As you think about making this career decision, you may feel strong mixed emotions. This is normal. Career decisions for business family members often feel like they carry high stakes.
- Joining the family business can feel like something you were born to do – your destiny. And it can also feel like a duty or an obligation.
- You may consider a long-term career with an organization to be reliable and stabilizing. Or, the notion of a lifelong career may feel irreversible and confining to you.
- You might feel enthusiastic about making your unique mark on your family business, and also worried that it will be difficult to maintain your independence if your personal, family, and professional lives become more intertwined.
- Saying “no” can feel to you, or to others, like you are betraying your family, even if not joining is the right decision for you.
While it’s true that this decision is a significant one, the stakes are rarely as high as they feel. You can have a career in your family business that is energizing and varied. You can find ways to retain flexibility and individuality if you join. There are ways to decline joining without damaging important relationships. But, because the stakes are felt to be high, and because the emotions behind this decision are inevitably strong, you are at risk of making an emotionally-driven, non-analytical decision about this career choice.
In fact, research shows that individuals who grow up in business-owning families are more likely to forgo a careful career exploration process. They more quickly commit to their career choice, and find it difficult to avoid entering the family business. Business family members also tend to have a less clear sense of their own capabilities, talents, and career interests than those who grow up in non-family-business homes.1
Don’t fall into a haphazard exploration or emotion-driven decision process. Instead, aim for a decision-making process that is thoughtful, thorough, unrushed, and sensible. Sensible for you. Sensible for your family. And sensible for your family business.