Friday, December 28, 2012

The "I'm leaving..." talk

Many of you have been asking lately about the actual conversation in which you break the news of your leaving to your dad/mother/family member. I know the thought of this talk turns your stomach, and I hope this post helps calm that by providing some guidelines around dos-and-don'ts.

But before I begin, I want to take a minute to talk about the emotions surrounding this talk. The emotions — which by this time are high (probably on both sides) — make keeping calm and staying cool almost an impossible task. Plus, at these levels, they tend to beat rational thinking. You are dreading the talk because deep down you know that emotions will probably take over, preventing you from thinking straight and getting your message out clearly. You are worried that you will end up sounding like a child... And really, by letting the emotions take control, you are sitting the child in the driver's seat. And that's never a good idea! So how do we sit the adult behind the wheel?

I put together this short list of things to keep in mind to help focus your thoughts, and by that reduce your stress levels:
  1. Relieve some of the stress by preparing your message in advance.
    Sure, you've been thinking about this talk from the get-go, but you've been thinking about it with a lot of emotion, which needs to be removed from the equation. Make sure your message is concise and to-the-point. Writing it down beforehand helps, as having it prepared in your head is another way to avoid letting the child take over. (If you feel that the stress or emotion will get the better of you, then by all means, read it from the paper if you think it will help.)
  2. Don't use feelings to legitimize your actions.
    Saying things like "I feel like I am being smothered" opens the conversation up to debate as each side will try to explain/retort the feeling/emotion (remember, feelings cannot be rationalized). Instead, keep it simple and straightforward: "Working in the business is not for me anymore. I have decided to leave". With that in mind, you should know that there is really no need to legitimize your actions at all. You have decided to leave — for whatever reasons — and you are letting them know.
  3. Don't cast blame.
    Don't say things like "it's your fault — you never appreciated the work I did". This will start an argument in which each side will try to prove (or avoid) the blame, taking the attention away from the real reason you are having this talk in the first place: you're leaving. (Remember: you do not need to legitimize you actions; casting blame is a form of legitimization.)
  4. As hard as it is, be sympathetic.
    The family you are leaving, has not prepared for this talk like you have. This could be a punch in the face to them (and could be out of nowhere). Allow them to exhibit their emotions and remember, they are just people overcome with emotions — they don't think rationally. Another reason, why your message should be very clear and lacking feelings or blame.
  5. Expect the best, plan for the worst.
    This talk can go anywhere from deep sadness to bitter anger, each leading to different outcomes. Be prepared for a "storm" and understand that there will be plenty of time — once you've all calmed down — to talk more. For now, for this specific talk, your only worry is to convey the message that you are leaving.
  6. There are no victors or losers.
    This isn't a battle. You do not need to win/beat/defeat your family member. There is no need to be right. You are here to deliver the message that you are leaving and you want to do it in a way that will cause the least damage. Understanding that this is not a fight goes a long way to calm the emotions.
The most important thing though, is that you show up yourself and deliver the message. In the long run, it will have a long-lasting effect on your self-esteem.

Stay focused, stay calm. You're almost there...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Season's Greetings!

It's been a while since my last post, I know... My mind has been elsewhere, thinking about careers and life and planning it all (I'm coming to the conclusion that this is not really possible, but more on this later...)

Anyway, I'm organizing my thoughts and will be back shortly to share.

In the meantime, know that I am always here (as promised) so feel free to drop me a line.

I hope you have a peaceful, joyful and restful holiday season; and that 2013 brings lots of health, happiness and great success to us all. (And that we all continue to follow our hearts' calling!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's business, not personal

I don't think so...

If you put your effort into creating something, investing your time in building it, it becomes personal. Why wouldn't it be?!

I'm sure there is a good reason for the project to get shelved, for the idea to get tossed, for the people to be let go. But instead of using empty words, try explaining it with the respect deserved.

It almost always is personal.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Time is the single most precious, most valuable resource you have. Sadly, it's also the most perishable — ticking away whether you like it or not (even now when you are reading this...).

Time cannot be bought. It cannot be topped-up or refunded or returned. Once you've spent it, it's gone — there is no going back or changing your mind.

We seem to ignore this fact. We seem to just let time pass by, figuring we'll make the change tomorrow — live a more fulfilling life later, when we find the time...

Why look for it, or try to get it? You already have it! The question is: are you spending it wisely — are you focusing it on the things that matter most? More importantly: Are you using it to make your dreams come true?

Friday, November 9, 2012

The milk is spilt! Time to find a new cow.

There is no use crying over spilt milk — it won't pour itself off the ground back into the pitcher. Whatever has happened, happened and cannot be reversed.

Here's a tip: accept that the milk has spilt for a reason, that the choices made were a necessary stepping stone on your path. Though it is hard to see at the time, you will eventually understand that they served you down the line.

Accept it, welcome any lessons, and move on to the next big thing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The pitfall of the missing parent figure

If you work for your father or mother, chances are they are more your boss than they are your parent. Distorted, I know, but there is no avoiding it. The family business seeps into every corner of our lives and with it our respective roles at work (the family dinner table is just another meeting room). The biggest issue with this is that we end up missing out on a parent. A parent who looks out for our interest above all else.

Over time this creates a deficit — one that we continuously seek to fill. But in our quest to quench this thirst we at times get confused. This happens when we come across a person (who could be our parent) and "allow" him/her to fill the void. We confuse their empathy/sympathy as "parent signals", which our little antennas are more than happy to receive... When this happens we drop our guard, allowing the child to get what it wants, while putting reason (the adult) aside. With reason on a leave of absence we risk making the wrong choices/decisions.

This could happen in different situations: interviews, negotiations, business/casual meetings; basically, any place a could-be-parent is present. And we must be wary of this so that we don't put ourselves (and our positions) in jeopardy...

The void that is a missing/lacking parent is a painful one, but it is one that we must learn to live with. More importantly, we need to accept that there is no such thing as a replacement parent.

Accepting this will only make you stronger.

