Earlier this year, I made the logically sound but emotionally difficult decision to close a business I’d poured my heart and soul into for five years. It was one of the weightiest decisions I’ve ever made, with many people’s lives affected beyond mine. Because of that, I wrestled with my options for months, virtually paralyzed with indecision. I ran numbers and scribbled plan revisions and journaled and prayed and had more consultations with experts over coffee than I can count.
In the midst of the chaos, before I’d made my final decision, I was driving in my car, and a line from a song on Pandora nearly stopped me in my tracks. It was an impossibly upbeat song, toe-tappingly joyful in stark contrast to my mood. The artist was familiar to me (Jason Mraz) but the song wasn’t. You’re going to want to listen to it. It’s called “3 Things.”
Verses one and two go like this:
There are three things I do when my life falls apart
Number one I cry my eyes out and dry up my heart
Not until I do this will my new life start
So that’s the first thing that I do when my life falls apart.
Oh, the second thing I do is I close both of my eyes
And say my thank-you’s to each and every moment of my life.
I go where I know the love is and let it fill me up inside
Gathering new strength from sorrow,
I’m glad to be alive.
But it was verse three that really got me:
The third thing that I do now when my world caves in,
is I pause, I take a breath, and bow and I let that chapter end.
I design my future bright not by where my life has been.
And I try, try, try, try, try again.
This is insanely sage free advice for navigating the endings in our lives, business closings or otherwise.
Take a breath.
Let that chapter end.
It was this third verse that gave me a much-needed framework for processing the decision to close my business and thereby a substantial chapter of my life.
First, I needed to pause and take a breath. I allowed myself some space to collect myself, process my thoughts and feelings, and reach a clear-minded decision. I learned that you can’t rush this part. The clarity it imparts really matters when you are forced to explain the ending over and over again to everyone you know.
Next, I had to take a bow. My team had racked up some serious accomplishments during our time together, and we owed it to ourselves to honor them. We had a lot to be proud of in terms of what we’d built and the clients we’d served. Closing the business in no way changed or diminished that. The temptation can be strong to cast a negative light on the venture as it moves into the rear view mirror; it softens the emotional blow of the ending. The “I never liked him anyway” mindset from high school resurfaces. Resist it. It dishonors what you had and helps no one.
Then, I had to let that chapter end. Believe me, pieces of my psyche desperately wanted to find some element of the business to preserve and protect. I wanted to believe it would eventually achieve the vision I had for it, and I wanted to prove that I had the grit to persist until it did. But I came to the realization that if I kept funneling my time and effort into this venture, I wouldn’t have the energy to pursue the next one. Which brings me to last point.
It was time to try again. This ending wasn’t the end of my story, it was the end of a chapter (and a good one at that). The chapter didn’t end exactly the way I’d hoped, but it certainly guided me gracefully to the next one. Moreover, I was able to take what I’d learned from my last chapter and carry that wisdom with me into the new one, giving it an even better chance of succeeding.
Here’s my point. Startups, by design, might not work. They’re experiments conducted in real time. Sometimes they have a long life and sometimes they have a short one. In fact, fully 80% of them close within five years.
Too many entrepreneurs hold on for too long, unsure of how to let go gracefully. As a result, they drain their time, and their energy, and their bank account, leaving no space for exploring other options.
Clearly, there are times when unrelenting persistence pays off and success truly does turn out to be just around the corner. But when you’ve done the analysis and soul searching and the only thing keeping you from closing the doors is your fear of what people will think or your uncertainty about what you’ll do next, you need to pause and take that breath. A new chapter is waiting to be written. And it just may be your best.
Question: Have you ever closed a business? What advice would you give someone contemplating that decision today? If you’re facing that decision, was this helpful to you?