Was it your nth- layoff from yet another company where again you had poured your heart and soul into a mission, a vision, a project that, if successful, would bring glory, promotion and a forever needed raise? You followed the rules, met and exceeded unattainable standards of work ethics and dedication. Busy bee, you even missed a few or too many of your kids’ events, and even special anniversaries. Most evenings you arrived home too exhausted to care about your spouse’s predictably similar day or to hear your kids announce the latest school drama. Instead, you sat in absent torpor in front of an agitated screen, still worrying about that latest deadline, just to rest enough so that tomorrow you’ll successfully beat another horrendous commute to the corporate beehive. Perhaps you even held in your hand a daily well-deserved beer, a glass of wine or straight whisky to numb the buzz of that annoying question whispering in the depth of your soul: What if? What if there was another way? Today the kids are grown and gone. Chances are  your spouse has moved on too with part of the assets you both worked so hard to build. Those moments of simple family bliss and happy chaos are forever gone supplanted by all the days at the office that you didn’t missed but can’t even remember.

At the end of days, weeks, months, years of too many hours working, diligently answering texts and emails during your vacation, working or traveling unpaid extra hours just remain “competitive”, it hits you in the face more painfully than usual that corporate loyalty is a one way street. They said upon hiring that your loyalty was expected, yet your company had to let you go because of outsourcing, right-sizing, mergers, or a latest CEO’s new fangled strategic plan that will make the shareholders happier and richer. Here is how it goes: you’re expected unbounded loyalty to the company, the company is expected loyalty to its shareholders. Its C-suite executives who are also shareholders happily comply. No one is loyal to you worker bee, and from the looks of it, you are not even loyal to yourself. No offense meant here, you were misled that the American Dream could be built out of enough W2 forms.

On this rosy pink Friday your income slipped from 100% income to a terrifying 0. Granted, in 20 +/- years, you have experienced a few of these, survived and sometimes even got a better job in the end. Still, these layoffs are increasingly frightening. Maybe you are in your 40s and 50s and becoming dispirited as you watch another generation of corporate veterans, almost of your generation, join the 12% unemployed amongst that age categories of 55+. One of your former colleagues of that age was laid off 2 years ago and is still looking for work notwithstanding the vagrant emptiness in his eyes, and rumors that his marriage is in trouble.

This morning, the mom and pop business around the street corner takes a new halo of interest in your mind. That small business, the one you have patronized over the years with your barely hidden self-satisfied smugness of one who is unto much greater missions, visions and resources. You deeply believed all that time that corporate provided more security to you and your family than the unpredictable small business world of Main Street America. Maybe this was true when your parents or grand-parents graduated from high school or college, got an entry-level job from a solid company and moved up the ladder to retire comfortably with a nice pension and a paid-off white picked fence. After all, in your mind, only a select elite of those educated, interviewed, groomed, trained and bent to the right shape, are hired to join the corporate masses of lucky ones who join a “family” of glorious slaves. Others less fortunate, opened a dry-cleaning business to clean the suits of corporations. Sadly, over decades of changes in corporate America, you and million others haven’t noticed that gradually, as the power of workers’ unions erodes, as the world opens access to free trade and cheaper labor routes, as corporations take on the persona of real human voters to cast and buy votes in our Government, income security for you and your family is not longer found in corporate America. Like a slow-moving tectonic plate, it just begins to sink in that maybe, just maybe, there has got to be a better way to live; that this senseless rat-wheel is leading to nowhere but to your exhaustion.

Today you ask the business owner you have known since she was scrubbing the floor of her first budding shop, how her 3rd restaurant is doing. Maybe you observe that your neighbor works as hard as you do but instead of working on someone else’s dream, he is busy growing his empire of multiple franchise units. Yet, he never seems to miss any of his kids events and, unlike you, he takes several family vacations each year. Maybe you asked what this couple is going to do after they retire and cash in on the equity they built over 20 years when they sell their small and thriving manufacturing business. As you were trading your time for dollars, they were trading time for dollars too, but in parallel they work hard at growing the value of their small biz which will translate into a nice exit package when they are ready to retire. You worked hard too but you worked hard on someone else’s equity.  Or maybe, you just envy the simple and modest life of this sign–making business owner who goes surfing anytime the wave is good. Perhaps, as you suffer that dreadful commute every morning, you wonder what kind of lives are of those you see on the other side of the freeway and who golf while they “network” among peers. Or possibly,  you envy the mom who seems to have it all, time for her three kids’ activities, time for her daily workout that keeps her in amazing shape, and time to pursue her passion in her small business that she operates semi-absentee while a manager handles the day-to-day operation of her downtown store. Yes, she might even hold a Stanford Bachelor’s degree, or even an MBA. And what good it did her, right? Maybe you are dreaming of a business that you can operate from anywhere in the country or even the world, and where you could ski or dive to your heart’s content between calls with your remote clients.

This morning rings your wake-up call from this American nightmare. In my practice as small business advisor to those exploring their options in business ownership, I frequently witness heart-crushing desperation in the eyes of former employees whose self-image was shaped by decades of companies’ corporate values and who suddenly find themselves become irrelevant, obsolete and replaceable by younger albeit less experienced, but more malleable and cheaper versions of their them. It is painful, but let me reassure you: that painful wake-up call might just be what you needed in order to open your mind to another parallel world. A world alongside which you have lived all your life but you have not really seen. One that you never took time to understand. In my next articles, I will reveal a different approach to a fulfilling LIFE, one that you may not have considered. A LIFE, as in Lifestyle, Income, Freedom and Equity that you will consciously design to fit your priorities. I will show you that you really are the CEO of your life, and that your life IS your business. We will discuss how to go about designing this new chapter of yours to a better, happier and more fulfilling existence. We will examine several approaches to business ownership and how you can identify the best one that matches your strengths, talents, and your goals. Business ownership is a tool, a vehicle, and also a machine to human relationship that needs to be managed between you and your business. The best business is unique to you. It is the one that is most in alignment with who you are, and with who and with what is important to you. It all starts with the vision and the mission for your life with you as the author and creator.

To be continued…