Monday, October 15, 2012


You only live once.
Take your life in your own hands.
Life is about the journey, not the destination.
When life serves you lemons, make lemonade!
Actions speak louder than words.
You have to give in order to get back.
Rome was not built in a day.
Practice makes perfect.

The thing though about clichés is that they tend to ring very true to life (excuse the cliché).

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Three Challenges [Guest Post]

I am happy to host this guest post by Christopher Wilocki, who recently left his family business to follow his heart. Moving across 3 states to Colorado, he now "lives to create pictures". If you'd like to know more about Christopher, follow the link above. Drop him a line — I am sure he will appreciate it!

Christopher, I for one am proud of you!

"With change comes discomfort. With discomfort comes questioning. With questioning comes doubt. With doubt comes fear. With fear comes failure."

During my never ending journey to leave the only career I ever knew, I went through a lot. We all experience this process, and we all know of the days and nights of weighing options. In my case, I spent almost a year in silence about the decision I was about to make in my life. I knew that if I made my family or employees aware about how I was feeling it would make any decision even harder because of the wave of unsolicited advice and persuasion that would come my way. So I remained silent and mapped everything out in my head. It was not until I began to see a future away from the business that I started moving in that direction. The coming months of telling my closest employees and then my family were extremely hard. But because I planned everything out before hand, I was ready for what was to come.

As we all know, leaving a family business is extremely hard. There are a million things to explain, or try not to explain. And things take much much longer than in the real world. Mainly because you are not only leaving a company, but you are in many ways leaving your family. And it is tough.

After I left I have had a couple months before my new job and new life started. In those months I started turning into the person I have always wanted to be. And I started looking around and wondering why more people are not leaving their jobs to do what they really dream of doing. In this day and age we are surrounded by self-help books about the four hour day and owning your own company. But very few people commit to doing any of it. Looking back on the journey I am still neck-deep in, I started to put together why "leaving" is harder than people think.

Leaving is extremely uncomfortable. You are no longer in your element. Your routine changes drastically, you think about money, your spending habits are sometimes squashed. And the biggest change is that your future is now foggy as hell. In fact there are days you can't see past the end of the week. This is the first part of leaving anything. And even the tiniest feeling of this causes people to turn back.

When this discomfort comes, you begin to question what in G-ds great name you are doing. Voices in your head start asking things like "what are you doing? You had it so well at XXXXXX!"; "Maybe your Dad is right and this is stupid!"; "How is {enter new job here} going to make you enough money?". These questions are really hard to face. And they have this amazing ability to come out of nowhere, and they make your stomach feel like a bad taco in Mexico.

With these questions come doubt. These questions can turn your world into a doubt filled dreamworld. We will all deal with these questions in our everyday life and I found that the only way to make them go away was to face them head-on. I wrote about them, I listened to them, I faced them. And in return, I proved them to be false and sometimes true. And I moved past them. It was very hard, and even to this day some questions pop up from time to time. But I always make sure I never let them linger to long. Without facing these questions, doubt of what I was doing would have crippled me. And I realized again why leaving is so hard.

The final phase, after the doubt wraps itself around you, is fear. Once this fear has entered your body there is little you can do. At this point you're so uncomfortable it's impossible to see where you were ever going in the first place. There are so many questions screaming in your head you can't think about why you were leaving at all. And now, you have little confidence that you can ever be without your family business at all. All these things lead into a fear that pushes you back into whatever you were leaving in the first place: family business, bad relationship, bad vacation or even a meal at a restaurant you are indecisive about.

And then comes failure. All these steps have defeated you. You will then find reasons why its better to stay. And all of a sudden you burry the idea of ever leaving.

These are the steps I faced. I am not saying they are the same for everyone. But they are similar in so many ways. They are hard. They require lots and lots of hard work to get through. They require a good friend or two to navigate with. But the key to getting past them is facing them. Head on, no compromise. If you don't, like many things in life, they will beat you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Looking in the mirror

Looking in the mirror, do you (re-)examine the tiny scars, the blemishes and imperfections? Do you get "caught up" in those places? Focusing so much on the flaws that you fail to see the big picture?

The same happens when we try to assess our own value and worth — we get caught up by the bad things. We compare ourselves to people who we — in our perspective — regard as successful or better, and judge ourselves on not having their traits. We focus on the flaws, failing to see the good...

When was the last time you looked in the mirror, and liked what you saw? Appreciated it? If you haven't liked/appreciated in a while, it's time for change...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Respect and appreciation

are the two things we hunger for the most. Years of working in the family business — an environment where respect and appreciation were something you gave, but never received — caused that deficiency. It has scarred us, and we carry it with us wherever we go. Being a scar, it will never really go away, constantly lingering in our psyche.

The problem with this is that it is easily reopened. The slightest sense of disrespect or disparage and the scar opens back up into a bleeding wound. It hurts us, and this is where our challenge lies.

When the scar reopens there are two things we can do: we can fight the offender with anger, putting aside cool and focus only to "show them"; or, we can realize that the hurt we are feeling is not really the scar reopening, but ghost pains from a wound long ago inflicted...

If you realize this, if you understand where it comes from, you will notice that the control it has over you will slowly abate. The "pain" will subside and your mind will clear, allowing you to better deal with the situation at hand.

My scar still itches every now and then. But I've learnt that choosing the "fight" option only causes it to hurt even more. Instead, I recognize that it's just an itch, and itches eventually go away...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thoughts around game theory

I had another thought around my post yesterday: In a perpetual game (a game that does not have a finite number of moves — which is more like real life), do you know what the best playing tactic is?

It's called tit for tat, and it states that you play the move your opponent played in the previous round. So, if your opponent defected in the previous round, you defect in the current round, to teach him a lesson. If he trusted, you trust. and on the game goes...

But there is an inevitability to the perpetual "real-life-family-business" game. At some point, after rounds of tit for tat, you will become exhausted and worn out from calculating your every step and move. Weary and tired, a possible end to the game will start looming on the horizon. When that happens then mathematical theory teaches us that the best tactic at that point is to always defect (it's called the Nash Equilibrium), and we know where that will lead us to...

