Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Season's Greetings

Another year has gone by. A year of ups and downs, of lessons learnt, and experiences gained. In hindsight, it's been a good one.

I hope you enjoy this time with the people who matter most to you, and that 2014 brings you all that you wish for. But mostly I hope you find the confidence to follow your path, and enjoy the sense of accomplishment and success in doing so.

Yours truly,

The Leaver

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From simmer to boil

Seems like year-end causes plans to go from simmer to boil: You sit around simmering all year in the family business, thinking about leaving, when suddenly the year is over—or really one is beginning—and you start to boil, going into a must-leave-the-business-now mode.

I once read a study that talked about prison escapes. Do you know when prisoners are most prone to try and escape? You'd think sometime at the beginning of their term: with the prospect of spending years in prison, they would try and make a run for it, right? Wrong! Most escapes are attempted at the end of their terms! The psychology behind this is: they just can't take it anymore; they can smell the freedom, it's so close, and they just can't bear another day in jail. So they make a run for it (and in most cases fail).

Nope... boil is not the way to go!

Here's the thing: when a pot of water starts boiling, two things can happen: one, the bubbling water can overflow and put out the flame; and/or two, the water eventually evaporates, leaving you with an empty (burnt) pot.

In other words, don't make a run for it! That is something that the child does, not the responsible adult. Instead, plan it out carefully: figure out what you are going to do, what you want to become, what job is best for you. Start working on your CV and your LinkedIn profile. These steps will make the thought of leaving tangible—something that is actually doable and achievable— and it will build your confidence in the process of leaving. And then, and only then, you make your exit.

(By the way, simmer isn't a good option either. It too will eventually leave you with an empty, burnt pot... Better off making a decision either way.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy (3rd) Leaving Day!

It's been three years. Three amazing years of ups and downs, highs and lows... So I find it only fitting to check-in (sorry for not posting recently) and give you some insight from a 3-year perspective.

Let me first give you the short answer to the question I can only imagine you are asking: Yes, it was worth it; and yes, I would do it all over again!

I really enjoy reminiscing over the past 3 years. It allows me to compare the person I am today with the person I was 3 years ago (and before), and bask in the warmth of my (little) personal victory. Taking the "path less traveled" was, perhaps, one of the best things I have ever done for myself. It opened up so many opportunities and afforded so many possibilities. But most importantly, it offered me a way to look at the world — and the challenges we are faced with — differently. It used to be that when anything "bad" happened I would default into "victim-mode", self-pitying myself over an unfair outcome. Today though, I constantly look for the other perspective, which is mostly the silver lining. I've reached the conclusion that that's the only way to overcome, with the added bonus of bettering ourselves in the process...

But philosophy aside, here are some of the more important lessons I've learnt in these past 3 years:
  • Accept your past (or: start believing in yourself and your abilities).
    This must be the toughest hurdle to overcome. I don't know how long you've been in your family business but chances are your self-esteem has been trampled. Recovering is no easy task, but it is doable. It starts with accepting the past for what it was – a lesson. Acceptance allows you to start fresh, to break away from the past and the person you once were and start anew. The other option is to live in it, casting blame on anything and everything from the family business to your parents and the lack of support. This option — and I am sure you will agree with me — is completely counter-productive. Opt for acceptance and move on. Once you do, once there is no blame or self-pity, you'll be able to focus on yourself and your abilities, slowly healing and building your self-worth.

  • Decide what you want to do as soon as possible, then focus on achieving that goal.
    In other words, don't waste time. This is a relatively new lesson for me, too. If you find yourself saying: "I'll try this out for a while and see how it goes...", stop and answer this question: How does this help me achieve my life goals? (whatever those goals are, tangible or intangible.) You need to focus your energy and efforts, and the decision to do something (move across the country, become a better parent, open your own business, accept that job offer, whatever) has to be made consciously and not "by-the-way"-ish. I'm not saying that you can't make mistakes. On the contrary – make mistakes! But make them having weighed the options and making the best choice possible. Don't waste your time.

