“My father is so good at everything he does.  Everything he touches seems to turn into gold.  He is revered by his employees and respected in the community. I am not sure I will ever be as good as my father!” These were recent sentiments shared with me by the child of a successful business owner. Have you ever wondered what it would be like being a son or daughter in a successful family-owned business? On one hand, the perception is that it is such a blessing since business success affords the opportunity to enjoy some of the finer things in life. On the other hand, being the son or daughter in a family business can be quite challenging because the microscope is always upon you and at times it appears surpassing Dad’s or Mom’s accomplishments is insurmountable.

During my travels and interactions with business owners and their children, I frequently encounter adult children who feel as though they are living in their parents’ shadows. Generally, a person who has built a highly successful family business is extremely driven, hard working and all consumed by his or her work. Often the children of these driven business owners are raised in privileged environments and find it very difficult to create their own identity. Other times the children harbor resentment because their mother or father spent more time with their first born child, the business, than they did with their real children during their childhood years. The fact is that it can be very difficult to be the child of a successful business owner.

Consider John, an adult child of a very successful business owner. John commented recently, “My father is good at everything he does. He’s got the Midas touch.” John feels as though everything comes easy to his father. The reality, however, is that John’s father, Jim, is an extremely hard working man who spends fourteen hours a day, six days a week working “in” and “on” his business. John knows his father works hard but, because of their different work experience, has difficulty seeing how his father’s success is directly linked to his all consuming work ethic and productivity. Perhaps John could benefit from gaining a different perspective. One of the keys to removing yourself from your parent’s shadow is to venture out and blaze your own trail creating successes of your own. This can have a profound impact in building self esteem and self confidence. One of the best things a parent can do to ensure their child’s success is to require the child work outside of the family business before seeking employment in the family business. This allows the child to develop self confidence as well as gain valuable experience to bring home to the family business. It is a win-win situation.

Let’s consider a second scenario with Keith, an adult child whose only experience is working in his family’s successful business. Keith’s experience is very different than John. Keith, too, is living in his father’s shadow, but he is troubled in a different way.  Keith harbors resentment because his dad, Peter, was not around when he was a child and Keith does not believe business success or building huge bank accounts and amassing substantial net worth can replace time spent with one’s children. Keith says about Peter, “he runs such a profitable business but whenever he is physically at home I can tell his mind is still at the business. When will he ever let up?” In this scenario, Keith desperately wants to spend quality time with his father, but again, finds it difficult because of his father’s success in business and the incredible shadow business success has created. Furthermore, all interaction outside of the business revolves around the business and virtually never involves just hanging out as father and son. How can Keith get out of his father’s shadow and become a successful businessman in his own right? Perhaps Keith could only benefit from working outside the company, gaining valuable confidence to later help him in his dealing with his father. Keith could perhaps model a different kind of work ethic in his own life and still find happiness in the family business and happiness at home.

Everyone has been blessed with unique talents and skill sets and has the opportunity to create their own path. Sometimes the path is within the family business and other times it is not. What is most important is that you pursue your passion and define your own path. Additionally, define what success means to you as each person’s definition of success is different. The bottom line is that it’s okay if it is a different path than your parents. Gaining valuable work experience outside of the family business will not only benefit your family business but, it will help develop you into a future leader who may be different but, is capable of becoming as successful or even more successful than your parents.

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