I guess what I am saying is: play the trust card for as long as you can hold out — fight for it. Just remember that once you decide to switch tactics, once you move to a tit for tat game, there is an inevitability that you will no longer be able to ignore...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Game Theory and the Son's Dilemma

Game theory is the study of decisions that two sane individuals choose to make in relation to one another. These decisions confront each "player" with different dilemmas. A classic example is the prisoner's dilemma — a situation where the two players choose not to cooperate even though it's in their best interests to do so. Instead of cooperating, and both making a gain, one, or both, will choose to deceive the other — defecting from the partnership. If one defects, he makes a gain at the other's expense. If both defect, both loose. The prisoner's dilemma is a test of trust, each player will choose to cooperate as long as he trusts the other player to choose the same (and not defect). And herein lies the challenge.

The challenge, obviously, is maintaining that trust, a sense that is so painstakingly forged, yet so easily crushed — one foul move and everything you've worked so hard for is gone. When the trust is gone, defecting becomes an option, with each player defecting to "teach the other a lesson". In theory, if the game has a foreseen end to it, the optimal strategy for each player at that point is to always defect...

Does this sound familiar?

When I was playing the family business "game", I was faced with what I call the son's dilemma. In the game, you put your (blind) trust in your father, trusting that he will work with you. But every so often the father chooses to defect. It is at that point that you are confronted with the son's dilemma: trust your father again, or defect from the relationship, teaching him a lesson. If your father has defected numerously in the past, what would your turn be — trust or defect? How long would you continue this game?

For me, it was one defection too many, and trust was completely lost. The game was finally over.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Life in the Shadow

I was watching this TV show the other day. In one of the scenes a singer — the son of an extremely well known (and still active) singer — was talking about life in his dad's shadow, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for him... To me it seemed as if he too was in a "family business" of sorts. And following in his father's footsteps, he was living in the shadow...

It's a very tough place, living in the shadow. No matter how hard you try to move out of the shadow, it always seems to prevail over the warm glow of the light. I remember the feeling all too well. That feeling of unattainability, of never being able to outshine the shadow, of always being eclipsed.

It's an impossible situation. As a son, you aspire to make your father proud. You imagine him jabbing a friend with his elbow, saying something like "that there is my son!"; a big smile and look of pride on his face. But that never seems to happen. The glass ceiling — the ceiling that is the family business and working for your father — blocks your ascent, preventing you from attaining your wishes. And you are left with the growing feeling of disappointment.

I've long stepped out of that shadow, but the look on that singer's face made me think of it, and it reminded me once again just how good it feels out in the light.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An exercise in points of view

Did Samsung win or loose the trial against Apple?

Point of view 1: Lost! Samsung was ordered to pay $1.05B in damages! That is one big loss, if you ask me...

That is pretty much what I thought. Until Robert Scoble gave me point view 2:
They won. Big time! Why? Because copying Apple allowed them to become the #2 smartphone manufacturer in the world, and all that copying cost them was $1.05B (which is chump change for Samsung).

Every cloud has a silver lining. Just depends on your point of view...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Career planning

In the context of a family business, this is a moot point. You don't plan; the planning is done for you. All you do is go with the flow: As needs arise, you get moved up to more senior positions and take on more responsibilities. But it's not something you consciously give thought to. It just happens.

Now that you are out of the business you need to give your career some thought. An it's-just-gonna-happen attitude won't fly in the "real world". And you need to have a clear picture in your mind of where you want to be so that you can form a plan on how to get there.

The best way to do this is to work backwards. First, ask yourself where you want to be in the long run, what do you see yourself doing? Once you have that clearly visualized, map the steps you need to take in order to get there, working backwards. List the positions/jobs you need to fill, and the skills you need to develop, and presto! You have yourself a career plan! As with all plans, you should also build-in a few worst-case-scenarios and have fallbacks just in case. Then, you keep to it!

Being communicative and clear can go a long way. I recently sat down with my manager to discuss my career — an open, candid conversation. It was actually the first time I had voiced my career plans out loud to a person besides my wife! Just talking about them like that made them become real and tangible.

Lastly, you need to maintain a long-term-thinking attitude. Remember that there is a lesson to be learnt behind each and every experience. So even if your plans get "delayed", for whatever reason, stay focused on the long-term and learn from the short-term. Eventually you will realize that it all served the purpose of getting you to your goal more equipped and better prepared.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Leaving day

Will be one of the toughest days of your life. Mine was a hell of mixed emotions: Happiness, sadness, guilt... A reader who wrote me the other day subtly put it: "It is a lot like witnessing your own memorial."

The time leading up to the leaving day was really stressful. My dad, who refused to accept my leaving, left the workload handover for the last minute. I remember handing over all my responsibilities and how possessive I became of them. They were mine to carry for so long, and now I had to let them go. On one hand there was this feeling of relief, but on the other there was this great big hole...

The toughest part, though, was saying goodbye to all the people I had spent most of the hours of my day with for the past 13 years. Walking by each office to say farewell was a guilt-trip if there ever was one. I felt like I was abandoning them. I felt like a looser for not sticking it out. I had managed to muster a fake smile, but it didn't really help much.

My dad had left early that day. I didn't even say goodbye to him. I took my last box, scanned my memory-filled, empty office and walked home.

But, as I always say, I have never looked back. Leaving day was just another step on the road to following my heart...

It'll be two year in October. My wife and I actually celebrate the day. The day we finally became free.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The best of luck to a fellow leaver

I'd like to take the opportunity and wish a reader — and now fellow leaver — the best of luck in his new adventure. After 15 years in the family business, he's off to a new start and I'd like to wish him all the best.

His blog, telling the story of his adventure, can be found here.

Good luck, my friend!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Comparing my work today with work in the family business, one of the things that was missing for me was ownership of projects. Ownership in the sense that I was never really given control. Responsibility — yes; control — no.

Being responsible but not in control (as in: "lead the team, but I'll tell them what to do") is not an easy place, and it adds to the already inharmonious setting that is a family business. When control is at the level of day-to-day decision making, it voids you of any real authority. And with no authority and no control (but plenty of responsibility), commitment to the end-goal becomes an issue. Commitment issues? Add another discord to the list...

