It might be a strange time of year to be writing a blog post all about quitting your business, especially as the beginning of the year always seems full of hope and excitement and motivation. In the beginning of January it just feels like everything is possible, doesn’t it? You’ve probably had some time off to rest, you’ve eaten a bunch of yummy things, got some cool stuff from Santa, and all is right with the world. You are going to kill it in 2014, aren’t you?
Let me tell you, in the last few weeks that’s exactly what I’ve done and how I’ve felt. For the first time ever, I closed my business for two weeks over the holiday period. I worked my butt off until the very last moment, even delivering a wedding cake literally on the way to our vacation (as you do). Right now I’m sitting here in my pyjamas, relishing a few more days off and excited about spending some time with my kids. Honestly, it’s the first time in a long time I can remember actually being relaxed. I operate at a very high level of intensity so it often takes me several days to unwind before I actually begin to enjoy myself. The problem with this relaxation is, it’s making me NOT want to go back to work. I’d rather be in bed playing Words with Friends.
I love my business. It’s not really a “job” per se although I will sometimes refer to it that way. It is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done – far harder than moving countries, harder than IVF, harder than losing weight (I’ll share that story some other time), harder than just about anything else I can think of. Financially and emotionally, running my own business has sometimes been crippling (it’s not always rainbow sprinkles, right?). Of course it’s also rewarding, and I’ve learned heaps from it, and I love it, and blah blah blah positive awesomeness rewarding fabulousity. The truth of it is, no matter how fabulous it is, there is no denying that owning a small business is just really hard, exhausting work and it can take a very long time to see the rewards, financial or otherwise.
Several times in the past few weeks, I’ve found myself fantasising about giving the business away. Not as in literally handing it to someone as a gift, but as in – selling it or just giving up, walking away, getting a normal job. Giving it away means I won’t stress about money so much, someone else will be in charge of paying the bills, I’ll have fixed hours that I work, I won’t be such an emotional wreck, I’ll actually get paid vacation time, my life will be less chaotic…everything will just be so much calmer and easier, you know? I’ll be brutally honest and tell you all that the fantasy is very, very appealing. The grass doesn’t just seem greener, it seems to shimmer as though it’s been coated in edible glitter and it smells like a freshly unwrapped bar of expensive chocolate. There might even be rainbow unicorns there.
I generally take my own advice on these things, so while I’ve had the opportunity I spent some time really picturing how my life would look if I gave up on the business. I also spent some time trying to pick apart what about that fantasy seemed so appealing. The answers I came up with were not the ones I expected.
First, I realised that my life WOULD be a lot less stressful without the business. Things WOULD be easier, calmer, quieter…but I’d also be filled with regret, for having given up while I still had a head full of ideas. If I gave up now, I’d feel as though I didn’t really give it a proper chance, didn’t really throw as much as it as I could have, and definitely would feel as though I had unfinished business (pun intended). It would be like running a marathon, only to give up at Mile 20 while you were actually able to walk to the finish line. So – the idea of giving up seems like rainbows and unicorns and fabulous…but the reality of it is, I don’t think I could live with myself. I looked at what life would be like if I went back to being an employee and while parts of it are very appealing, parts of it are frustrating and soul destroying and I’m not willing to go there. I’d be swapping one emotional minefield for another one. I’d be living in “coulda, shoulda, woulda” land and there is no sparkly grass there.
The second question I asked myself was, “Exactly what is so appealing about the giving up fantasy?” Is is the lack of responsibility, the not having to deal with clients, the time to myself? What is it that I’m wanting now which I’m not getting which I clearly want? This one took me a while – but the single thing which is most appealing is the lack of stress (mostly financial stress.) I realised that the ONE thing about my business which causes me the most heartache is the stress level: the roller coaster of fabulous highs and the terrible lows. I’m smart enough to understand that unfortunately, stress is just part of the whole entrepreneurial package. When you’re where the buck stops, it’s fairly natural that stress is part of that responsibility. So if I can’t get rid of the stress entirely – but that’s the one thing which bothers me the most – I’ve got to start putting some work into managing that stress. I’ve got to remember my own rule…that sometimes working on the business isn’t about the business at all, it’s about the business owner. I’ve got to work on making that problem less of a problem.
After all that thinking I came to the conclusion that someday I might want to quit, but that someday is not now. Now, all I really want to do is lead a much less stressful life – and so right now, I’ve got to figure out a way to make that happen. I haven’t worked it out yet (thank goodness I’ve got a few days off still), but I have worked out that it’s not the business per se which is the problem. It’s just my stress levels which need to be managed, so that I can learn to love my business just that little bit more and overall be better off. I’m not ready to throw in the towel, although I’m not going to lie – that option still holds some appeal (oh the freedom!).
A lot of you have emailed me asking, “How do you know when it’s just time to quit?” – and truly, that’s something only you can answer. I think the best thing to do is just what I did, really look within and imagine your life without your business. What does that look like? If you CAN’T imagine your life without it, then try to work out what the real problem with your business is. Is it the actual owning of a business which is the problem, something about or within your specific business processes, or something about YOU? If in your heart of hearts you really feel okay with the idea of bowing out – then please do so. There is no shame in deciding that this path is not the right one for you. There really isn’t.
My Dad (also an entrepreneur) once told me, “Maybe you just don’t have the balls for business. That’s okay. Some people don’t. Not everyone needs to.” He was right.
I’ve got the balls. I just need to figure out how to coat them in steel (or rainbow sprinkles.)