  • Time does heal all wounds.
    My dad and I are now back in touch. We are warming back up to each other after a long period of silence. When we first got back together, it was hell for me. Here was the person who practically disowned me (and my family) for wanting to chase my dreams; and here I was in his house celebrating his birthday. What a trip that was... But time has this magical trait to it: it dulls the edges. The memories are still there, but the pain and anger associated with them have faded. It makes having a relationship – all things considered – possible... I guess what I am saying is: don't let the family relationship weigh down on you too much. Yes, it takes a toll; but you'll work things out down the road.

  • Stay positive!
    This is, perhaps, the most important lesson I can share with you (and I am going to become "new agey" now). Everything happens for a reason. We are tested and challenged in life all the time. This happens because there is a lesson to be learnt about ourselves and our abilities, about people and their nature, about how things work. If you accept that the lesson is the reward (and sometimes you'll have to look real hard for the lesson, like when your new iPhone goes for a swim) you'll become a more positive thinker. And when you become a more positive thinker, you'll become more open to the opportunities around you. And when that happens... there is no limit to what you can do!

Happy leaving day!

Monday, August 12, 2013

One of those (dippy) weeks...

You know those weeks where you just dip?

They come by every so often, emptying your energy and draining you mentally. It'll start with a challenge, say a large sum of money that you suddenly need to spend on fixing the house (and you need to figure out where to get the money from), continue with another so called "challenge", then another, till every little thing causes a melt down... The burnt-out lightbulb? Aaaaaargh!

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are now reaching coping capacity, please fold the tray tables in front of you, return your seats to their upright position, and make sure your seat belts are tightly fastened. It's going to be a bumpy ride..."

When you arrive at coping capacity, the world — and your perception — are completely warped and out of whack. It's not the captain speaking anymore... Instead you'll hear the voices of judgment and anger swirling in your head. Judgement for how you performed (or really, how you mis-performed and got us here in the first place); and raging retaliation against said judgement.

The best thing to do when the (metaphoric) captain disappears, is turn on auto-pilot. Auto-pilot forces you to continue flying forward, to your destination. Turbulence does not affect auto-pilot, it doesn't spend time revisiting the past, considering different options or making major decisions. Its sole purpose is to keep the plane up in the air and on course. And most importantly, it allows the captain to get some much needed shut-eye.

If you are having a dippy week, take a step back to regain perspective. Ask yourself fundamental questions about each separate challenge you are faced with, and work your way through them using lots of reason. The first thing you will find is that a lot of the challenges can be postponed to a later date, and that not all of them have a complete-by-yesterday date.

Disconnecting from the situation, allows you (the captain) to regain balance, perspective and eventually control, avoiding more unneeded turbulence.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My choice; your choice [Guest Post]

Lauren, a fellow leaver, left her family business to become a life coach. She graciously accepted my request to guest post and share her story below.

From the moment I (virtually) met Lauren, it was clear to me that she was a "people person" and that her calling in life had to do with supporting people. It just seemed right for her. And I'm glad to see her forging her path. Good luck, Lauren!!.

You can learn more about Lauren on her website here.

When I stumbled upon this blog on October 5, 2012, I was — literally — at my wits end! I was at my desk, shaking in distraught and feeling out of control. I was miserable, trapped in my family's business and there was nothing I could do about it. How could I leave? They'd never understand. I surrendered... This was to be my life. Suck it up, this is it. Deal with it!

But in my heart, deep in my core, I just knew I was meant to do something else. Meant to be something more. With no place to go, I went online and typed in my search:"Leaving the Family Business", and there it was... like a beacon of light LeavingTheFamilyBusiness.com... Wait, what??? No, it can't be!! But then I clicked the click that would change everything.

After devouring 25 posts like a starving carnivore, I typed a lengthy (very cathartic) email to The Leaver. It strikes me as I reread that email how thick and heavy the sadness was. Yet I can still feel the relief of not being alone in my plight and how equally airy and light it was. Realizing all my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, wants, dreams, were VALID! I wasn't being selfish or having a mid life crisis. Others in my situation felt this way, too! And, most importantly —— they left and survived!