I found out after leaving the business just how important that feeling of ownership actually is. It fosters commitment which is at the heart of good management and leadership. It drives you to do the best you can and deliver results.

I also learnt that it applies to life. I was responsible for mine, but not really in control. I didn't really own my life, instead I was living someone else's dream. When I left, I took ownership. My life finally became my own.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Big (baby) steps

There are times in life when you need to take big steps, make big changes...

However big they may seem, and to whatever direction they may take you, just remember that in the context of life, and the big picture, they're just baby steps. They may be big, but they're baby steps nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sounds of...

The sound of regret:
I should have taken the other road. I shouldn't have risked it!

That turns into the sound of anger:
He's to blame for this! If only he was different, none of this would have happened!

That turns into the sound of self-pity:
Why is this happening to me? I don't deserve this...

And eventually into the sound of sadness:

It would not be wise to make decisions while listening to that kind of "music". Just accept that it is part of the process and let it wash over you. Leave the decision making to when other sounds are playing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A wish

A wish that I have wished for myself (and still do), and now I wish it onto you:
May you have the courage to follow your heart, and the strength to never look back.

That's all it takes, really...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The fatherhood "skill"

The fatherhood "skill" isn't something you are born with. Fatherhood isn't something you "just know" how to do. It's an acquired skill, picked up along the way by watching your own dad father you. Ultimately you refine and "personalize" it as you become a father yourself, passing it on, in turn, to your own children. But at the very foundation — and this may sound like a cliché — you are, in certain ways, your father all over again. And it is this "cliché" that I have been fighting.

For a long time, I used to question my fatherhood skills, doubting their quality. I used to see my own dad — a demanding father who would later cast me out of his life because of my choice to leave the business — in myself. I would see him in my actions, in my loss of patience, in my speaking down to my kids... Zero tolerance reincarnate.
Working for him in the business, didn't help much either. The "family business above all else" motto would be taken home every night and the kids would get second place...

When I left I began cleansing my skill, fighting the almost instinctive actions with a lot of thought and patience. Leaving freed me in that aspect, allowing me to search and become the father I wanted to be.

I love my kids to death. We have great times together. Being their father is a true gift. And since — and this is completely objective — they are the most amazing kids on earth, it makes the gift all that better.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The paralyzing fear of failure

We all fear risk and taking chances. We all fear choices and change, especially if they have long-term implications. But most of all—and really, the underlying fear—we fear failure. Paralyzing failure.

Failure is seared into our brains. The mind takes measures to make sure we never forget that we've failed. That we remember forever—well, at least for a long time—that we made a mistake, taken the wrong turn. And that memory is vividly conjured at need: Thinking of making a change? Take that! Planning on risking something? Take this! Pow, pow, pow — the memories pop into your head...

But those memories are used by us in the wrong way. We tend to use them as rationalized answers to why we shouldn't try an action again. Even worse, we mistakingly attribute those memories to our abilities, and by doing so we deem ourselves as failures and our self-esteem takes a dive.

Instead, we should be using the memories as lessons on how not to repeat the mistakes we made the first time round. Think about it like a math quiz: failing to reach the correct result doesn't mean you don't know math. It just means that there was a problem with the way you calculated the equation.

Learn your lesson and try again when you're ready. Don't give up math all together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A ball of yarn

We tend to look at our problems like a big, tangled ball of yarn. A ball of jumbled up difficulties and complications and challenges. And the more of them we have, the bigger and more entangled the ball of yarn gets.

The thought of untangling the ball is agony. Trying to, only seems to create more complicated knots. We get this sinking feeling in our stomach and the pace of our thoughts quickens. We loose focus. In this state, every new problem we are faced with only serves to double the size of the ball, further adding to its complexity (and our stress levels).

But problems aren't actually like that. They aren't one big ball of yarn, even though our minds tend to classify them that way (for the sake of keeping things in order upstairs). Problems are actually unique and distinct: 1 problem = 1 ball of yarn. If you view them like this, you will be able to break them down, and deal with each separately. Sure, you will be faced with a lot more balls of yarn, but most will require a gentle pull to become undone.

There, one problem solved!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Faced with a tough situation—such as leaving the family business—we instinctively prefer the easy way out, we prefer to avoid shaking the boat. We'd rather sit things out and hope for the best.

But here's the thing with hope: Hope without action, without effort will get you nowhere. Without doing something about it, hope is nothing but a lottery ticket — your chances of winning are a gazillion to one.

Regardless of what you choose, don't just hope for the best, work for it!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cleaning the fish bowl

Have you ever had the oh-so-exciting pleasure of cleaning a fish bowl?
Looking at the bowl, you wouldn't think that it needs any cleaning: the fish is swimming around, the plastic plant is still green, and the algae is only lightly covering the pebbles at the bottom of the bowl. No cleaning needed — we're good!
But then the water level and the fish's dehydrated look catch your eye, and you think to yourself that it's time for a little water top-up. So, you gently pick up the bowl, hoping not to scare the fish, when you notice, as the bowl turns into a snow poop globe, that the look on the fish's face has gone from panic to helpless despair...

Poor fish.

That's the thing, there's always some type of "snow" lying at the bottom of the bowl. You can ignore it as much as you like but it won't go away. The slightest shake and it gets uncovered.

True to many things in life—projects at work, relationships, perspectives—this is also true to the family business. The snow is there. It's revealed itself in countless family arguments and squabbles. And then gently sank back down... But it's still there.

It's time to clean the fish bowl.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The rainmaker

Confronted with a hopeless situation, will you shrug your shoulders and move on? Or will you try and make a change, be a rainmaker?

I keep thinking about those scenes in animated movies where the hero stares over a barren landscape: dried up trees, withered flowers, no grass only dirt, hopelessness all around... But then she kneels and gently taps the ground with the tip of her finger. Suddenly, green ripples shoot-off from that spot on the ground, flowers pop up and blossom, trees flourish and the land is covered with grass as far as the eye can see. Hope is returned.

