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What My Dad's Near-Death Experience Taught Me About Business

The importance of future-proofing your company.
What My Dad's Near-Death Experience Taught Me About Business
Image credit: Mary Delaney | The Oracles
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This article is written by Alex Schlinsky, founder and CEO of Prospecting On Demand™, who is an Advisor in The Oracles.

For years, I’ve told the story of my “hero’s journey” as the guy who went from broke journalist to successful entrepreneur. It was easy and painless — from a $14,000 salary to six figures.

But that’s the marketing story, the one that gets attention, the one that all the entrepreneur coaches tell you to say. But it’s not the true story of my why. This is.

My dad had a stroke when I was 14 years old. That was the day my childhood came to an abrupt end. It was the day I learned the valuable lesson that many entrepreneurs take for granted. It would become the day that shaped my journey.

From funeral director to entrepreneur.

My dad’s stroke came out of nowhere. He was a healthy 45-year-old who swam daily, ate right, and worked hard. Just three years before, he quit his job as a funeral director to pursue his entrepreneurial dream. 

My father had poured his heart and soul into funeral directing for nearly two decades. He was often the only bright spot for families experiencing tragic loss. But the emotions that came with watching parents bury their children and families say goodbye to loved ones weighed on him.

While the job was difficult, my dad was making a difference, and that was important to him. Even when he quit his job, he didn’t do it to avoid grief-stricken families. He quit to make a different kind of impact — to help people create a financially secure future. 

My dad built his financial planning company from the ground up. In just three years, he earned more than 30 clients. Life changed for the better. He was happier, and our financial situation was stronger than ever. My parents even took my two brothers and me on a week-long cruise to Alaska, which we could never have afforded before. Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last.

The stroke.

I remember where I was when it happened. I was playing Nintendo GameCube in the living room when my dad returned home from work. Usually, we’d have dinner and watch TV as a family. This time was different.

He stumbled into the house and exclaimed, “We need to go to the hospital right now. I can’t feel the left half of my body.” Those words seemed so foreign to me. I’d never heard my dad talk about pain before.

The next 30 to 60 minutes were a blur. I can’t recall the details but remember the emotions: sheer and utter terror, and a feeling of impending loss. I remember the silent ride to the hospital. We were all too shocked to say anything.

I don’t recall watching my dad get rushed away. The next thing I remember was the doctor explaining that my dad had an aneurysm. I was dumbfounded and terrified. Would my father live? If he did, would he be the same?

Security to uncertainty.

My dad’s company was the last thing on our minds. We just hoped he would make it home. Thankfully he did, and that's what mattered.

But here’s the thing: My dad’s business had a massive bottleneck — himself.

Suddenly, his clients had no financial advisor or backup. His only support was an assistant. He didn’t expect to get sick, so had no systems or processes to delegate to someone else. Without them, it was only a matter of time before something exploded. No one could have expected it would be my dad’s brain.

As if seeing my real-life Superman near death wasn’t hard enough for a 14-year-old, the stroke’s repercussions were cataclysmic. When he went down, so did the business.

Imprisoned by entrepreneurship.

The next few years were tumultuous. My dad was a fighter, but the medical bills escalated as more complications arose. He started taking Ambien because he couldn’t sleep. The medication caused him to drive in his sleep, and he needed surgery after he was in an accident as a result. At one point, we hired a full-time nurse to care for him because he contracted an infection.

He lost his clients, one by one. They couldn’t put their finances on hold, and we had no one on call to help. Entrepreneurship was meant to give our family freedom, but it imprisoned us instead. One of my older brothers left college to help with the business — but he couldn’t. My dad had no systems and kept everything in his head, and the doctors told us not to stress him with work.

Our lifestyle changed drastically. Suddenly, going to private school was in jeopardy. We lost the house I was raised in, and my mom had to return to work. I wished things could go back to the way they were, even if that meant my dad was a funeral director again.

In the end, we made it through the tough times because my dad didn’t give up, and neither did we. I graduated from college, and my dad eventually got back on his feet. He went back to his company, this time with a team, systems, and processes. Now his business is stronger than ever. He teaches seminars and even wrote a best-selling book on financial planning.

Your business isn’t just you.

I blacked out the memory of this time for years because it was too difficult. But my dad persevered and inspired me. I became an entrepreneur and am now the CEO of a marketing and consulting firm. I also learned the importance of future-proofing your business.

When I created my coaching business, I didn’t do it to help other entrepreneurs avoid my dad’s pitfalls. That was my subconscious motivation, but I was scared to make it a reality. I no longer have that fear, but it took me over two years to get here.

My first mentors helped me understand that this wasn’t just my dad’s story, but mine too. I slowly began to share it with clients. When I realized how this story could change lives, I knew I had to embrace it as my own. If it helps others avoid the struggles my family experienced, then it’s worth sharing.

Today, this is my life’s mission: to help entrepreneurs develop systems that remove them as the key drivers of their business. That starts with creating a strategy. Establish and document what you do and how, including a process for prospecting, sales, and servicing clients. With repeatable systems, you can hire others to execute parts of the process outside your zone of genius. If you get sick or take a vacation, your systems and teams can continue without you.

My dad thought he’d have time to get this right later. But when you need these systems, it’s too late to create them — whether it’s because you’re sick or simply too busy. You have to address the need before you actually need it.

Life and entrepreneurship is an amazing journey, but you have less control than you think. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, so security matters. Once you have it, you can take on the world. You can also live stress-free — for yourself and your family.

Connect with Alex on Facebook.

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