A little backstory: For 18 years, I worked with my mother and her husband in his family's business. I can honestly say, I loved working with my mom but I always wondered what else was out there in the world for me to do. I thought many times over those 18 years about leaving, but since it was only her and I in the office, I felt like I could never leave her. In October, 2011, my step father hired another person to come in to the office, saying that it was so my mother could semi-retire, but that never happened. What I began to see, or feel, was that maybe, she was actually there so I could go...

I had tried to give my notice to leave in May, 2012, but my mother was against it. She couldn't imagine me not being there. So I stayed. On Halloween, less than a month after finding this blog, I had a breakdown. In front of my mother, I sobbed and cried and told her that I could no longer do it. That I was sorry to disappoint her, but that I couldn't take it any more. She finally let herself see the truth she had not allowed herself to see. She let me go. January 31, 2013, would be my last day. We had agreed to part and we began preparing my departure from the business.

What a surreal feeling that first week of February was... to be unattached... I had no responsibility to the family business! My life wasn't consumed with despair — I was filled with anticipation and hope! I felt I had regained control! But what I hadn't realized then was that I always had the control, I just chose to not engage it. Which brings me to where I am today...

Many had asked me, "So, what do you want to do?" But I had no answer. I hadn't figured that part out, yet. I just knew it was something bigger than what I was currently doing. I knew I wanted to help people; to make a difference in their lives... And so it happened — as these things tend to happen — that I met a childhood friend I had not seen for over 25 years (the universe is amazing, isn't it?!). And it was this very friend who asked me, quite simply: "why not be a life coach?" And that was that.

To me, life coaching is what I was put on this earth to practice. It's about helping people realize what it took me years to understand: we all have a choice! As ominous as it may seem, we do. I chose to stay in the family business for all those years. I chose not to explore options. And as much as I felt it was out of my control, at the end of the day, it was my choice to give control up.

Wherever you are on your journey, thinking about leaving, in the process of leaving, or already gone, please always remember these simple truths: It is YOUR life, and it's short, precious and unpredictable. You never know what the next day, hour or minute will bring. And you should choose to honor yourself by living your life in the best possible way. Everything else will just fall into place.

Enjoy today & be happy!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sorry for the long silence

I've been preoccupied with, well, life and work and career building...

Promise to be back shortly with more life philosophies and leaving advice. In the meantime, I am here if you need me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

This is Water

I only just saw this now...

It's an abridged version of a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the graduating class of 2005 of Kenyon College. You should watch it.

The full comencement speech can be listened to here.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tall trees

Here's one piece of advice that you should keep in mind, regardless of your decision to leave or stay: be more communicative.

If you decide to stay, communicate your issues. Not with anger or bitterness or retribution, but with understanding and a true desire to make things better. Your family members are just human, 9 times out of 10 they are not doing it to ruin your life. It's the way they see things. Communicate to them without judgement. Share your perspective with them. Be candid and vulnerable. Try and reach understandings that will allow you to stay. If you don't, it won't work...

If you decide to leave, you will need to communicate this too. Again, not with anger or vengeance but with sincerity. Explain your motives for leaving without expecting understanding (or compassion). Don't get upset if you hit a brick wall, just remember you are leaving, there's no need to raise your voice now...

So many things can go wrong because of miscommunication. It creates mountains from molehills; it pushes people so far up trees that, sometimes, finding the way back down becomes impossible.

My advice to you is: be communicative. It'll be the only thing that'll help you stay away from tall trees...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Underestimating yourself

Is a tactic used by the Resistance. Underestimating yourself is part of the Resistance's grand plan to keep you put. To keep you from doing what you know you can do.

The term "lean into it" is pretty popular now. Adopt it. If you are thinking you can't do something because of fear of failure or simple performance anxiety, just lean into it. Lean into it and the weight will take you forward.

How? Start small.

Start by writing your plan/idea/goal down. Make it physically real. Then talk to your friends about it, tell them how you plan on making it happen. Next thing you know, you'll be doing that thing you feared... Start small and the big things will happen.

But first, you got to lean into it!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Expensive lessons...

are the best lessons.

The ones that cost you sleepless nights, physical pain, money... Those are the lessons that will actually teach you something. They may not teach you the right way, but they will definitely point out the wrong way.

So, while you lick your wounds, always remember to learn!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Getting past the resistance

Why is it that we choose to continue living the routine? Why do we choose to accept the "golden handcuffs" that keep us in the quotidian grind?