So, confronted with a hopeless situation, what would you do?

I think your better bet is tapping the ground/waving your wand/jumping up and down — whatever makes your magic happen. Even if you end up growing one flower it'll make the effort worth it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Firsties

You know that sinking feeling you get when the enormity of the undertaking you've just took on reveals itself? It could be taking on more responsibility at work; moving half-way across the country; taking a mortgage and understanding that it's "for life"; leaving the family business... Whatever it is, it suddenly overwhelms you and you get, what I like to call: the firsties.

I call them the firsties because they usually come along when you are confronted with something big for the first time. And because it's the first time, you're suddenly not sure of your abilities and you get that overwhelming sinking feeling... The firsties.

The feeling comes from your Lizard brain. It's fighting to get back to its comfort zone, to gain control again. It doesn't like change — not one bit. And it uses every tool at its disposal to reverse it. The worst of them all: self-doubt. You start questioning yourself, second guessing, you loose confidence and the challenge becomes too big. Overwhelmed, you say to yourself "maybe I shouldn't do this..." and the Lizard wins.

The most important part about recognizing the firsties is: recognizing the firsties. Understanding that the overwhelming feeling is actually the lizard fighting to get back to its comfort zone. Once you recognize this, you will allow the sensation to wash over you, leaving you more focused on the task at hand.

The firsties suck! No doubt about it. But there is a silver lining: they're a great way to help you focus, plan and be prepared for the challenge at hand!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rubber stamp

Why do we spend so much energy seeking others' approval? Why do we need to know that our actions are OK in other peoples eyes?

A big part of leaving the business (and really of everything we do) is needing that rubber stamp of approval. The notion that we need to explain our actions to all that surround us from co-workers to family members is hard to beat. We do it in hopes that they (the others) will justify and understand our choices, and in doing so make the process easier (for us).

The problem with this is twofold. First, you will never manage to get everyone's approval. There will always be someone that thinks you are making a big mistake. Second, and really the more significant problem: even though you think so, it won't make you feel any better. You are making a tough decision and those are never easy...

My point is that the rubber stamp does not exist, there is no point in questing it. It is but a figment of your mind working over-time to justify your actions. The only thing left to do, really, is to believe in your way and lead yourself onward.

For CW

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Are just people. They are people like you and me. They have their issues, their scars that they carry through life.

The problem with this is that as a child you may suffer. You may end up with a parent that doesn't understand you or that doesn't offer the support or the embrace that you so yearn for.

What you need to understand is that it isn't "doesn't" it's "can't". Your parents, for whatever reason, can't give you what you need. It's like asking a blind person to see... they just can't.

There are two things you can do about this: You can stick around and keep trying to get what you want, hoping that one day the blind will see; or you can accept them for what they are — blind. The latter will free you to move on. The former, if not dealt with, may leave a hole in your sole. A hole that could one day effect your own parenting skills...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Conquering the dragon

My dragon was my dad, and a very fierce one. His fire: making me the smallest person on earth. He had a knack for it — a knack for spitting that fire — and I wasn't the only one that got in its domineering way...

But I've conquered my dragon, its flames can no longer hurt me.

Leaving the business was a big part of that. Bigger, though, is when we occasionally see each other: It seems as if the dragon is nothing but a little lizard...

Monday, May 14, 2012


If you had to make a choice what would it be:
Hope for the best, stay in the family business and risk living a "what if..." life?
— or —
Hope for the best, leave the family business, living life knowing that you at least gave it a shot?

Tough choice, I know... Each has its benefits; each has its risks...

Wouldn't it be great if someone could decide for you? If someone could calculate the odds and gazing into the future give you the right answer?

I'm afraid that someone is you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Just when you think you're maxed out...

Life serves you another overwhelming challenge.

We could be seriously pressured at work, seriously pressured at home, millions of little problems swarming around in our head, when all of a sudden we're "hit" with another challenge. A challenge that makes everything else seem like child's play.

I've trained myself to become "super-focused" when this happens. I analyze every aspect of the challenge at hand, facing it head on. I have learnt from experience that there is no other way. (Saying "why me?!" and sulking won't get you anywhere productive...)

It's interesting, though, how we are always surprised that we are capable of taking it on. Yes—it's hard, but we find ways to manage...

The thing is that life has a tendency to push us past our limits, forcing us to learn and define new ones. We become capable of dealing with bigger challenges. We grow up. Which is why challenges should be looked at with (at least some) positivity.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Movie review: Intouchables

I've been really busy lately working on a number of projects at work together with assuming leadership of another dept. which, let's just say, has been challenging (in a good way).

The other day, though, we were in for a surprise: my mother-in-law walked in, stated she was here to babysit and that we were going to the movies. You gotta love her! So my wife and I found ourselves kicked out of our home, on a quite night out. On the recommendation of my saint mother-in-law we went to see Intouchables, a French movie about the relationship between a paraplegic and his carer. Sounds morbid, I know... But the "babysitter" was adamant about it. So Intouchables it was...

...and what a movie it was!

Though you would never expect it, we were crying our eyes out with laughter. Yes, the movie takes place on a tragic background—I mean the guy is a paraplegic—but it focuses on the humor in their relationship and there is plenty of it. It is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen and I truly recommend it. In fact, I intend on seeing it again!

If you haven't yet seen it, go. Today! You won't regret it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The difference between MTH and GTD

Do you Make Things Happen or do you Get Things Done? They may sound like similar actions, but they are actually two very different things.

Making something happen means you move a mountain. It means you pitch an absolutely crazy idea, but still get people to support and work for it. Making things happen means you champion an initiative, a concept, something that seems unattainable at first. Making things happen requires a lot of work, a lot of energy and a huge amount of determination (and patience).

Getting things done, on the other hand, is a shopping list. It's a checklist of tasks that you need to complete in a certain time. It's the nitty-gritty of making things happen, the details. With that said, though, you should not underestimate the importance of GTD, without it our ideas/initiatives/concepts are nothing but balloons filled with hot air... Which is why both are equally important.

