How to step away without your entire business crashing

Back in the 70’s, I did some babysitting for my next door neighbor’s three kids, all under the age of 5, for, no joke, .50 cents per hour for all three children, not per child like they do these days.

It gave me some money of my own to buy some newer clothes that my single mom could ill afford, so I figured what the heck? Once a week, I walked next door so those better off parents who could go out for a date night and I was left in charge of two spoiled rotten hellions and an 8 month old baby.

Each were bathed, were made and given dinner, and put to bed – not once did blood spill or did we ever have to make the dreaded emergency call. This was before microwaves or cable tv was widespread and there was no such thing as the internet. I was 12 years old.

When my own babies were little, and we finally got the opportunity to go out for a measly 3-hour date night, I felt like I was drafting the magna carta with all the handwritten instructions given to MY MOTHER on what to do with this tiny human while I was away.

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She couldn’t possibly understand how to tend to this baby. THIS baby was different. This baby was special. This baby needed to be fed specific amounts at specific times, be rocked in a particular style or held this distinctive way, etc. So detailed were my thoughts, I firmly believed no one could possibly care for my child the way she was accustomed to, and therefore needed to be cared for.

That same song, third verse played on the proverbial radio when my daughter left her baby with me for the first time, and left me the same anxiety-filled instruction sheet to which I said, “it’s a baby, dear and I’ve raised three, I think I can handle it.”

Handle it you say.

There is something similarly internal, guttural and controlling about business ownership that makes us think that no one in the free world could possibly do our jobs if we were to die suddenly or heaven forbid, even go on vacation.

Why is it that we think that we have that level of indispensability? It’s not just business, it’s everything that falls within our tiny sphere of perceived influence.

Narcissism has been a capitalized word in the news lately, and it’s made me wonder if I struggle with the mental disorder. Not really, but then again, I used to feel the urge to create lists upon checklists to make sure every task, every verbatim word I would use when emailing a sensitive client, every calendar page was addressed, every important phone number was turned over, every conceivable hiccup that could come up was addressed before I went on anything beyond a 30-minute vacation.

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The older I get and the older my company gets, the more chill I become, but some of those controlling remnants remain. Recently, it was my turn to finally fall victim to COVID’s outstretched hand that laid me out flat.

Not only could I not do anything for anyone in the event that something catastrophic happen, in the deepest part of my fevered reasoning, I honestly did not give two buggers.

And guess what? The company did not collapse under the weight of my absent leadership, nor did the majority of my clients even know of my involuntary sabbatical.

I think my ego was a touched bruised, but really it turned out be a confidence boost. I’ve raised that baby well! 

I recognize this is a privilege to step away, and in the early days of our business it might have unfolded differently, and some business models (like solopreneurs in hospitality, for example) take a legitimate hit with even one day without the foot on the gas. But for the majority of time-tested businesses, taking time off will always be a stressor, even if nothing falls apart in their absence.

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Wisdom is knowing that it isn’t personal if the wheels don’t grind to a halt when you’re away. It’s a sign of a mature business model that systems, protocols, and revenue streams instinctively go into autopilot if you suddenly decide to run away or you have no choice in the matter of leaving at all.

Maybe that’s the sign that it’s okay to let the fledglings fly the nest. Your wings work just fine but they don’t always need to hover over adults capable of providing their own shade. 

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