For too many people, staying in the family business is the easy way to worm out of difficulties of adult life: finding a place where you fit in, discovering what you love to do, and living with the fear of rejection. Especially today, with a dried-up job market, the family business is a way of avoiding a difficult job hunt.

I worked in a family business — a bookstore. I started when I was eight, selecting titles for the early reader section, and by the end of college I was a walking card catalogue. After so many years, I was the heir apparent to the store. But I wanted to do something else. I just wasn’t sure what.

Fifteen years and three careers later, I am certain that there are three things you should do before you decide to settle down with your family business for the long haul:

1. Figure out your dream job. Don’t worry about being realistic. Rock star, movie producer, politician: everything is fair game. Then decide if you want to go down the path to fulfill that dream. Don’t feel bad if the dream is impossible – many dreams are not realistic, but they contain gems of truth. For example, someone who dreams of being a rock star probably wants to be creative at work. The exercise of dreaming helps you to figure out your core needs. Once you know these needs, take an honest look at the family business. If you cannot fulfill your core needs in the family business, you should leave.

2. Get a job. Even if you are sure you’ll stay in the family business, get a job outside of the business. Job hunting sucks, which is why you should do it. The process is humbling and scary because on one level, you are asking someone to pay you to work so you can eat; at another level, job hunting requires understanding yourself well enough to talk about your dreams, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You need to experience what it is like to ask for a day off from someone who doesn’t love you. Working for someone outside your family helps you to interact effectively with all people outside your family. This process is a rite of passage, and if you don’t go through it, you risk stunted growth.

3. Take a large risk. If the entrepreneur is on the high end of the risk-taking scale, the kid who stays in the family business is on the low end. At the end of life, the thing people most often say they regret is not taking enough risks. Make sure that staying in the family business will not make you wish later that you were a risk taker. If you take a large risk early on, then you can be more certain that you are not staying in the family business because you are scared of taking risks. Risks are different for everyone — a mountain for one person is a molehill for another. Find something that scares you and do it.

Adult life is about learning what matters to you and creating a life that reflects your values. In order to know what’s important, though, you need to see the world. Take time to establish yourself independently from your family — at least for a while — so you can see yourself more clearly. Whether you stay in the family business or go somewhere else, you’ll be a happier person for making the decision honestly.

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  1. James Stephenson
    James Stephenson says:

    Sometimes the biggest risk may be jumping into the family business with both feet. As you mention there are issues about limiting your career choices, but the biggest risk may be in dealing with other family members who are jealous or feel that they are the ones who should be taking over a family business. The risk of alienating family members may be one of the greatest deterrents to younger generations of family members joining family businesses.

  2. Terri
    Terri says:

    25 years ago my family invited me to come work in their Video Store. I first helped by working for free for a year then managed the store. The stores were very successful and four more stores were added. My dream of opening a health club happened. I planned the entire project and when it opened my brother decided he needed to become friends with the employees. Soon I had no one to work weekends and everyone wanted to be my brothers favorite. Since it became me or my brothers friends I was out. My brother had given me 10 percent of the company so they gave me a building to get rid of me.After the business lost 200,000.00 I came back and cleaned up the mess. I was back in, I ran the business successfully and even opened a second club. history has repeated itself. I was dumb I trusted my family and now I have nothing to fall back on.

    • Roth Ira Accounts
      Roth Ira Accounts says:

      The one business I finally settled on was Affiliate Marketing. If you are not familiar with what it is, it is where a person sells items on the Internet that he/she doesn’t own. These come from other companies who have affiliiate programs. The person selling the product gets a per cent of the sale

  3. Freelance telesales agents
    Freelance telesales agents says:

    It’s always a tough one this – mixing family and business (or even friends and business) can be a tricky tightrope to walk. Sure there are massive plus points, but the downside is that it can be truly nightmarish to sort out problems, especially if they’re caused by someone within the family.

  4. Chicago Realtor
    Chicago Realtor says:

    I am sure that doing family business has pros and cons. Our family does not have a business for me to follow, then I have to fight my own way to make things work. Which is not bad for me! This made me not rely on my family and made me very independent! But at the same time, I always wish that we did have a family business that we could hand down to our kids:-)

  5. finance review
    finance review says:

    I haven’t been to your site before but it certainly has some really really awesome stuff. Great work with it. i certainly agree with your article here. One of my cousins did something similar. And she eventually found out that she was really needed. it’s some thing that would come across when your service goes missing.