The answer is simple: the Resistance. The Resistance is the voice in your head that always has an excuse, a tale, of why not to do something. The Resistance loves routine; hates change. And so it works extra hard to keep you put, even at the expense of following your heart and dreams. But the thing with the Resistance is that it's like a child—providing lame answers (or excuses) to big question. And that, if you think about it, is its weakness.

It's a weakness because it allows you to catch it in the dog-ate-my-homework act. Because when you listen to what the Resistance has to say, you'll realize just how unfounded it's reasoning is: "You're not good enough"; "You won't be as respected as you are here"; "Do you really want the extra work?"... All lame, miserable excuses. If you identify this "type" of voice, you'll be able to ignore it, and in turn focus on the voice that is pushing you forward, and the real work that's at hand.

Now, ignoring the Resistance is not that easy—I know! So here's a tip to help with that: treat the Resistance as a devil's advocate. Think of it not as a roadblock, but as a warning sign: it is trying to get your attention to the dangers that lie ahead, trying to prepare you for what's coming next. So when it raises its "concerns" about not being good enough or respected enough or over worked, thank it for its concern, explain to it why it is wrong and then dismiss it.

The Resistance will come back and try again, but if you keep focused you'll beat it at its own game.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pavlovian conditioning

Have you heard of Pavlov's dogs? If not, you can read about it here. But in a nutshell: In an experiment involving dogs, Pavlov associated a bell ring to food being served. Each time the dogs received their food, Pavlov would ring a bell. Eventually the bell ring itself—without food being served—would cause the dogs to react as if they were being served food. The dogs had become conditioned to the bell ring. This is known as a Pavlovian conditioning or Pavlovian reaction.

The thing is, like it or not, we all "suffer" from this sort of conditioning. We all have a (metaphoric) bell that causes us to react in a certain way, regardless of whether (metaphoric) food is being served. For example: Think about where your mind goes when someone criticizes your work. Does it feel like your dad (or boss family member) belittling you all over again? The sound of that "bell" — regardless of the fact that you are out of the business already, and the criticism is meant in a good way (ie no real food being served) — will cause a certain reaction with you and trigger certain emotions.

As with all conditions, they can be reconditioned. And it's up to you to do so. The first step is to identify those Pavlovian reactions. Identify the bells that cause the reactions of old. Then react differently, in a way that is thoughtful and calm. Do it enough times, and you'll be all set.

(Thanks to my amazing wife for helping me spot the bells...)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Goal setting

One of the most powerful ways I know of making things happen, is to start by writing them down. It's that simple. Thinking, imagining or musing over your goals is good, but writing them down is the first step at making them happen.

There is something very powerful about doing that, about committing that way. Once they are on paper, your conscious relates to them differently and suddenly things will start coming together to make them happen.

Give it a try. You'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The smell of freedom

There is that moment when, suddenly, you understand that you have options; when the weight of the ball-and-chain — known as the family business — disappears, and you realize that you have possibilities you can consider. That is when the first scents of freedom hit you.

It's a liberating moment.
For J. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The perfect map

Another great post by Seth Godin. So true:
"The search for the exact case study or the exact prescription is the work of the resistance, a clever way to stay safe, to protect yourself from your boss or your self-talk. If you wait for the perfect map before departing on your journey, you'll never have to leave."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The parent, the child and the adult walk into a candy store...

I'm sure you've noticed by now that I reference my three voice-keteers post pretty often. And I wanted to explain the concept of the parent, the child and the adult a little more in depth (no, it's not multiple personality disorder).

