Sometimes the waiting is hard, especially when the future seems unclear. Many a potential successor feels deep doubts, impatience, frustration, unfulfilled…. Do I measure up? How do others see me? Will my chance ever come? Do I deserve criticism? Why can’t my accomplishments be recognized a bit more? Why aren’t my ideas getting accepted? Is this fair? Is this worth it?
As frustration continues, the potential for losing perspective grows. Increasingly, it is difficult to sort it all out. What part of what I’m feeling and experiencing is the result of me, my skills, my abilities? What part is attributable to others, to the family, to the business, to “the system…”?
The tendency is to begin to see oneself as a kind of victim, caught in circumstances beyond one’s control. One starts to find fault. The anger builds and nothing seems right. Every difficulty and every problem takes on larger significance. Communication dies as conflict grows and a destructive, downward vicious cycle is begun.
Unless that cycle is broken, dreams of loving family and successful business spanning generations become nightmares. Frustration happens when one’s needs are not being fulfilled. It becomes destructive when others are blamed.
“You are not giving me what I need…you are keeping me from achieving my goals…this crazy business (or family) is keeping me from getting (or having or earning or finding) what I need!”
To break the cycle, accusations must be transformed into questions and screams of pain must be understood as cries for help. When one is frustrated, one must learn to ask questions to gain information, feedback and perspective. Who do you ask? Others who might have similar experiences, mentors, and most importantly, the very people who you see as causing your frustration. What do you ask for? Honest feedback on thoughts and perceptions. Honest appraisals of performance and prospects. Most importantly, ask for help in assessing strengths and weaknesses and advancing toward your goals.
Don’t ask “When are you going to retire (and get out of my way)?” Don’t ask “What specifically must I do to be named president?” Don’t judge. Don’t blame. Don’t accuse. Seek information about yourself and your situation to improve your own understanding, your decision-making abilities and your capacity for action.
Ask yourself questions too. Try to clarify your own goals and your own motives. Get a handle on your own needs and try to see how your needs and the needs of your family business system mesh or clash.
With better feedback, clarification of the situation in which you find yourself and improved understanding of your own needs, some methods for coping with frustrations may become available. You may find that you can satisfy your needs within yourself — for example, you may decide that you really are a very good person and that you don’t need quite as much external validation as you thought.
You may decide that your needs do require external resources for fulfillment, but that you’ve been looking for too much in one place. While maintaining your role in the family business, you should be looking outside for certain satisfactions. Friends outside the business, other investments, other organizations, your own spouse or children can provide need fulfillment in ways that your family business might not match.
As you gather feedback on yourself and understanding of your family business system, you may be able to improve your satisfaction level by redefining or gaining perspective on your frustrations. By seeing your situation as “normal,” temporary or unavoidable, your pain may be reduced to a tolerable level. With discomfort eased, pressures pushing that vicious cycle may be reduced.
But you may also learn that your worst fears have validity, that you can anticipate continued and perhaps even greater frustrations. In this situation you have a very serious and difficult decision to make. You must conclude either that you will find a way to accept a chronically painful situation, that you will substantially change yourself, or that you will change your circumstances. Severely frustrated potential successors sometimes change their circumstances by taking short- or long-term leave from the family business. Sometimes that is the best thing to do.
Should you decide to leave, try to do it consciously and deliberately. Do it because you’ve assessed yourself and your family business and cogently decided that the best course requires separation. If you carry your frustrations, anger and resentments out the business’s door with you, they will reemerge in the context of your family, creating yet another set of dangerous conflictual cycles.
Our bottom line: Take responsibility for yourself and your feelings. Don’t cede that responsibility to others. If you can become part of the solution rather than being a part of the problem… if you can demonstrate maturity and leadership in dealing with real issues confronting the family business… if you can show your ability to get your “self” in perspective and appropriately put your needs in the context of family and business needs… then, you may be closer to realigning your dreams than you had ever realized.
And in the meantime, we know many family business members who commit Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” to heart:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.