  6. Card Offers
    Card Offers says:

    Well family business is something which gives good back up for some whilst giving a pain in the a** to the others. I think it really depends on your thoughts and the way you look at it and your ambitions .

  7. LA Locksmiths
    LA Locksmiths says:

    As an owner of a family run business myself, I think I have a good idea of where you are coming from.

    IT takes nerve to leave the family heritage (if there is any). I can only hope that one day my kids will be running my business successfully, and I think i would feel some hurt if any, if not all my children decided to go in different paths. However, they are my children and they should be happy.

    I have startedLos Angeles Locksmiths from the ground up, and hope that my kids will be able to live great lives from all the hard work I am putting into it.

  8. load song
    load song says:

    Hey, you have a really awesome blog. I really like it. Great advice here. I’ve got a friend who is involved in his family business. But doesn’t like the whole thing. I can tell him about this. Thanks.

  9. Earn Quick Cash
    Earn Quick Cash says:

    Being retired, you get to have a lot of time on your hands. I did volunteer work, completed my Masters in Computer Science, read, watched TV, but wanted to do something to occupy my time, plus bring in income. Having just received my Masters in Computer Science, I wanted to take advantage of it, so I started looking on the internet for a computer based home business.

  10. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    For me it would have been easier NOT having a family business. As an only child (20 yrs ago) I somehow feel this absolute to make my parents proud even if it means sacrificing what I want, which I don’t even know what that is. Thing is, I started the business with my father a couple years ago (still critical where I am needed to help run it) and and feeling more and more lost in life. Especially since I hate what I do. I dream of just leaving my life behind to experience one that I’ve never had. A life where I don’t put my parents wishes for me first over the wishes for myself. In the business I have I would be set. Never have to worry about money or losing my job. As I get older I feel more and more lost and tried to make myself believe this is what I want. If I don’t know myself, how do I know that this may actually be what I want or even what I don’t want.
    I have nothing holding me back, i.e. responsibilities, spouse/children, obligations or commitments except the fact that I would lose the relationship I have with my parents.

    My short story may sound very sad and depressing, but reading this article helps me to realize that what I think I need to do is what I actually need to do.

    • Harry
      Harry says:

      Thanks for your comments. Your journey really reminds me of my own, especially of not knowing yourself enough to know for sure what you want. It’s a mental trap. In the end, you have to figure out what’s truly making you unhappy. It’s probably the reason related to the above article which means you didn’t take enough risks. Another reason is feeling like you don’t truly have control or real decision making power. You feel like your input is not valued or taken seriously. Let me know what you’ve done in the meantime and how its worked out for you. Thanks.

  11. 2base-tl
    2base-tl says:

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  12. 67 vanner
    67 vanner says:

    I just gave my notice to my father last night. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. The family business is all I have ever known. I feel like I have given up and let everyone down by leaving. But I just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m constantly trying to do what is right for the business and what my father wants that I feel my needs are not being met. I’m working towards his retirement and not mine. And although that may sound selfish…I am expected to buy the business and by that time I am 40 with a large financial commitment, just begining to work towards my retirement. I feel like I am buying myself a job…that I will work even harder at then I am now. So finally I have decided to leave. I’m scared but I also know today is the rest of MY life. I’m not sure how things could have been different…family businesses are very complicated relationships. We know how to emotionally manipulate each other into certain situations and it becomes very unhealthy. I’m hoping our father son relationship will benefit from my departure, but at this point it has to get worse before it can get better.

    • Harry
      Harry says:

      Hello, too bad this is such an old blog, but I would love to know how this has worked out for you. I’ve thought often of leaving our family farm because of working for parents with different ideals and work ethics. I’m expected to buy a farm that I don’t feel confident I can manage or even enjoy the work. I fear that I’m setting myself up for business failure if I continue in something I’m not passionate about.

  13. MsMonkeyMind
    MsMonkeyMind says:

    This is very pertinent to me right now. I started with the family business (rather, partly family owned),straight after college and built the marketing department from zero, now to a fully functioning team of 5. It’s my baby. I mostly really enjoy my job. I love working for my father, we get on great for the most part. I like feeling like I’m contributing to the family’s fortune. The trouble is it’s not entirely owned by the family and I feel like I am giving up far too much at the start of my career. I carry a lot of responsibility and my father would lose a lot if I go, but I feel I need to move on for the sake of my own personal development, for building my resume. At the same time I am scared/reluctant to leave because my current role is secure, supported, interesting, and familiar. I am scared if I will hate my next job and regret the move! There are always opportunities coming up and I am concerned that I will miss a fantastic one if I leave… but yet that will always be the case. I don’t think there is ever a good time to leave…. Perhaps I should make a pros and cons list. Does anyone have a similar experience?