The idea of the "3 voices in our head" describes the model of a thought process. The theory was developed by Freud who called the three voices: the id, the ego and the super-ego (sound familiar?). You can read more about Freud's theory here (it's a very deep and interesting read). But in order to keep things simple — and easier to relate to — I call them the child (id), the parent (super-ego), and the adult (ego). To me, the visualization of the characters goes a long way. Here's the gist of it:
  • The child is only interested in pleasure and instant gratification; it hates pain and suffering. Think of a 3-year old in a candy store: she doesn't care about right or wrong; all she wants is to eat the candy.
  • The parent is the inner critic. It uses guilt to "help" us conform to socially acceptable norms. Back to the child in the candy store: her mother (the parent) now shows up and scolds her, saying how it's wrong to take candy without asking/paying.
  • Finally, the adult that does its best to please the child, yet avoid upsetting the parent and breaking any of its rules. Its sole purpose is to make the best possible decision under these circumstances. Back, again, to the candy store: the store owner (the adult) comes out the back to see a parent telling off a fit-throwing child. So he says to the child that she can have the candy if she apologizes, and that next time she should ask her mother before eating it. Crisis over.

These three characters are internalized in your head, and they sound off each time a decision needs to be made. At times louder, at times less so. The challenge is to figure out which one is reacting and driving the decision. When you figure that out, you'll be able to pause and recalibrate the reaction into something more calculated. Think about the last argument you had with someone; do you wish you were less angry and more collected (i.e. "less" child)? Where you focused too much on why you were right and they were wrong (i.e. "too much" parent)? If you listen close enough you'll be able to make that distinction. You'll be able to calm the anger or try a different approach other than the right/wrong angle.

Reacting accordingly is up to the adult to carry out. That's just what grownups do. And by reacting accordingly you will be doing your self-esteem a HUGE service. Huge. So get to it!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Worrying too much about the consequences

When things go south (in a relationship, a situation), do you find that you hold back on speaking your mind because you are worried about how it will come out (or sound)? Worried about what the other person (or people) will think? Do you worry about the relationship(s) taking a hit if you were to say something?

I know I have...

Here's what happens inside your head: the Child gets upset with something or someone. It wants to react, emotionally, and say what it feels. It wants to fix the wrongdoing, now! The Parent on the other hand will lecture you about how it isn't right to react that way: "You don't just tell people what you think! It's not nice!". If the parent is "stronger", the child will lose and stay quite. This means that you'll probably holdback on any directness, or even tip-toe around the whole issue altogether.

But there's a catch to the parent "winning" (or really, to the child loosing)... The child ends up throwing a fit. This translates into: You getting angry/upset with yourself: "I'm so weak for not saying/doing anything about it!" you'll probably say to yourself. Your self-worth will take another beating. More anger will bubble inside...

Been there, done that...

The only way out of this is to think calmly, preventing the feelings from getting the better of the situation. Understand that the situation angers (child) you and that you can't (parent) just take it out on the other person. But — and this is big but — that you need (child) to say something about it in the right (parent) way. Once you understand the "need"/"right" inputs, let the Adult decide how best to handle it. Formulate the correct way to approach the situation and say your thing so that everyone (parent and child) are happy.

If you learn to listen to your inner voices, you will find that your thought patterns change, and that situations that seemed impossible to deal with, become possible. It's all in your mind.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The next level

I started this blog as an outlet. A place for me to vent my emotions and share my challenges and insights into the process of leaving a family-owned business. It's funny how quickly time goes by: next week will mark 2 years since my first post. And it got me thinking that it's time — with the new year and all — to take the blog to the next level.

It never stops to amaze me just how many leavers there are out there. Ever since I started the blog, not a week goes by that I don't receive email from a fellow leaver, sharing her/his situation and at times asking for advice. And though the leavers are from around the world(!!!), the language we speak is one. It's the language of low self-esteem and self-doubt; of lack of appreciation from, and disappointment in our family members; of senseless situations such as managing your siblings. We are so much alike...

It got me thinking that the blog had become bigger than just an outlet for myself. It had become a place for leavers to feel part of something. To understand that this process is something that so many others have gone through (or are going through), and that they are not alone in this.

You, are not alone in this...

There is so much empowerment in feeling part of something. In knowing that you are not alone. In receiving advice and counsel from others that have "been there, done that". And, more importantly, in offering your own experiences and helping others. There had to be a way for me to share that.

And so I am happy to announce the Leavers' Exchange Forum a place for you to connect with other leavers, to ask questions and share insight and experiences from your journey. It's a place for leavers, by leavers!

The forum is available here (and in the menu on the right), and I do hope you join and share (you can share anonymously, too). Together we can help make the leaving process a bit more bearable.

See you there!