Six guiding principles to keep in mind as you evaluate whether to join the family business
Approach your decision with the right mindset
You’ve decided that it’s time—time to embark on the process of deciding whether to join your family business as your full-time career.
To approach this decision analytically, you will need to do your research, gather data, speak with family members, and engage in deep self-reflection throughout this process. While it’s important to consider the intricacies and nuances of your own unique situation, it can be easy to get stuck in details or preoccupied by certain emotions. Some next generation members experience what is called “paralysis by analysis” as they consider their options, and you don’t want to stall out there. So begin by zooming out to consider the bigger picture.
The following guiding principles can help you stay objective and centered as you make this important career decision.
Six guiding principles
Principle 1. This is, in fact, a choice. You have options. Stay open to exploring many of them. Maybe the family business is truly the right fit for your career. Or, maybe your interests, skills, and experience lie in a different sector. Remember, this is a career decision. It is not a decision about whether to support or abandon your family. You can support your family, stay actively connected with them, and contribute to your family’s activities while you pursue your career elsewhere.
Principle 2. You have agency in this decision and you need to take an active role. It might feel tempting to give in to pressures from your parents or other family members to join the business. This can feel good in the short-term, but lead to resentment and dissatisfaction in the long-term. Consult with others but don’t let them make the decision for you. Owning this decision will help set you up for success and satisfaction in the long-run.
Principle 3. Do not make this decision in isolation and then simply announce it when you’re ready. Talk with others––in and out of your family business––as you assess your options. To make a wise and informed decision, you need information and perspectives from a variety of sources. Take your time, and actively discuss your thinking with others. Family members will value the opportunity to be kept informed and involved in your process. Many will welcome the chance to help you think through this. Whatever you do, don’t surprise people.
Principle 4. Remember that life and careers are long-term "games." Look beyond immediate gratification or short-term gains, such as what would make you happy today or who you would please or disappoint right now. Give yourself space to reflect on how your career might unfold over the next decade, not just over the next year. Don't rush it. Think about how being employed in your family business will meet your long-term life goals, not just your short-term needs.
Principle 5. Pay attention to your emotions, but don’t let them cloud your analysis. This decision process may surface a variety of emotions in you and others. You might feel: excited about the prospects ahead of you, anxious about making a big life decision, overwhelmed by the opinions of others, fortunate to have this opportunity, uncertain about what you really want, or some combination of these and other feelings.
This is normal. Many people have mixed and strong feelings about whether to join the family business. As you speak with more people, learn more about your career prospects, and reflect on your life, it is common to bounce between positions (join, don't join, join, don’t join). As your feelings surface, take note of them. What are these feelings trying to tell you? What is underlying them? What might these feelings be hiding from you? Be sure to separate your feelings, assumptions, and expectations from facts throughout this process.
Principle 6. No matter what you decide, be professional and gracious along the way. Demonstrate a professional approach with your attitude, communications, and behaviors. Show the people around you that you are approaching this decision with care. You can use this decision process to build your reputation in the family as a thoughtful, respectful, and professional individual. Thank people for their time. Express gratitude for having the opportunity to consider this option. Demonstrate respect for the accomplishments and hard work of those who have built the family business
As you consider whether to join the family business, keep a big picture mindset. Remember that you have agency and options in this decision. Don’t rush it. Think about how your decision will play out in the long-term.
The process for making this decision matters just as much as the outcome. Involve others, listen to your emotions but don’t let them rule you, and be respectful of yourself and others along the way.