  14. yessuree
    yessuree says:

    Great Blog, thank you for the advice and encouragement. I recently decided to leave my family business and it has been a huge weight that was lifted off my shoulders once I told my father. I struggled with this decision for a long time while many people insisted that I would be crazy to do such a thing. I am grateful for the experiences I’ve had but I am ready to take that leap of faith on move on.

  15. Matt
    Matt says:

    It’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only one in this position.. from the feedback this blog has received there are quite a few people out there struggling with the exact same problem.

    I joined the family business around 4 years ago after my father’s business partner of 25 years was diagnosed with cancer. As a result he was forced into early retirement and the future of the business was uncertain. Since I joined the company it has gone through some major changes, most of which inspired by myself. We are in a specialised, growing market, and we are very successful at what we do. I know that if I stayed I would be guaranteed a solid income for the rest of my life. The general unspoken assumption from everyone at this stage is that I would eventually take over the business.

    Although I have success and money on a plate, I’m at a crossroads and don’t know what to do for the best. There’s a part of me that feels trapped, almost as if I signed my employment contract for life. My finance (also of 4 years) has moved here from her home country to be with me. She gets very homesick a lot of the time and there’s a big part of me that just wishes I could pack up and live with her overseas. I feel like I would be letting my father down if I told him I’m leaving. He had told me in the past that I’m free to do what I like, but when it comes down to it I would feel very guilty. I know that the more I become involved, the harder it will be to leave.

    I think I need to weigh up everything and decide for once what’s best for me, for my life.

    • Jenny
      Jenny says:

      Hey Matt, I am in a similar situation as you. I am wondering if you have gotten to the point of making a decision? I am hoping I can learn from other people’s experience so I can make a decision myself.

      • Matt
        Matt says:

        Hey Jenny, in the end I decided to stay. When I posted that comment it was just prior to the Canterbury earthquake here in Christchurch (New Zealand). The quake and events following it changed my whole outlook on life. We had to relocate our office due to damage and it really makes you stop and appreciate the little things. There are still people in some areas of the city without power and water, so what I thought was major issue was really nothing by comparison to what some have to go through. Now I just take each day at a time and worry about the future. Wishing you all the best :) Cheers, Matt

      • Matt
        Matt says:

        Sorry Jenny, I meant to say “take each day at a time [without] worrying too much about the future”… It really does help :)

  16. Dexy
    Dexy says:

    Hey matt, i see everyone in christchurch is still keeping on after the earthquake, and the container stores have been set up for the locals.. And im sure it has made everyone appreciate each other including strangers and people around the neighbourhood. Did you get to see the ABs when they were there?

    I’m in this life long dilemma on whether to stay or leave the family business. My family came to auckland in 1987, lived in a caravan for a year while dad worked 3 jobs plus selling at the fleamarkets from the early mornings. 20+ years later we have a successful import/wholesale business and today i still play an important role in the company. I know that if i leave it would leave my parents handicapped, and the business deemed to be a mess without a family member’ eagle eyes to watch over everything, resulting in them to sell.

    I feel so guilty leaving, after what my parents have gone through to keep us afloat and to have provided us so much throughout our lifetime.It feels like i’ve lost my identity and direction. Now 30 and seeing friends living their lives without the woes and worries like i have, i’m taking some timeout to do some self reflection and reading to rediscover who i used to be and what i loved. Its a scary thought of going out there but i know i have to conquer my fears, for i know no can help me but me. Id be happier if my parents can sell the business, and live a worry-free retirement. They deserve to enjoy themselves while they still can.

    I dont want to be a martyr anymore, time to look and love myself and respect myself. I’ll always be there for them, i love them dearly, but time to do what is best for everyone.

  17. True Fu Schnick
    True Fu Schnick says:

    I actually find it easier to ask someone who doesn’t “love” me for a day off. Because my small family store is always in need of help, me leaving makes me feel like i am “screwing them over” because i need a day off. So instead of telling some fancy boss asshole i am taking a day (AND GETTING PAID) i have to tell my own father he will have to run around and pick up MY slack because i feel slightly sick or tired or whatever. Plus i get no pay.

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