Which are you: MTH, GTD or both? Just keep in mind that MTH without GTD is an unrealized dream.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's never too late...

One thing I've learnt is that there is no time limit on getting a hold on your life and steering it to where you want it to go. I've also learnt that life tends to reward people who choose to follow their heart. It opens their eyes to the possibilities and opportunities out there and frees them to enjoy doing what they love. When you do what you love, all other things—fulfillment, happiness, even money—fall into place!

The thing is, though, that life tends to push you towards taking control. If we continue in the grind that is our unfulfilled life, ignoring the unhappiness we feel, excusing the miserableness in our gut, life will continue to challenge us (read: smack us in the face). You can continue to ignore this, but it never goes away. Being unhappy is a feeling that sinks in deep.

If you feel it's time for a change, make it happen. Start by drafting your plan, put it down on paper. Review it, refine it. Be as prepared as you can be, and then, when you feel the time is right, just go for it. Take control of your life, follow your heart...

It's never too late.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Yearly review

Last week I had my yearly review at work. Being my first year, this was my first review. But what it really was, was my first yearly review ever. The first time I sat down and got reviewed by my manager—who is not my dad—just like every other employee.

It was awesome! Just sitting there and getting candidly reviewed, without the emotional/familial ties, was priceless.

I truly enjoyed it (and so did my ego)!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The list keeper

Keeping meticulous lists of who owes you what, in my mind, is as bad as holding a grudge. If you say things like: "I took him out for dinner, he owes me" or "I helped her with that project, she should be more grateful" or "I helped them with their mortgage, they should be more respectful" then you are not generous. You are not, because you did what you did with the expectation of getting something in return.

That's not how generosity works. There are no angles in generosity, no hidden agendas or motives. Generosity is the act of giving without expecting anything in return. If you are expecting, then you're just a dealer of favors (which is fine as long as you and the other person are aware of it).

The thing I learnt though, about being generous, is that it always comes back to you: people will want to be generous back to you. That's just the way it works.

There really is no point in keeping lists. None.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

You have great ideas too

Here's a vivid memory I have from several years ago:
A management meeting. There are about 15 people in the room, trying to solve a marketing conundrum. It had something to do with the way we would deliver software to our customers. About half way through the meeting, I had a brainwave and offered my solution to the team. The software developers all nodded in agreement that it would be easily programmed. The marketing people nodded in agreement that it would be customer-friendly and simple. I had green lights across the board. And to sum it all up, my dad said: "OK, If he's right we'll go ahead with his idea"...

Can you spot it? Can you spot the lack of confidence? The smack in the face? It's very small, but it was enough to burst my little bubble of pride. There I was with this idea that everyone in the room agreed was great. Everyone except one—my dad. It wasn't enough for him. He had to question it... "If he's right..." That little word that would question my abilities, my talent and my worth over and over again.

It's a completely different story today. My ideas are not "if-ed", they are taken seriously. They are listened to, discussed and considered. They are respected. And at times they are just accepted, right then and there, no questions asked.

I have great ideas. So do you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Being someone you are not

Do you ever look at other people and think to yourself: "He/She's so cool, I want to be like him/her..."? Do you then spend time trying to be? How does that work for you? Does it? Do you beat yourself up when you fail to "be like Mike"?

Learning from people and trying to better ourselves is always a good thing. But trying to be someone else, someone you are not, is not so good. Over-trying is even worse.

Instead, accept who you are. Accept your own abilities and traits and—most importantly—learn to appreciate them. Remember that your view of yourself is not aligned with other peoples' views of you. There is no point in trying to be someone else because that someone has been deemed better by you, but not everyone shares that thought. Some people think you're awesome just the way you are. Others? –Who cares?! Can't make everyone happy. You are you, and you are awesome!

Self-acceptance was an impossible lesson to learn while in the business. Being managed by my dad, needing to over-compesate the fact that I was the son-of-the-boss, made it impossible for me to value my own abilities. The feeling I had was that I was never good enough and so I never accepted myself. I kept trying to adopt other people's traits/qualities in the hope that that would be the answer. It wasn't.

Just be yourself. Remove the mask, take off the costume and be you. Authenticity is highly valued so just be yourself.

You are awesome.

(hat tip to my lifey)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Wh-question you should always ask yourself

is "why?".

It's such a simple, clean and to-the-point question. But it's simplicity should not deceive you, as it has the power to bring about huge change if you let it.

I have learnt to use the "why" question all the time. I don't use it to second-guess myself, but rather question the situation I am in, see it from another angle. It's become a second-nature to me. And I've found that if I take it seriously (the asking and answering) it frees my mind. It breaks the constraint that is the status quo and sets me off in new directions of thinking. I pretty much "why" everything, always looking to become better, to improve...

Have you ever seriously asked yourself "why"? Why are you in the family business? Have you ever truly listened to the answer? It can go either way, but my point is that you need to ask the question. You need to ask it and then listen closely to the answer. Asking in front of a mirror can help; writing the answer down on paper has a considerable effect. But you need to ask the "why question". And more importantly you need to pay attention to the answer and then decide what is best for you.

That simple, short question can change everything. Ask it, answer it, and act upon it. That's all it takes.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Holding a grudge

Do you hold grudges? Do you walk around with a little black book of wrongdoers, vowing to someday get back at them? If you do, my question to you is: Does it make you feel good or bad?

If you think vengeance and anger are good, I'm afraid you are mistaken. They are bad. They're bad for your mood (and thus your health) and they will limit your ability to think straight and make calculated decisions. Yup, they're definitely bad.

In most cases though, anger is really just "denied sadness": in an attempt to not feel week we enlist anger to our side to help us feel powerful. But the truth of the matter is that we are just sad. We were offended and that makes us sad. If you recognize and accept this, the anger will fade away. If you say "I'm not angry about what he did to me, I'm really just sad about the whole thing." the grudge will disappear because there is no anger to fuel it.

It is a liberating thing to live without grudges. I don't have any. I've accepted people for who and what they are. I'm sad that certain things turned out the way they did, but so is life—forever teaching us lessons.

