Retirement, freedom from the stress of the corporate world, laying back and doing noting is often viewed as the state of bliss that is supposed to come when one retires. As with most such suppositions, this statement is only part true in that you are free of the constant state of accountability to your bosses, coworkers and even life partner for your mutual success. Woe betide you should you fail, and the chances of failure from predicted and unknowable events are too numerous to mention. No wonder that you are relieved to be out from under the crushing millstone of corporate life.
A few weeks or months later, you become bored with your now mostly sedentary life and want to get back to doing something interesting, useful and intellectually challenging without falling back into the morass that you just escaped from. It may well be that starting your own business might be the key to better psychological and mental health, at a lesser costs than conventional doctors, pills and surgeries.
I found myself in this situation. I was downsized out of a corporate job of my own creation as part of the R&D arm of a multinational corporation. I was their “Information Scientist.” This job title was one that I created in that I assisted researchers in finding information, organized the company patent collection, created a searchable database, kept the company library and developed 15 new ideas for possible company products. Being continually awash with information about patents in our and related fields, I was sometimes able to offer insights into solutions to problems that might have been overlooked.
Since the 1970s, I had been selling articles to newspapers and magazines. I concentrated on the outdoor press, writing primarily about hunting. Ultimately, I focused on the more specialized area of hunting with muzzleloading guns and for the past decade have been the corresponding editor covering black-powder guns and hunting for the Gun Digest, which bills itself as “The world’s greatest gun book.” Although interesting, this was mostly a money-losing proposition. I expanded into books and published over 15 books and E-books with the same degree of economic success. I also tried a year-and-a-half of podcast radio with a variety outdoor show, but that was also an economic failure.
Even though I continued my writing after I was laid off, I found my body showing increasing signs of failure as I passed through my 60s to my mid-70s. These ills included joint pain, losing the ability to walk freely without pain in the legs, coronary by-pass surgery and apparently failing mental capacity. Except for the coronary difficulties, the remainder of my problems were generally dismissed by my doctors as the impact of normal aging. There was no ready explanation for the joint pain, but restricted circulation in the in my legs due to claudication caused by plaque in the blood vessels.
Some of the usual medications were prescribed, but I found that Lipitor caused me more pain than benefit. When I increased the dose, the level of pain in my legs also increased, further restricted mobility.
A New Business As a Solution
In my previous experience I found that the key to good mental and physical health was to be interested in something that involved risks and rewards and incorporated physical activity. A degree of risk taking has been part of my life since I served in the military as an Engineer Officer after college. Although I served during the Viet Nam era, the bulk of my 2.5-years of service time was spent in Alaska. Although a stateside assignment, working in an Sub-Arctic environment where temperatures, weather and accidents could kill a man provided a challenge. One of my fellow Engineer Officers died as a result of a bad weather caused plane crash on St. Laurence Island in mid-winter – a trip that I later made myself under similar circumstances.
I did my MS Geology thesis by spending all summer largely alone mapping an area of the 40-Mile District, near Chicken, Alaska. As an exploration Geologist in Alaska, we worked every day from helicopters where we were out all Summer hundreds of miles away from any cities and often weathered in for days at the time. I worked on glaciers and mountains, had encounters with black, brown and grizzly bears as well as momma moose, who will fearsely protect their young. All of this was exciting, interesting stuff for a young guy in his 20s and 30s. For a number of years I geologized during the Summer months in Alaska and wintered, and wrote, in Tucson, during the Winter.
Mineral and oil exploration are cyclic markets and when metal prices fell during the early 1980s, I found my self out of work, returned home to Georgia to write, produced a number of books which were not particularly successful and was ultimately hired by a multinational kaolin-mining company, English China Clays, where I became their Information Scientist.
Past retirement age, I continued my writing and did some industrial Public Relations work and occasionally made some money, but my writing was mostly an economic drain, rather than a revenue producer. As a result I found myself looking for something that had the potential of making significant money.
