Ep. #52: Is Family Guilt Undermining Your Business?

Are you holding back in business because you feel guilty about your family? Too many entrepreneurs do this, and it’s completely unnecessary. You can have an amazing business and enjoy lots of time with your family. Listen to this episode to learn about three common thought patterns that create unnecessary guilt that hurts both your business and your family.


Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you serious entrepreneurs shrink their bodies and build their bottom lines. Today’s episode is for every listener who is struggling to move their business forward because you’re feeling bad or guilty about your family.

I’m Kelly Hollingsworth, and if this is you I’m glad you’re here because this is a huge topic and it’s rarely discussed but it affects so many struggling entrepreneurs it’s almost too staggering to even think about. Maybe it’s a family member who’s struggling with a problem and you feel guilty that you’re not paying more attention to them or fixing the problem, or maybe it’s time away from family, or feeling that there are certain tasks that you should perform that you’re not performing. Whatever is raising guilt for you, I can promise you that guilt is a rampant emotion among struggling entrepreneurs so today that’s what I want to discuss.

I’m seeing a lot of this past week. For example, the listener I’ve been working with on her new business, Elena, is finding herself tempted to take on certain projects that don’t move her business forward and that don’t make sense for her but that will take up a lot of time, because she’s feeling bad about some things that are happening with some of her family members. She’s feeling as if it is her job to fix these things.

And many of us aren’t even in the businesses we want to be because we feel too guilty to disappoint family if we don’t meet their expectations about what we should do. There’s a great movie on this, Rounders starring Matt Damon, about a talented poker player who’s studying to be a lawyer because his “family” (i.e. the girlfriend he lives with) wants nothing to do with poker players. So he’s driving a delivery truck and slogging through law school classes when he should be cleaning up at the World Series of Poker. That’s an example of a thwarted entrepreneur who’s underearning due to guilt if I ever saw one.

Movies aside, the bus that a lot of businesses get thrown under is the school bus. I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs, or would-be entrepreneurs, I speak with who say, “Well, I would like to get this business going, but I’m the primary caretaker for my children.” We tend to think of this as a uniquely female problem, but it isn’t. In the past two weeks, I’ve heard multiple would-be hedge fund managers—all men–say to me that a big sticking point for them in their businesses is taking care of kids.

Three thought patterns about family that are hurting your business

So today I want to discuss three places we go awry in our thinking when we’re feeling guilty about our businesses with respect to our families.

“No one else can do this but me.”

The first place we go awry is with the thought, No one can do this but me or this thought’s close cousin I wonder why no one else is doing this.

We usually think these kinds of thoughts about our kids. Maybe our spouse, but it’s usually the kids, and with kids, it’s funny to notice that often when we’re thinking thoughts such as these, the “kids” aren’t really kids anymore. They are big, tall people who drive and earn money and play sports and win trophies and eat enormous quantities of food. They are people who are biologically capable of producing their own children, and one thing we would all do well to realize is that once a “child” is biologically capable of becoming a parent, it’s pretty safe to say that a lot of what we’re doing for them could be done by them instead. At the point when your offspring can have their own offspring, it’s pretty safe to assume that left to their own devices, they  will manage to find a refrigerator and keep themselves alive.

Whether you want to make beds for a child who is biologically capable of making babies is up to you, but one big problem that struggling entrepreneurs really suffer from is the idea that the labor-intensive tasks of running a household and feeding people and making sure everyone has clean clothes is inherent to being a good parent. If they don’t do these things they are not a good parent, and nothing can be further from the truth. There is a great book about this, it’s called All Joy and No Fun, and it describes why parenting has changed so much in the last several decades. With the advent of effective birth control, we’ve all gotten it into our heads that if we elect to have children, it is our responsibility to tend to them to the nth degree, well past the point that this tending is actually required.

And here I don’t want to sound like I’m thinking I’m perfect. I am not a parent but I do have two tiny dogs, and if they don’t like their fried eggs, I make scrambled eggs for them. So I get it. We want to do nice things for our loved ones.

But two very nice things that we can all do for our loved ones are a) make some space for them to learn life skills before they go out on their own, and b) create financial stability in the family, not just for the sake of money but so they can learn about entrepreneurship and how amazing it is.

My nephew has been working in the summers with his uncle who owns a few donut wagons, for example. These are custom-made food trucks that make and sell crazy-cool donut flavors like key lime and orange vanilla, and these donut wagons clean up over the summer. I think my nephew is so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about this business as a family member rather than just as an employee, and he would not have this opportunity if his uncle were holding back in business and feeling bad that he’s not spending enough time with his family and instead is working on the donut wagons all weekend.

Every coin has a flip side, my friends. Successful entrepreneurs think, what I’m doing in business is for the benefit of my family, and they involve their families. Struggling entrepreneurs think I am harming my family with what I’m doing in my business. How you think about this is up to you. I just want you to notice that what you are thinking is going to have a critical impact on your business and on your family.