Being "grudge-less" is being free. Free to move on, to be you. And one day, when the time comes, it will free you to make amends.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

WIIFM and being generous

WIIFM is what the other person is thinking about while you try and sell your product, your idea or yourself. WIIFM is something that many of us tend to give no thought to, and this is a big mistake...

WIIFM (pronounced: whi-phem) stands for What's In It For Me and it's what's on the other person's mind while you jabber away. When you are trying to sell your new startup, the other person is thinking: "What's in it for me?". When you're trying to pitch an idea to someone in an attempt to get them to join your movement, all he/she is thinking is: "What's in it for me?". When you're interviewing for a job, talking about this skill and that skill, all your hirer is thinking about is... you guessed it!—"What's in it for me?".

There is no avoiding it. People want to know what's in it for them if they in turn give you that break you're looking for. You can have the most amazing/great/awesome technology in your hand, or the most advanced/crazy/best idea, or the best looking 1-page résumé, but at the end of the day the person in front of you will make the decision based on WIIFM, on how he/she stands to gain.

Sure, there are some people that don't do it for self-gain: your mother, for example. But the cold, hard truth is that most do. Luckily for us, though, there is a simple solution to this quandary, and that is... generosity.

Generosity is a state of mind, and if you are a generous person then WIIFM won't matter to you, you've beaten it at it's own game. If you are a generous person then you've already thought about how the other person can benefit, and if that's what you thought about before walking into the room, then your pitch will sell itself. You need to build your presentation around benefiting the other person. You need to care about them first, giving them what they need before looking for your own benefit.

If you are not a generous person then I beg you to become one. Start small: take a minute to say good morning to people, offer someone coffee. Eventually you will become generous and you will see for yourself that the rewards are far greater. You should be as generous as you can with intangibles: time, skill, knowledge, patience—they are far more valuable. And always remember that you have to give in order to get back.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Mentor

The mentor is a person with great experience and knowledge who can help guide you through the dips of life. She knows what life is about and will weather the bad times with you keeping you focused and positive. She will teach you about perspectives and how important it is to see things from different ones. She will give you the tools you need to take control of your life. And she will do it in a way that is lasting... The most important job she has is to instill her knowledge in you, so that when the time comes and you stand alone, her teachings will come to you as if she was right there with you.

I found my life-mentor when I left the business. I understood right away that I would need one in order to get through the storm that was coming. I can honestly say that without her I would have ended up in a very different (bad) place. She has taught me a huge amount and I will forever be grateful.

If you're leaving the business, I strongly suggest that you find yourself a good mentor (or coach). She/he is not necessarily a psychologist or a therapist; wallowing in the past may not be the right thing for you. Instead you need the tools that can help you stand up again and that's what a good mentor can give you—everyday, practical tools.

On a personal note, and to my mentor, I would like to say: "Thank you!". Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your teachings have given me the tools to achieve balance and peace, without which I would have been lost...

Thank you.

Friday, February 24, 2012


The cliché goes: Anything is possible if you set your mind on it. The thing is, it's not really a cliché—it's the truth.

When this notion sinks in, when you truly believe it, when every bone in your body knows it, it'll happen: life will take you on a journey where anything is possible. Where the destination fades into the background of the journey itself. When every experience, whether good or bad, becomes a well taught lesson.

This is when we're truly alive. This is when we can accomplish anything we set our minds on.

Just believe...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Doing it on your own... not a good idea.

Here's a short recommended "shopping list" of what you will need:

Close friends who will not mind you "wetting their shoulder".
Almost everything that will happen to you, whether good or bad, will be a result of you leaving. It will take up most, if not all, of your time and your friends will be there to hear all about it. Since the throes of leaving are many, your friends are going to get a lot of kvetching. It's important that you have strong friendships that allow you to vent and that offer a shoulder you can lay your head on when needed.

A mentor/coach/person who you trust to "give it to you like it is" and whose advice you will take.
An outside person can offer an unbiased point of view/opinion something which can prove to be priceless. As the pressures of leaving raise (mainly due to financial issues) and your judgment qualities diminish, it's important to have a person who can keep you straight. Be it advice regarding a job, financials, life, whatever... find that person you trust, you'll need them. (PS If you have more than one you're very lucky!)

And most importantly:
A 100%-behind-you significant other.
Your significant other (wife/husband/life partner) is going to go through hell. And just so I'm clear: H-E-L-L, HELL! Sure, you'll be suffering an emotional, stressful fiery inferno, but for them it'll be much tougher. It'll be tougher because they have to keep life going "as usual": taking care of the kids, doing all the house chores, keeping up with their own career workload, all this while you breakdown. And watching you breakdown will not be easy—your pain is their pain, your sufferings theirs. Yet they will have to stay strong, strong enough to pick you up and set you straight... Come to think of it, "Hell" is an understatement!
When their energy levels founder—and they will—keep the above in mind and do your best to find the patience and energy to be there for them when they give.

I'd like to take this opportunity and thank my gang: my friends, my coach, my "Lifey" and most importantly my wife, my rock, who no matter how hard I came crashing down, stood strong and assuring. I couldn't have done it without you!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book Report: Outliers

I recently finished re-reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a terrific book, but re-reading it today gave it a whole new flavor for me.

The book talks about outliers (something that lies outside normal experience) and explains—with scientific precision almost—why they occur. More interesting, to me at least, is that by doing so Malcolm teaches perspectives, and how important it is to look at a situation from different angles/levels in order to clearly understand it.

Do you know why during the 80's thru to the 90's Korean Air was the airline most prone to crash? You're probably thinking: lousy flight crews or lousy maintenance, and lousy flight crews or maintenance equals airplane crashes. It's plain math (no pun intended). Intuitively it seems like the correct answer, but I'm afraid you would be wrong: The maintenance was excellent and the crews were highly trained. So why did they crash? They crashed—believe it or not—because of cultural issues. Because of something called the Power Distance Index (PDI). Something which caused first officers to, well, fail their duty. So much so that crashing seemed an "easier" option than saving the plane (you gotta read the book to get a full sense of this, it's crazy!)

