How is self-sacrifice connected to the family business?

Business Leader Post, December 10, 2014

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Running the family business is almost always an experience of self-sacrifice. Managing it is a 24 hour job. The doors may close at 5:00pm, but that does not mean the responsibility for the ongoing success of the family business ends then. On the contrary, that responsibility can be all consuming during your waking hours. The managerial challenges and the financial challenges are like your belly button–you take them everywhere you go. You do not just carry the weight of succeeding for yourself. You also carry the weight of ensuring the wellbeing of your family as well as others who consider you like family.

Self-sacrifice, in addition to being emotionally and physically draining, is an over rated virtue. Being only human, we all expect, consciously or unconsciously, that others will somehow appreciate what we do. I have never seen a situation, however, in which the level of self-sacrifice is met by the expected level of appreciation. Denying your emotional needs in order to satisfy the needs of others fosters dependence in family members who end up resenting you for that dependence rather than appreciating what you “have done for them.” It can also create resentment in you towards family members and others as a result of that lack of appreciation.

I am not suggesting that you work or worry any less than you do. Part of the reason I do not make that suggestion is that it is probably your nature/ personality to be a “caretaker,” and I doubt that you could reduce your sense of responsibility to others in your behavior. I am suggesting, however, that you begin to include yourself among those who need care. Contrary to what your sense of self may be, you are not invincible. You have to take care of yourself physically as well as emotionally. The self–sacrifice stance, when not reciprocated with appreciation, can take its toll.

The well needs to be primed, as they say; and it is your responsibility to yourself as well as to others to take the time to reduce stress, relax and “smell the roses.” When you are relaxed, I guarantee that you will be able to review your family business situation as though you're seeing it from an altitude of 30,000 feet. With that perspective, it will be much easier for you to determine what needs to be done next; and you can take on your responsibilities with new vigor. Working out what is best for the future of the business and the family can best be done when you are physically and emotionally healthy.

Accepting who you are without the expectation of a reward is an existential challenge, but it is the healthiest way forward if you can accompany that stance with taking care of yourself first. Out of the hundreds of people interviewed who knew they had a limited time left on this earth, not one of them said, “I should have spent more time at the office/work.”