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Managing Grief and Building a Thriving Business

Managing Grief and Building a Thriving Business

With all the great business advice out there on the internet, I’ve heard very little about managing grief and building a thriving business. Which is odd because the last time I checked, businesses were run by people, and this life we live is filled with grief, loss and regret. Yet, the truth of the matter is that businesses don’t often survive the most challenging aspects of life because there’s no space for it.

Most business advice is devoid of any understanding of humanity or life outside of customer acquisition and market research. And even more often than not – businesses fail. This may be a result of lack of grit or a result of a lack of unfortunate circumstances, but according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more.” So outside of mindset or how you can find ways to do more with less sleep, we need to address how those, who are bold enough to build a dream, navigate loss, marriage challenges, family, divorce, decline in health, death, war, volatile economic and politic climates with building a thriving business.

And it took a lot of loss to bring me to this point.

I lost my father and my uncle within weeks of each other, after coming out of one of the hardest years of entrepreneurship I’ve ever experienced. Prior to 2023, I had 7 years of numbers that proved that my business was not only successful but it was ready to scale. But after taking the leap of faith to bet on myself, I learned everything I needed to know about what was wrong with my business that was preventing me from growing. And it was painful. I remember thinking that if I could just get to the end of the year, I could reconsider everything.

About mid way through the year, it became clear that my father was sick, he was loosing weight rapidly, and we couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with him. After scaling back my team due to an uncertain economy and whispers of recession, my father was hospitalized for a month, diagnosed with congenital heart failure, and eventually released. Selfishly, a part of my relief at the time was that I didn’t know how I could manage my “failing” business and my father’s failing health. He appointed me as his health proxy and he was hundreds of miles away. I had no idea how I could be in five places at once, being a wife, a mother, a boss, and now a caregiver?

The most logical option was making plans for him to transition from Boston to Atlanta, which we started to discuss, but two days before the new year began, my father was hospitalized again. This time was different. One of his friends found me through Facebook and told me that my father asked for him to call the ambulance. When I got in touch with the hospital, they said my father was facing multiple organ failure and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I left for Boston after having to consent to an emergency surgery over the phone.

I had to be there in person.

I spent the beginning of the year by my father’s bedside, consenting to things I barely understood, consulting with my doctor friends, crying, praying, and working. I slept on my aunt’s couch, left for the hospital first thing in the morning, took meetings in the waiting room, and watched as my father was in a medically-induced coma. I apologize to clients and tried my hardest to multitask but looking back, it was an impossible situation. My business provided for my family, my dad was dying, and I didn’t know what else to do but try to maintain a sense of normalcy. While absolutely nothing was normal.

Not two weeks into my trip, my family and I got news that my uncle, my father’s youngest brother, died suddenly. We were literally on the way to the hospital to get an update about my dad and his little bother, my favorite uncle, died suddenly. It’s still the most unreal thing that has ever happened in my life. Not only, was I coping with the fact that my father was most likely dying, my uncle passed away. I extended my trip to help my family with arrangements for my uncle before returning home to my husband and children.

Thankfully, my father was conscious when I left, he was able to talk some and he was expected to be on the road to recovery. One of the last things we joked about was his plans to escape. We laughed and cried, we even made a old school playlist, but most importantly there was some hope.

In less than two weeks, we had another meeting with the doctors, who explained to me that my father was in fact dying. His mental state was getting progressively worse and they were no longer expecting positive outcomes with interventions. They recommended moving to palliative care immediately. They didn’t even think I would make it back to Boston in time to say good bye. So again, laptop in tow, I hopped on a flight to Boston, but this time to say goodbye. I planned a short stay because I knew I’d have to go back to Atlanta to grab my husband and four children to prepare for a funeral.

I was devastated to find that they had begun palliative care before I could speak to him. During this stay, I stayed in the hospital through the day and night. He had a ton of visitors, countless family members, coworkers, and friends. It was beautiful being able to surround him with with love, laugher, and stories from his life while he was still alive to hear them.

It took nearly two week for my father to pass away and I won’t get into the what it does to a person to watch someone pass away, but it was difficult to manage my normal day-to-day and not feel anxiety from every phone call. On top of that, trying not to lose the confidence of my clients while I was in the worst emotional state of my life. Even now, thinking back to some of the conversations I had feels cruel. Trying to explain delays, while still holding on to dignity for myself and my family was an impossible task. As a business, we still had an obligation and responsibility to produce. Period.

My father passed away on February 10, 2024 and we laid him to rest on February 16, 2024. When we got back from Boston, I remember feeling both a deep sense of sadness and relief. “Well, at least it’s over,” I thought. Now I can grieve.

After everything that happened, I was surprised to find that it didn’t take months for people to move on from my loss. They moved on immediately because they had nothing to move on from. When I was still struggling to show up for myself and processing what the loss of a parent meant for me, it was as if, nothing had ever happened in the world around me. It, in fact, kept spinning. As long as deliverables were completed, no one cared that my dad died weeks ago or that my uncle died a few weeks prior to that. If deliverables had not gotten completed, I had real conversations about why it didn’t get done and 9 times out of 10, my trauma was not a reasonable response.

Why am I saying this?

What I learned about managing grief, life, loss, and scaling is that: Business isn’t personal, so if you want to scale a business that prioritizes people, you have to build humanity into your systems.

When I reflect back on everything that happened in just the first quarter of this year, I realized that my business can no longer survive in the way that it has. One of the beautiful advantages of small business is the accessibility and one-on-one attention we can offer our clients, yet this is the exact thing that prevents small businesses from growing or scaling. Especially when the accessibility if some from the CEO. When the CEO is impacted by life circumstances, small business close. When the CEO of a corporation is impacted, no one should feel the difference.

As fulfilling as it was for me to connect with people one-on-one and necessary to understand our clients, it was never sustainable. It was a phase in which we have outgrown because it is not scalable behavior. Scalable behavior is building systems that distribute responsibility, expectations, and accountability from one person to multiple people who are more than capable of getting things done.

Lastly, without this business, I would not have been able to show up for my dad, so I’m always reminded of the flexibility that entrepreneurship affords me and my family. And I have clients that have prayed with me, cried with me, and supported me through this difficult time. I want to celebrate them because it was essential for me in getting to the other side, but again, this is about managing grief and scaling in more sustainable ways.

What does this mean for TK?

After everything that happened to me this year, we brought in a operational organization to assess our processes and make recommendations on how we can improve. With their support, we are streamlining our communication to funnel through team and ensure deliverables are met more efficiently. This means that I will have less time with my clients, which is going to be an adjustment for me, but if I’m being honest, managing text messages, emails, and phone calls for hundreds of clients was not the best way to manage an agency anyway. The beautiful part is that my clients will finally get to engage with some of our amazing team members, who work behind the scenes to make us look good.

Lastly, this means that I will get some time to actually care for myself, grieve, and build a business that is actually sustainable. It means that I can build more opportunities to care for my family in their times of need and that hopefully I have space to actually enjoy what I’ve built. Also, if you want more insight on how to move from a small business mindset to a corporate mindset, listen to our Talkin’ with TK Episode with Ona Oghogho.

If you are a client who has questions about the upcoming changes for TK Consulting & Design, email accounts@consultingtk.

 

Takia Lamb founded TK Consulting & Design in 2016 and currently resides in southwest Atlanta, GA with her husband and four boys. She received her B.A. in Psychology from Spelman College and her Masters in Social Work from GA State University. She has spent most of her professional career in nonprofit management.

Her passions include strategy, storytelling, and photography. Outside of her work, she is all about community and is dedicated to supporting nonprofits and social service organizations.

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