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Have you ever heard nothing but your own heart beating even though someone is sitting in front of you is appearing to speak?
In February 2012 I was a 35-year-old mother of three kids under 6 and an entrepreneur, the founder and CEO of a construction business. My doctor told me, “You have cancer and cannot go back to work. You have to have surgery and will need to rest for two months. No lifting, no stress, no work."
He appeared to be separated from me by a thick sheet of waxed paper that caused him to be significantly out of focus. The experience started when I heard the word "cancer" and came into full effect upon his uttering the words "no work."
I heard nothing but the sound of my own heart beating. It still happens sometimes (like now) when I think back on the experience.
As you read this, you're likely to think of a tragedy that has the potential to turn the lights off at your business. I want to share with you the first five things I did, which I think, made all the difference.
1. I called my insurance agent and told him the situation. I found out exactly how my business and family were covered by insurance. I wanted to know the financial implications if the worst-case scenario played out so that I could make the most informed decisions possible.
2. Next I called the person I trusted the most who understood my business and I asked for help — full-time, full-on help. I paid what it was worth.
3. I did my research and created a stay-alive plan for myself and my business. I studied cash-burn rates, resources and succession plans. I got crystal clear in the way that someone might be able to do only when all the chips are on the table.
4. Then I wrote my own eulogy. I didn't succumb to many pity parties but instead chose to treat the situation with an intentional response, as a pro would. I took time to say on paper the things I wanted to say. And this helped me become clearer about how I wanted the business to unfold while I would be out of the game — whether for two months or forever. I was clear on what I wanted in any case.
5. I told my staffers the truth and clearly communicated the plans to them.
The truth is that when an entrepreneur does this, some people might leave a company out of a belief the person won't make it or a lack of trust in the succession plan. But I found that the people who stayed on at my company gave me more than they ever had and the team that supported me and my business through the tragedy became stronger because of it.
In the end I survived cancer, decided to not return to running my construction business full time and opted instead to start a business helping other entrepreneurs begin businesses and scale them for growth.
I became clear not only about what I wanted from my life but how my business could run best without me — freeing me up to build the next big thing for myself with greater balance.
You live only once. If you are intentional about your plans, your businesses can survive without you.
And if you're lucky, you, too, can live on through tragedy with a healthier self and business.