Ask Amy: I’m bored to tears and not sure what to do

Dear Amy,

I’m 27 and I’ve been working for my family’s restaurant since high school. I was away for college, but once I got my B.A. degree, I came back and now work in the catering side of the business in a sales role.

The restaurant is very successful. It’s been in our family for three generations, and my family is well known in our community. I’m an only child, and my parents have always expected me to take over the business some day. But to be honest, I’m bored to tears and I hate going to work.

I’m just not sure what to do.

– Sarah

Amy KatzDear Sarah,

I have spent most of my career helping people find meaning and satisfaction in their work. And that feeling usually comes when you find your work interesting and when it taps your strengths. When a family business can provide that, it can be a wonderful gift to the family and to the individual. When it doesn’t, it often causes frustration, concern and conflict, which can be damaging to the family and to the business. Your boredom is a sign that you’re not tapping your strengths or interests, and that you’re ready for a change.

You wouldn’t be the first person to surprise their parents with a career choice that’s different from what they expected. Of course, in a family business that choice can be more complicated, as you well know. But not wanting to spend your career in your family’s business is not a crime. It’s a problem to be solved… delicately, thoughtfully, and sensitively.

So here are a few questions to consider, and a few action steps you might take:

1. What do you find interesting? Do you like the restaurant business, but hate the sales role? I know one family that owns a restaurant like yours. One of the daughters lives in a city far away from the business and writes online food blogs for an online magazine. The other is studying to be a pastry chef. Perhaps you can build on your knowledge of the business, but take a different role-in a different place. Or, perhaps you already know what you would like to do… what would that require? Further education? A move? It’s important to know where you’re heading… not just what you’re desiring to leave. If your parents have some idea that you have a plan, this will help them appreciate your choices.

2. What message do you want to send to your parents by saying no to the business? It is important to let your parents know how much you value the business and what it has meant to your family. Offer to be part of succession planning for the overall management of the business. This set of conversations could also give you a chance to think through what being a potential owner might look like, if that’s an option. Succession planning may also help your parents consider selling the restaurant to someone they trust. I certainly would recommend that you and your parents talk with an advisor (or several) as you think things through. The important thing is that you indicate your interest and willingness to be a part of the process if they think that’s appropriate.

3. Remember that most parents want their children to be happy. Your boredom is probably already “leaking” a bit, and your parents (and other employees) may already know that you’re not enjoying your work. It’s far harder than we realize to “fake it ‘til we make it” when you’re working with your family! So your parents may not be surprised by your decision. They may be disappointed, but I suspect they’ll be far more understanding and supportive than you expect them to be.

Hope this helps-

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