What happens when your reinvention goes wrong? Did you get exactly what you wished for and now you realize it’s not quite what you wanted after all? Does a failed reinvention mean a failed life?
Whether your reinvention involves selling your killer salsa recipe, designing custom window treatments, or running a bed and breakfast, sometimes the plan doesn’t work out. When the writing is on the wall in dollars and cents, you can read it and quantitatively know it’s time to call it quits. The decision is often murkier when your unhappiness involves intangible work and lifestyle issues. Should you close a successful business because the reality of it isn’t what you expected and you really don’t like it?
Career reinvention is supposed to be a swap for the better: giving up a career you no longer enjoy for something that you enjoy more. That’s in theory. Many women, like those featured in this magazine, make the switch and are very happy with their new job, new life, and newfound happiness. I was one of those people–until the novelty wore off and the hard realities of my industry and running a business took over.
Leaving my public relations and writing career for business as a cake designer was exciting and promising. It was the creative outlet I had always wanted. Besides, after more than a decade of writing higher-education propaganda, it was time for a break. After earning an associated degree in culinary arts and spending a lot time on a few unsatisfying internships, I decided that at my age, doing it my way was the only way to go. We had the money for me to launch the business, and my spouse and friends were supportive. I was off and running.
From a customer’s perspective, we were a grand success. The workload was often more than we could handle. Wedding season weekends often meant five or six weddings and dozens of specialty cake orders, in addition to our out-of-control wholesale business. We were shipping our specialty biscotti and cookies around the country and supplying a famous store in New York City. We were featured in wedding magazines and on television. So what did I do? After almost five years, I voluntarily closed.
Why? Just before Christmas, I got a wake-up call: A possible heart attack. (Just stress and anxiety after all, thank goodness.) The glamourous view from the outside was very different from mine: 70-hour plus work weeks, and six or seven days in the kitchen. The cake business is rough. If employees made a mistake with a wedding cake, I was the one who had to stay into the wee hours on Friday night rebaking it for a Saturday wedding. I absolutely hated Fridays. They usually meant more than 18 hours on my feet. And, ask any restaurateur or caterer about working with perishables….
Business owners know you can’t do everything, and you must delegate and outsource, which I did. Talented, creative and dependable cake decorators and designers are very hard to find. We grew too quickly. I had managers who didn’t, and so costs went wild. Being the chief creative force, I had to spend most of my time meeting with clients, designing and decorating complex cakes, and overseeing the overall process. I couldn’t handle it all anymore.
The more time I spent running the business, the less time I could spend doing the creative designing and decorating that I really loved.
I’m not trying to be a stick in the mud. I’m still a big fan of reinvention: jump in with both feet, but be educated and keep your eyes open. Do research, spend time with people who do what you desire, and ask them — and yourself — the hard questions.
And if it still doesn’t work out? Just as when you left the last job that left you in misery, put yourself first. Decide it’s time to turn off the lights, shut the door, and start planning your Reinvention 2.0. Who says you can only do it once?