12/10/2012 05:24 EST | Updated 02/09/2013 05:12 EST

Is Your Business Your Identity?


At the recent W100 Exchange event hosted by PROFIT magazine and Chatelaine, it seemed like an oxymoron to have all the top women entrepreneurs together in a room, and then have a panel share their stories of failure.

Yet, as I listened to two panel members share stories of failure in business and how these humbling moments had impacted them, it struck me how much our identity is tied up with our work. I mean, if you are not running your business, who are you? Certainly it was this identity crisis that surprised the two women entrepreneurs, who had been forced to close down.

Both had risked all to try and salvage their businesses, re-mortgaging their homes just to cover payroll. But there came a point when they had to face the hard fact that despite all their efforts, nothing could save their ventures.

A tough realization and one that changed their reality once they publicly 'fessed up that they'd reached the end of the road. For fashion designer, Linda Lundstrom, it was actually a relief to be free of the stress and responsibility of running her business. Yet, as soon as the news hit the papers, she received offers to buy the company.

In Sarah Prevette's case, the same thing happened. As soon as the demise of Sprouter was announced in the Globe and Mail, she received numerous offers. It is almost as if you have to hit rock bottom, and publicly declare it, before help can come. A sobering reality.

Back in 2001, Linda admits that her business was struggling, but she forged on, in many ways putting everything at risk -- her business, her relationships -- to ensure that the business stayed alive. It was an exhausting lifestyle and so when in 2008 the bank called in her $2-million loan, she knew she had nothing more to give, financially, physically or emotionally.

Now Linda did stay on with the new business owners at the Chief Creative Officer, a role she played for 15 months and then she retreated to her cottage in Muskoka, where she discovered the small pleasures of life, such as cooking meals for her family.

She took the time to get in touch with herself again. "I have always believed that everything is a gift." And if she was being honest with herself, she was really praying for relief from the world she had created for herself. In those three years, she found balance and stopped designing, wanting to focus on her family and getting rested up. Her new venture, which she has just started, found her.

While Linda is philosophical about the crash of her business, Sarah is still licking her wounds, but she realizes that it was her ego that got in the way. She didn't want to share and admit that things were not going well. Like Linda she has stayed on with the new owners to run Sprouter but will shortly be launching a new venture. Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur and as they both observed they're really not employee material.

In a society that is focused on success, it took courage for these successful women entrepreneurs to their stories of failure. It is not a topic we eagerly talk about and yet, as one of the women on the panel shared failure can be a leadership moment. In fact for Linda her view of success has changed and is less about money, and more about how she feels personally.

It also flagged for me the importance of having a life beyond my business, because when it is over, I want to know who I am and have other avenues and interests to pursue that make my life just as meaningful.

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