Parameters for a Successful Retirement Business
Retail trade in small town America is a dying proposition. Independent stores cannot compete against the larger chains and increasingly easy on-line buying opportunities. While offering the comforts of being in a community of fellow merchants and interacting with the public, I could think of nothing that I could sell locally that would potentially return investment, much less make money from – not even in the area of muzzleloading guns and knives where I was an acknowledged expert.
I needed to develop products that were proven, had world-wide sales potential, were sufficiently new to attract a lot of free publicity, relatively easy to make, would allow my personal input into design and not require my setting up a large factory to make them or have a large staff to sell them. My ideal would be a company consisting of a few people with million-dollar sales potential. One way to reach this goal was to conceive of a concept where I designed and demonstrated a class of objects and licensed production to others on a royalty basis. I developed this concept in print, in one of my books Ideas for New Businesses: How to start your own million or billion dollar business, which is available from Amazon.com and other sources.
Hovey’s Knives of China
While in undergraduate school at the University of Georgia, I toyed with the concept of majoring in Archeology, rather than Geology. I was always interested in Archeology and while in High School spent a summer at Mesa Verde National Park working for the concessionaire. On days off I would explore the ruins myself. At the time there were few paying positions in Archeology, and Geology seemed to offer better opportunities for a successful career. The situation for Archeologist has improved somewhat, but these are mostly lower paying salvage exploration jobs requiring extreme mobility and much dull, repetitive work in uncomfortable settings.
A minor thing that attracted my attention was Chinese knife money, which was a coin shaped like a knife with a hole in the handle used as currency in central China during the Warring States Period, before the rise of Imperial China. This was put in long-term memory storage among millions of other interesting, but apparently useless, bits of information. Some 40-years later, I saw some of these knives exhibited at the International Blade Show in Atlanta. I could not afford to buy one, but arranged to take detailed photos. After forming a relationship with Bladesmith Murray Carter, which included making knives in his shop, I asked him to produce a copy of one of these knives in forged steel.
Now that I had a working knife, I used it in the field for a variety of tasks and even took it to China where I demonstrated it to a Chef at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Zhengzhou. While there, I had a chance to visit the Henan Provincial Museum, and saw some of the original knife money as well as other bronze cooking implements. I have several YouTube videos about this trip. One showing Carter’s knife is at: https://youtu.be/TCSJSbJxRMs . By the time I made my second trip to China in 2015, I had made wooden models of a dozen patterns and was considering different ways of producing them.
These flights to China were man-killers, and 30-hours of sitting in cramped seats provided little comfort for my legs. By the time I was even partly recovered, it was time to do it again and return home. By happenstance, I ran into Paul Hjort, a knifemaker who makes Bowie-style knives, at our local Kaolin Festival. At the time he had comparatively little equipment and worked out of his trailer. We came to an arrangement, and he made prototype knives from my designs, which we exhibited at the Cobb Galleria at the International Blade Show. My knives were so different that many did not understand them or appreciate how they might be used. Nonetheless, they attracted considerable attention. I was hoping to obtain sufficient numbers of orders to finance the construction of a stand-alone knife shop, but these were not forthcoming.
The preceding events required quite a bit of mental and physical effort and even more was to come when I turned a portion of my back porch into a workshop where Paul and I could make our custom signature knives. As my activity state increased, my mental and physical health improved. I find myself regaining my physical abilities and in much less pain than formerly without taking increased amounts of medications.
Although these knives are made by stock reduction from water-jet cut blanks, rather than forging, the operation of the equipment, the labor involved in making charcoal for my forge and the general upkeep of my house, grounds and hunting land provides sufficient exercise to keep me mobile while giving me something potentially profitable to do. This works reasonably well, because I can interspersed times of physical and lest strenuous mental activities throughout the day.
My approach of taking risks with my late-life savings to found a new company with an uncertain outcome, has provided me with a business that keeps me engaged and provides a reason to continue an active existence. If successful, the business will outlive me and provide income for many others who may be associated with my namesake products. This has provided me with something that I feel is worth doing, worth the risk-taking and is providing me with an improved life experience.