If you enjoy looking at situations from different perspectives (or learning to do so) and are looking for a witty well-written book then I recommend you read Outliers—I couldn't put it down.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Interesting articles

If you are leaving the business to a managerial/senior position, I really think you should read the following 2 articles.

Managing people in the "real" world could be a lot different than in the family business, mostly because in the family business the buck stopped at your dad and people kinda knew that. If you're planning on joining a large firm, the onus will be on you (with no fallback on dad).

Jeff Haden writes for Inc. and recently posted these 2 articles:

  • The first is about what your employees need most from you—their leader.
  • The second is about pay and the need to look at it from a different, more personal perspective.

They are both short, well-written articles worth the ten minutes they'll take you to read.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


With your CV ready you're probably thinking about interviewing, and when would be a good time to start. In my case, I decided to give it 2 months. But looking back it was not enough — it didn't allow for trial and error and it made every interview a critical one.

So, here are a few points to help plan the job interview tactic. (By the way, to those of you who think that having good interviewing experience makes you a good interviewee, I say: think again!)

  • Finding a job takes time.
    If you are required to serve a long notice period to the business, your future employer may have planned for your postponed availability and may be willing to wait for a month or so while you tie the loose ends.
    Also, passing the first interview doesn't guarantee the job. In most cases you'll have to go through a series of interviews (I went through 4 to get my current job) which can take some time.

  • Like in software, a successful version release requires good QA.
    Before going to the places that you want to get accepted to, try a few that you wouldn't mind failing in... Take your Interview v1.0 software and test it — practice. You'll get better and better with every round, and once you've reached v3.0 you'll be ready to go after the ones that matter.

  • You need the feedback.
    Coming from a family business you've probably never been job-interviewed before. Listening to people's/the interviewer's feedback will teach you a lot. Don't loose heart when you get bad feedback (and you probably will) because it is the most important feedback. It'll make you stronger and more prepared and it can go a long way in helping you hone your job aspirations.

  • ALWAYS be thankful.
    Generosity is a state of mind and you should adopt it. Whatever feedback you get, be thankful and don't be afraid to express it. Even if you are getting "slapped", be appreciative because you've just received a lesson and it was free, so say thank you.

To sum it all up: Start early enough to allow trial; practice before you play in the big leagues; be generous; and always—but always—be positive and stay focused. You'll do just fine!

Taking the jump

"Once the water is deep enough that you must swim to stay afloat, does it really matter how deep the pool is?"

That's Seth's post from the other day. Short and sweet.

If you think about it for a second, you'll find that it speaks to your situation. I just thought you should read it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Points of View

Never start an argument about unmeasurable topics and center it around points of view. It just isn't constructive.

Point of view (A): I can't stand the traffic! I hate it. What a waste of time!!!
Point of view (B): I love the traffic. It's great—finally some quite time for myself!
Point of view (A): What do you mean you love it? What's there to love?
Point of view (B): I play music, organize my thoughts. It's quality time.
Point of view (A): You're an idiot! That's all I have to say.
Point of view (B): Who you calling "an idiot", stupid?

The example above, though inane, serves the point: 2 people, looking at an unquantifiable situation, each from their own point of view.

Let's look at a more realistic situation—working for your dad in the family business:
For you it's hell. Everyday your feel like you are giving up on something, giving up on yourself. You can't take it anymore and just want to leave, taking your chances in the "real" world.
Your dad, on the other hand, doesn't understand the problem: Working in the business is a great opportunity. He thinks you'd be crazy to work somewhere else as the security the family business offers you is immeasurable...
Your point of view is emotional. His is materialistic. They obviously won't jibe.

Arguing about it won't do anyone any good. My suggestion: leap frog over it, agree to disagree and move on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

How to follow the blog

If you'd like to keep updated with the posts on the blog you can do one of two things (or both):

  1. Subscribe to the RSS feed: On the right, under the Subscribe section, click Posts and choose your reader of choice.
  2. Follow the blog on twitter: @LeavingFamBiz


Friday, January 13, 2012

Life in the outside lane

This morning on my drive to work, I did something very different: I decided to stay in the outside lane and just flow with the traffic.

Usually, I'd be driving in the inside lane with all the aggressive have-to-be-at-work-ten-minutes-ago drivers. But this morning was different: I sat calmly on the outside lane, just coasting along, taking it easy.

Driving in the inside lane is really a metaphorical "habit" I have. I've always been trying to get ahead, be better, never really happy with where I was. It's a habit I've been fostering since early on in the family business—never content, never satisfied or fulfilled, always searching for a better place for myself.

Lately, though, I've allowed myself to coast along in life's outside lane.

Don't get me wrong: The race is still on, but I am so far ahead—out of the business, settled in life, good job—that I can allow myself to take a break. And the peace of mind it brings is priceless.

Interestingly enough though, the outside lane seems to have gotten me where I was going faster.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking out for No. 1

Question: Who is *the* most important person in your life?

I'm guessing you are thinking "my husband/wife" or "my kids", maybe "my mother/father". If you are, then—buzzer sound—sorry, wrong answer.

The most important person in your life is YOU. I'll explain:

In order to be a good parent/spouse/son/daughter you need to be in the right mindset. And by "right mindset" I really mean content/fulfilled/happy. Why? Because if you are dissatisfied, say at work, chances are you will bring that feeling home with you, and you'll end up taking it out on the closest to you. If you are angry or sad or upset, you won't be able to deal with the kids. You won't have the patience to listen to your spouse or give him/her the attention they want/need from you.

There is a reason why the instruction during an airplane emergency is for you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others...

When I left the family business, I was looking out for No. 1, for myself. I knew leaving would be hell. I knew the families would break apart, that we would suffer financially. But more importantly I knew that if I didn't leave, the misery—in the long run—would ruin me. It would ruin who I was, damaging my life and the people I care for most. And I realized that for me to look out for my family, I needed to look out for myself first.

And so I did.

Question remains: Who are you looking out for?