“I don’t want them to feel bad”

Another category of business-killing thoughts that we tend to think when we’re struggling is I don’t want them to feel bad.

These thoughts are so seductive, because we are so indoctrinated to believe that what we do, the actions that we take or don’t take, determine how other people feel.

I remember when I was in high school I was very aware of how hard my mom was working to support us. She had to get up at 3 o’clock every morning, seven days a week, 365 days a year, there was no break from her job delivering newspapers. If she had a fever of 103, she had to go out in the snow and deliver newspapers. And so often she was in bed at 7 PM, and she didn’t show up for games where I was performing, and I never once felt remotely upset about that.

Recently I heard someone who was in exactly the same situation as I was as a kid, her mom was working hard like that, too, complaining that her mother had never come to see her cheer at her games in high school. Identical situation, completely different response. Why? Because of what the kid is thinking.

Some parents lavish their kids with material goods, and the kids are appreciative. Some parents lavish their kids with material goods, and the kids are scornful and disrespectful of their parents because they think that their parents are kowtowing to them and sucking up to them.

So here’s a tip you can take to the bank: you do not control what other people think, so you can never control how they feel. If you find yourself saying, “this thing I’m doing isn’t really working for me but I have to keep doing it because I don’t want anyone to feel bad,” stop immediately and recognize that you are on entrepreneurial thin ice. Whenever you’re doing something to control someone else’s feelings, you’re throwing good effort into a rabbit hole, because their feelings are up to them. They are wholly outside of your control.

“Earning money is going to take time away from my family.”

This is not to say that I don’t think you should spend time with your family. I think you should spend a lot of time with your family. One of the big reasons that I want everyone to learn how to earn more money is so you can work less and enjoy your time with your family and still cover your bills and meet your financial goals. When you learn to earn more, a huge byproduct of that is time.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to be a high-earner is so it doesn’t take me all the livelong day to earn a living. I can cover my monthly expenses working about one day a month. If something goes awry in my family and I want or need to focus on whatever it is, or if I have a personal situation that I need to take care of, it is good to know that I have a huge amount of free time every month at my disposal to devote to my family, and that doing so is not going to send us off of a financial cliff. Yes, it would cost me something to work only one day a month, and I enjoy working and I enjoy the extra money, but it’s nice to know that it is not a necessity. I can work very little and still take care of the things that I need to take care of.

People who are struggling to earn invariably think that more money equals more time away from their family, and this is one of the biggest lies ever. The more money you earn, the more free time you enjoy. You can buy free time if you earn a lot, and if you earn a lot, you just don’t have to work that much to have all the money that you want and need. So check your thinking. If you are thinking that earning more money is going to hurt your family and take time away from your family, think again.

More Money Builds a Big Safety Net

Not only does earning more money buy you time, it buys you a huge safety net. It is so good for your family if you earn a lot of money.

One thing I love about my family is that we had virtually no safety net back when I was a kid. When I was a waitress working my way through undergraduate school, I was the highest-earning person in my family. That’s how broke we were. And all of us, through a combination of education, hard work, frugality, we are all on much more solid footing now. And the benefit of this is if anything happens to anyone in our family, there are resources to help that person out of danger and back to safety.

You are not facing a hard choice between your business and your family

The last thing I want to say today about family guilt and how it’s unnecessarily affecting your business is this: when people want to throw their business under a bus and say, “my family comes first,” that sounds so lovely. Few people would ever fault you for saying that. But the trouble with that sentiment is it’s an excuse. If there is a grizzly bear coming at you, and you are forced to make a choice. It’s either your business or your family, the bear is going to devour one of the two of them and which is it going to be, of course you would choose to save your family and toss your business into the jaws of the grizzly bear.

But when struggling entrepreneurs say, “my family comes first,” it’s a lovely sounding lie, because there is no marauding grizzly bear charging at them. They can easily have a terrific business and also time with their family. Many, many successful entrepreneurs figure this out. So don’t lay business failure at your family’s feet. Do not blame them, even for a second. It is not their fault if you are not successful. You are not facing a hard choice between your business and your family. There is always a third way, and if you’re thinking you’re spending too much time on your business, or if you’re thinking you can’t have a business because you have a family, all that means is you need a great coach to help you figure out how to clean up your thinking and how to lighten the load and earn more in less time.

If you think I might be the coach for you, and I seriously suspect that I might, let’s chat because I am on fire right now and I’m thrilled to be taking on new clients. kelly@richandthin.com. Email me and let me know where you are in your business, where you’re struggling, and we can chat. Or you can go to richandthin.com where you can access my calendar and set yourself up with a free consultation. I hope to hear from you if you need some help, and I also go join me for Thursday’s episode where we discussed how family guilt is affecting your body. Thanks and I look forward to talking with you next time.

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