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Very Subtle Difference, But It’s Actually Huge

Working in a family business can be a fantastic experience, and it can also sometimes be pretty dreadful too.

For some people, it’s actually possible to live both versions at different times, and it can even toggle between the two.

One of the biggest contributors to whether the experience is positive or negative, comes down to how the person actually feels while they are there.

The lucky ones feel like they truly belong, while the others are always making an effort just trying to fit in.

This week, we’re going to look at the differences and see if we can learn something. I’ll also share a personal perspective around how my own life and career have evolved.

Belonging to the Family – Hopefully a Given!

The idea for a post on this topic came to me a few weeks ago, during a meditation session using the Calm app.

While contemplating what I’d write about this week, I decided it was time to take this one up, and lo and behold, this morning during my meditation, it came up again, so now I have no choice.

Writing about business families and the challenges they face, especially around their generational transitions, there’s almost always an opportunity to contrast between how things affect the family versus how they impact the business.

When I think about a family, I like to believe that all members feel like they really belong, and that hopefully every family member feels that way.

And of course I know it isn’t always the case.

Fitting in, In the Business

When it comes to a family member who joins the family business, my bias is that it’s much more likely that there will be some period where the newcomer needs to make a bit of an effort to fit in.

Eventually, the hope is, they will feel like they actually belong there.

It can take a while, and then it’s great when you gradually get there. 

But some people never do, and end up staying anyway, which I’ve seen far too often.

And what usually ends up happening then is that the longer they stay, the harder it is to even consider leaving.

I wish there were an easy solution to this frequent dilemma, but there isn’t. 

The simple answer is that they should leave and find someplace where they’ll be happier, somewhere they can feel like they belong.

But as I always say, simple and easy are not the same thing.

A Huge Case of FOMO

In some cases, one of the major factors is FOMO, a.k.a. Fear of Missing Out.

When there are a number of family members who are working for the family business, it can be difficult to be the only one who opts to do something else.

To willingly exclude yourself, you need to have the courage to take a stand and not be lulled into the morass of “one big happy family”.

But please realize that the “one big happy family at work” is not as common as it might seem. 

If you’re working with your family members and it feels like it takes a lot of effort just to fit in, that’s probably a big clue right there.

You might ask yourself what else it is that you are missing out on in your life, that you might find if you left.

Mustering Up One’s Courage

It can take a whole lot of courage to make such a bold move, but others have done it and lived to tell the tale.

Some coaching or therapy may also be a huge catalyst to make such a change, because courage often comes more easily when bolstered by an independent outsider.

This Is My Life

I hinted that I’d share something personal, so here goes.

I joined the business my Dad had started because of a sense of duty to do so, because it was a message I received constantly while growing up.

I was lucky that I did feel like I belonged, in both the family and the business.

Once we sold the operations, though, I worked mostly alone for a couple of decades, which did not suit me, but I didn’t know how to get myself out.

Now that I’m working with other families and with great colleagues, I’ve found the place where I belong once again.