You are in the process of selling, or have recently sold, your business. Today you are ecstatic about the retirement you always dreamed of. Tomorrow you are in the dumps that someone is dissembling your business. The emotional ups and downs are confusing and impacting your life. You are ready to get off the roller coaster of emotions. It might just be time to see a grief counselor.

As an entrepreneur you have been nurturing the business for years. It is not just a business. It is your baby. You conceived of the idea. You watched it grow up while giving it your full love and attention. It is natural that you are feeling mixed emotions as you separate yourself from your baby. This is grief.

"All loss is loss. Some losses have greater impact than others", says Nancy Moreau Battaglia, a premier loss and grief counselor. Major losses are often a catalyst to a change and a redefinition of who you are. Grief is unique to every individual, and each individual will move through it in their own way. Each of us needs to be afforded the time and opportunity to integrate their own experience. Give yourself, and others, the dignity of that unique process.

There are a number of variables Moreau Battaglia says contribute to your experience:

  1. Level of Attachment to the Business - How many years has the business been in your life? In what ways has your identity, or at least part of it, been tied to the business?
  2. Perception of the Loss - Did you choose to sell the business? Did circumstance force you into the sale? Recognize that even if you chose to sell your business there can be a profound grief reaction.
  3. Support System -Do you have people with whom you can honestly share your feelings? Can you connect with others who have faced a similar experience? How you well can you articulate your feelings?
  4. Time to Adjust--Did the sale happen over the course of three years or three months? Did you have time to process grief?
  5. Past Experience- You may have built resiliency from previous losses. Those skills can translate to the present, yet the loss of your business may trigger emotions from previous experiences of loss too.
  6. Secondary Loss--The business is the primary loss. It is important to understand there may be secondary losses as well. Examples include relationships with people in the organization, future plans tied to the business, or perceived changes in social status to name just a few.
  7. Type of Griever--Dr. Kenneth Doka states there are two primary types of grievers - instrumental and intuitive - although most of us fall at a place on this spectrum. Instrumental grievers typically process through "doing" and may jump into another business immediately or become much more physically active. Intuitive grievers are "feelers" and may experience more emotions, or lose energy or motivation. Neither is right or wrong, they are simply different ways people move through their grief.

The more successfully you can integrate the loss, the healthier you are ultimately going to be. It isnot about getting over it. It is about getting through it and integrating the experience. Moreau Battaglia recommends these suggestions to help with the healing process.

  1. Acknowledge the loss and give yourself permission to grieve. Loss hurts. A lot of people want to run away from it. Stay open to learning about yourself through the healing process.
  2. Use this as a time to redefine yourself. Determine what is important to you - take inspired action.
  3. Get support. Consider a licensed therapist or qualified life coach that specializes in grief.
  4. Surround yourself with people who understand. You will have questions, from philosophical or day-to-day life, that others may not understand or appreciate. Why am I feeling such mixed emotions? Am I expected to pay for everyone's dinner now that they know what we sold the business for? My wealth manager, Blair Cannon, hosts private events to connect his network of entrepreneurs to do just that. Maybe yours does too.
  5. Engage in physical activity. Find a way to get the energy out.
  6. Give yourself time. Be patient and gentle with yourself while you go through the healing process.

As you move forward, remember you are not the same person you used to be. The experience will shape you, change your behavior, and impact future decisions. If you decide to start another venture you may show up differently than you did before. You may be hesitant or not invest as much, you may be more present and incorporate valued lessons. None of this is good or bad. Things will just be different.

It is also important to be conscious of how you show up in your relationships. When one part of your life feels out of control you may try to control other aspects. Keep the dialogue open about addressing any concerns that may come up.

Selling your business can be stressful, and yet you can also feel similar emotions when retiring, getting let go, changing jobs, or completing a major project or life event (think triathlons or weddings). By understanding the experience and getting the right support through the process you are setting yourself up for success.

We will all experience loss, and I honor and respect everyone who has lost someone or something important in their life. May you be surrounded with the love and support you need for your healing journey.

Do you have insights to share? Please contact me directly to explore the possibility of doing a future article together.