Without My Business, Who Am I?

Emotional Faces

Many business owners are both ecstatic and terrified at the thought of life without their business.

Life Beyond Work 

Years ago, I brokered the business of an 83-year-old owner who had started her company in 1951 at the age of 29. Her name, face and personality were synonymous with the business, so it was with sensitivity we discussed retirement, hobbies, and the joy of family and grandkids, amongst other things. She agreed wholeheartedly, reaffirming her desire to sell. 

Two weeks before closing, I received a call I will never forget. In tears, she was clearly struggling with her decision to sell. She finally said with exasperation, “Without my business, who am I?” After 54 years as a business owner, she had no idea who she was supposed to be outside of her business. Even at her age, it was overwhelming. Like many owners, she had a difficult time separating her two lives—business and personal. She couldn’t comprehend life beyond work. 

Answering a Difficult Question 

The above scenario may seem extreme, but it perfectly illustrates my point. To a degree, every owner must face the question, “Without my business, who am I?” I would argue you’re not ready to transition or sell until you’ve successfully answered it. 

Why the struggle? Business ownership comes with privileges. As an owner you are needed. People depend on you. You are in control and your opinion is paramount. For some, being an owner and boss brings a gratification that may be difficult to give up. It can be troubling when realizing it’s coming to an end. As a result, you may not feel as important anymore.

When the Phone Stops Ringing

After one Canadian client successfully sold, he and his wife took a seven-day vacation for the first time in over 20 years. He called me upon his return. “My week was a bit surreal,” he said. “My phone only rang twice in six days, and those calls were from my kids checking up on us! Apparently, nobody needed me… nobody cared where I was or when I was going to return. It’s a little odd, but I can get used to it!” 

Who You Are, Not What You Do

As you think about retirement, considering a few key questions will help ease the ‘mental transition.’ These questions may include: 

  • How long since I’ve spent meaningful time with my family?
  • What have I shown my family to be my priorities?
  • Do I spend (enough) time on hobbies I enjoy?
  • Am I a good friend to those around me?
  • Do I regularly take time to create a healthy lifestyle? 
  • Am I able to contribute to my community on a regular basis? 

By honestly answering questions like those above, many owners will go through a form of self-evaluation. Results will be found in virtually every facet of your decision making, specifically your renewed levels of confidence and peace of mind. 

Honest Answers May Surprise You

Many owners approach retirement with ease and grace, welcoming it with open arms. Others struggle, as they venture on a quest to discover who they are and their purpose beyond work. 

Once the essential financial questions surrounding a potential sale have been answered, I challenge you to ask yourself, “Without my business, who am I?” An honest answer will certainly assist in your decision making process and eventual timing of a sale. Plus, you just might be pleasantly surprised.