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Letting Go

Sometimes, we need to let go of things.

It might be a lover, a job, an idea, a goal, or a dream.

Letting go is okay, though. It’s part and parcel of growing.

I’ve had to do it recently, and I have to confess: it sucks more than I know how to put into words.

I had a dream, you see, quite a biggish one; where I would set up, with some very good friends, my own security software business.

It had, like most such plans, come about due to another one not working out. The details are not necessary, but the downturn kind of screwed it up.

Why am I writing about this?

Well, I held on to that dream to the point where it hurt me (financially, mentally, even physically) and those around me. And that is foolish.

No matter how big the dream, sometimes, if you read the signs, get a feel for what is really going on, and every indication tells you that the timing or circumstances are not right, then you need to heed this and just let it go.

There is no rule that says you can’t come back to it, or have another go. In entrepreneurship, short of some legal rules about raising finance, there are actually no rules at all.

Having some failure, particularly after quite a bit of success (career-wise) is not something to be ashamed of (though I think it’s built-in in to Europeans!) However, trying to push on when it becomes rather plain and obvious that it’s not going to fly is silly.

You’ll learn a lot about your friends and colleagues during the process of letting go. Like if someone might blame someone else, or if the team is strong enough to admit that they should have called a time-out before.

Sometimes you won’t like what you learn. Other times it will confirm what you already know and make friendships stronger.

There will also be an issue of blame.

One or more of the team will blame one or more other team members that it didn’t work out. That’s short-sighted at best. Childish at worst. Sometimes things just don’t work out. In start-ups especially so. The finance falls through; a key team-member drops out; VC didn’t bite; the people you thought you could rely on let you down.

You need to grow up, learn, accept and move on. If someone feels you are to blame for it, hear them out, then pass on that advice. Hopefully you’re all adults and you all went in knowing it might fail, and planned appropriately. If you didn’t, you only have yourself to blame.

Letting go of a business dream is especially hard to do, because there is passion, love for the idea, and sense that you (yes, YOU) can change the world.

Sometimes you can’t. That doesn’t mean you should give up trying to change the world. It just means you need to know when the idea hasn’t got legs, and let it go, quickly, quietly and move on with your life.

Some signs it’s not working include:

  • No matter what you do, you can’t persuade an investor to come on board. – This is a sign that your business plan is not hooking investors. Consider getting a consultant in to help you, or abandon the plan and move on.
  • Someone promises something, and then it doesn’t come through. – Shit happens. Move on. You can get angry and pass out emails or letters or what-have-you, but if the person can’t, won’t, just generally doesn’t want to do what they said: nothing in the world will change that. It sucks, but it’s part of business.
  • You think it will happen in eight to twelve weeks. – It won’t. Ever. Whatever, in your mind or planning, you think it will take, time-wise, triple it. Even then, it might take longer.
  • You think you can do it for no money. – You can’t. Everything costs something. If you don’t have enough, do a friends and family round of pre-investment. Note: they will want their money back. Be prepared to pay it. Yes, out of your own pocket.
  • You wonder why you are the only partner putting your cash and time on the line. – There’s probably a deeper issue here, but it should have been sorted out long before it happened. If only one of your team is committing most of the time and money, and you have to borrow it from others, then there was little commitment to make it work in the first place.
  • You’re running out of money, fast, and it’s make or break time, but you know, just know, the money will be there soon. – It won’t. At least not in a time-frame to help.
  • You hate that you are always waiting for things to happen. – Get used to this, and try to remember, things only happen when you push them to, and when you want something from someone else, it’s on their time-frame, not yours.
  • You’re fed up with taking risk! – You’ll need to get out of being an entrepreneur then. This is what they do; and they are willing to bet “the farm” on making it happen. If you’re not, don’t do it.

Here’s what to do if any or all of the above are true:

  • Meet with your business partners(if it’s a business) or life partner (probably both), and put a final time-frame on when it’s time to walk away. Make it realistic. Don’t run out of cash.
  • Whatever that realistic time-frame is, stick to it. No exceptions. People go bankrupt on “just one more week”.
  • When you have done this, your time is now 50:50 for a) trying to make it work in the time given, and b) planning and finding out what you will do if the end time arrives and your plan has not worked out.
  • Learn from the experience. Preferably over a nice cold beer with your friends.
  • Failure is acceptable. It didn’t work out this time. Learn from it. Never make the same mistakes twice.
  • If someone puts you down for it not working out, it’s time not to have that person in your life.
  • Don’t burn bridges, unless you have absolutely no choice. You’ll still need people you might consider burning in the future, and you’ll always burn the wrong person; karma is always settled.
  • Communicate. You need to let everyone – EVERYONE – know your plans, so there are no surprises and they are clear. Family, business partners, your bank manager. Your bank manager is especially important if you are running out of cash to live on. A well informed bank manager can be the difference between ability to carry on living or being on the street. But, as you planned so well, you never let it come to that, did you?
  • Don’t dwell on it. This is really easy to say, and almost impossible to do. Try though, it will help to always be looking forward, not looking back; but living NOW.
  • Finally, never give up chasing your dreams. So, this one evaded you. For now. You’ll have others. Go for them. You’re worth it, and the world needs you! (But it doesn’t owe you!!)

Good luck in all of your future plans, I’m rooting for you!

Image Credit: Let Go by her wings on Flickr (under creative commons use).

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  • Donnette Davis

    This is a great post JB, well written and carefully thought out. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Anyone reading this post will be able to identify with one or more of the aspects you have mentioned.

    Wishing you luck in everything you do
    Much love

  • Justin Bellinger

    Thank you, D. I appreciate your kind words. :)