse: laryngitis.
I can hear some of you laughing already, “a lawyer with laryngitis? It just means he can’t bill by the word as usual.” Har-dee har har.
But this was no ordinary 24-hour laryngitis – this sucker wouldn’t quit. For five days, I was unable to speak above a whisper, during a week in which I had:
• scheduled five speaking engagements for local business groups, plus a lucrative keynote speech for a major trade show in New York City;
• committed to hosting a live webinar for a local university; and
• scheduled lengthy telephone conversations with several law clients to review documents for their fast-moving business deals.
Needless to say, I couldn’t do any of the above without vocal cords, and despite my best efforts, I ended up ticking off some people. I was able to find substitutes for some of the local talks, and the university let me postpone the webinar. But the trade show speech revolved entirely around me: the company running the show was promoting my presence – not my topic – as a key draw. They weren’t happy when I canceled on less than 24 hours’ notice, leaving them with a huge hole in their agenda and lots of dissatisfied people who signed up for the event specifically to hear me speak. Leaving a client in the lurch is not a career-enhancing move for a professional speaker.
And, of course, my clients aren’t going to postpone their business dealings because their lawyer is croaking like a bass-baritone Andy Devine (unless you’re a Baby Boom geezer, you will have to look him up online). Time kills deals, and if it weren’t for the Heaven-sent gift of e-mail (I never thought I would say that in this column) I probably would have been staring down a malpractice action from somebody.
As a solo entrepreneur, especially with a “portfolio career” of income-generating activities (such as practicing law and speaking professionally), you can’t afford to get sick. We all plan (to some extent) for our eventual demise, and the smarter among us carry disability insurance so we can pay our bills if we are clobbered by a serious injury or long-term illness.
But most of us don’t have a “contingency plan” for ordinary setbacks that put us temporarily out of commission – like an attack of laryngitis during trade show season.
As the Baby Boom generation faces its 60s and 70s, we may well have to keep working to stay solvent, and of course “we’ll all be rockin’ in our wheelchairs” (Roger Daltrey, The Who, 1969), but we have to face reality and make adjustments to our business plans to account for our (hopefully slowly) diminishing physical and mental abilities.
For me, I’m spreading my projects out more over time (so a sudden short-term illness will require fewer schedule adjustments), megadosing on Vitamin C, and exercising daily. And putting together a list of fellow small business experts who can “pinch hit” for me on the podium if laryngitis ever strikes again.
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.