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COPING WITH FAILURE

The Hardest Part of Losing Your Company

When John Pepper lost his burrito business, Boloco, his family lost its bearings.

Last year, John Pepper, the 44-year old co-founder of Boloco, a chain of 22 burrito-serving restaurants, lost his company after 17 years. In 2007, John had sold some equity to a private equity firm, which decided to accept his resignation rather than sign on to a new financing deal that John believes would have substantially grown the company. 

When I spoke with John--who lives in Boston with his wife, Maggie, two young daughters, and a 9-month old son--I intended to write one of my regular columns about his experiences. But he spoke so well and candidly that I decided to just hand over the microphone. Below is John's description of the impact that losing the business had on his family, and how he is thinking about the future. 

I was up-front with my kids about losing the company. They were upset--especially my 10-year-old. Boloco had been a big part of her life. Tears welled up. She was mostly concerned: do we still get to eat at Boloco? But now she likes having her daddy around all the time.

At first, my wife was relieved. She had seen me in so much stress trying to create a meaningful future for the business and for myself. I had a severance, so we knew we'd be OK for a while. But I didn't know how I was going to spend my time. All I knew was that I had to work out every day. There was a public aspect to this: it came out in the paper. People started asking Maggie, "What's John going to do next?"

All of us have to feel that we're productive, adding value. For a brief moment I lost that. I did a meditation retreat in California that really helped. But when I returned to Boston I found that Maggie was as stressed as ever. She asked me, "Should we move? What are our options now?" I had been breathing, and surfing, finding peace, figuring there was a reason for all of this. But my better half was feeling anything but that.

Uncertainty affects different people in different ways. I'm comfortable with it and used to it because of the business. Maggie needs more certainty in her life. I often tell her that everything is uncertain, and that just because we don't know where we're going doesn't mean we can't enjoy today. But she feels the foundation of our lives fell out from under us. Despite the fact that she is sure my resignation was the right call, our family dynamics have changed. It's harder to be in the moment without worrying about the future.

Neither Maggie nor I understood the impact of me suddenly being around all the time. The boundaries are less clear: who should be doing what. Decisions she used to make alone, we now make together. And we don't always agree. There's more friction, but we're also getting to know each other so much better. 

Being at home has been great with the kids. I went to my first parent-teacher meeting this week. I love driving the kids to school now and have started doing homework with them. When I do stuff with the girls I don't sneak peeks at my phone anymore. I'm still in the honeymoon phase. Sometimes Maggie gets frustrated because I'm thoroughly enjoying the stuff she often finds repetitive and monotonous. But when you go from 100 to zero, you see a different side of life. 

I've always loved the car-service Uber and decided to become an Uber driver for a few months. Maggie cried when I first told her. She was worried about my safety. And this was not something she had signed up for--a husband who was an Uber driver. But I met great people. I got to spend a morning driving Elizabeth Warren around. I have a Tesla and a Jeep. It's been eye-opening to see how differently I'm treated by customers, depending on which car I'm driving.

When Maggie and I are feeling the stress of the unknown we remind ourselves that this is a window of time we've been given, and we should take advantage of it. But, in truth, I'm not sleeping well and am often tired from the stress of what's next. I try to keep reminding myself that there are no real problems here. Only uncertainty and fear.

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Last updated: Jul 3, 2014

MEG CADOUX HIRSHBERG | Columnist

Contributing editor Meg Cadoux Hirshberg is the author of For Better or for Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families. You can reach her at mhirshberg@inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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