Reflections on Grief + Business

(I posted about this on my Facebook page last week and it generated amazing discussion and so I wanted to share it here too.)

What’s been on my mind lately is Grief + Business.

I’ve had so many clients, friends and colleagues facing loss and having to make a seat at the table for grief that I felt it was time to open up the conversation somehow. Life is full of loss and letting go.  And it’s tempting to keep it quiet or try to press on with old goals, plans and offers.  To ‘get back’ to things as they were. But I know now that won’t do.

See, I spent the better part of late 2014/early 2015 navigating deep grief following the loss of my mom (following a 10 year journey of illness & decline where it felt like we were losing her bit by bit) and it definitely impacted my work and Image (44)business.

At first I found myself wishing I had a job to go to…where someone else was in charge, telling me what to do to be productive. I wanted structure. All the freedom I had fought for as an entrepreneur no longer felt like it fit. I felt highly unproductive for several months.

Grief + pushing for productivity don’t always play well together, I found.  It took the better part of 6 months before I felt any sense of productivity or motivation.

I think I expected grief to be all up front, loud and in my face. It wasn’t. My grief was a quiet companion. Sometimes loud and demanding, but often just along for the ride.

When grief joined my business, I had to slow way down. It asked me to really simplify. To get honest about what I wanted and was willing to spend my precious energy on. Which allowed me a level of clarity that I found surprising…I just wasn’t willing to do certain things anymore, or tolerate certain situations or take on work that didn’t feel joyful.  I said NO to an awful lot in those months.  And it felt pretty good.

*I* was changed and realized, very suddenly, that I had become a different person. And I needed to get to know this new me. My wants, needs and priorities were suddenly shifted. I had new opportunities. New insights. New imperatives. And a lot of questions about what that meant/looked like/led, etc…

For me, grief wasn’t just about letting go and saying goodbye. It was about embracing this new me and a new identity. That was a surprise. And a continued unfolding.

I opened up to getting support in ways I would normally bristle. I’ve had a long life of “I can do it myself, thanks” and I finally conceded that maybe, just maybe, having help would feel really really good.

I came out the other side feeling clearer, stronger and happier. And my business was better too (on all fronts…the numbers, my joyfulness, the clients I get to serve, and the creative work that’s now emerging.)

I wish I had some profound wisdom to share, but what I know is that the transformation grief offers can be great. But the process isn’t easy. And you have to allow it, welcome it and trust it.  For a while it will be an insistent and ever-present partner in your business and life.

I’d love to hear what you’re experiences are with grief + business life. Willing to share?

14 Responses to Reflections on Grief + Business

  1. Hi Shawn:
    Just curious if you have read my very personal book entitled: Learning Leadership Through Loss: How to Leverage Personal Pain to Help Yourself and Others Succeed at Work. I know I had made you aware of it quite a few months ago (it was released on Amazon and Kindle in March 2015). This is a book that could potentially be helpful to some of your clients/tribe. Sylvia Hepler

  2. Daria Howell says:

    Thank you for this, Shawn. I lost my 39-year-old son a few days ago and the grief is ever present. He suffered a 20+ year battle with mental illness, but the suddenness of his departure was shocking, so unexpected. I’m finding myself, as you said, slowing way down in my business. I wouldn’t have considered this an opportune time to be unproductive as I was in the process of creating a whole new program. The thought that I’m creating a whole new me and a whole new identity is encouraging. Thanks for normalizing the idea of slowing down and the reminder to look for the things that bring me joy. xo

    • Shawn Driscoll says:

      Daria…first, many blessings your way. I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s so fresh and unexpected, I do hope you are receiving amazing support. I definitely encourage you to slow way down. (It’s never opportune, unfortunately) Be kind to yourself. Thanks so much for sharing. Big hugs!

  3. Rowynn says:

    Yeah, I lost my mom in March of 2015 due to an accidental death and the shock and dealing with all the physical plane stuff completely shut down my business. I am still grieving and just now starting to begin to plant small, small seeds to re-establishing my business. Thank you for sharing….Yes, it is so difficult and for me, I lost my business because it was one on one only and not product based. Even more clear that you cannot have one egg in your basket!

    • Shawn Driscoll says:

      Rowynn, so sorry for your loss – and the impact it had on your work. I’m glad that the seeds are starting to sow and you’re on the comeback. I believe the best is yet to come.

  4. Erica K. says:

    Shawn – I love this blog for so many reasons – you are open, willing and vulnerable. For a ‘can do gal’ this can be really hard sometimes. So, congrats on posting a really tough, personal situation. For me, this blog got me thinking on not only the physical losses I have felt from someone near to me, but also the losses from the jobs that fell through, the direction that was unexpected changed, the ‘well that surely didn’t work, now what’ scenarios that so often can plaque our businesses and make us grow, live, and experience to a depth we never would have otherwise. Business should be simple, right? Set a sales goal, make it happen, end of story. However, we all know that doesn’t always happen and it is in those struggles that we not only learn and discover more about ourselves, our businesses, and our practices, that before you know it, we have a whole different result, as you mentioned. I wish you the best in figuring out what this next step in your business feels like and can’t wait to see the amazing Driscoll Approach to impacting more people in a great way, without losing the personal appeal. Because, that personal appeal is what sets you apart from the average ‘mass-speaking’ coach, right? Keep up the good work and best of luck getting comfortable with the grief that now is part of you.

    • Shawn Driscoll says:

      Thanks Erica. Yes, I’m glad you said that because I did intend the ‘grief’conversation to extend beyond death. There are lots of ways we ‘grieve’ in life and business. The things you outlined are certainly very common. This road isn’t as simple and straightforward as we’d hope, is it?! It shapes us in so many unexpected ways. I’ll always keep the personal touch 😉 and yes, new things are emerging as well.

  5. Jan Carley says:

    Hi Shawn – first of all, my heartfelt condolences for your loss. I lost my mom last year Jan 3/2015 and like you so eloquently outlined, it buckled me at the knees and for the bulk of 2015 I was unfocused and in deep grief. I too wrote to my subscribers about my journey because I had never heard anyone talking about grief in the way that I was experiencing it. Grief is sneaky. 🙂 If you are interested in reading my ezine “3 Life Lessons I learned in 2015” click the URL Thanks for being vulnerable, and it feels so comforting knowing someone else went through (is going through ) what I am. All the best, Jan Carley

    • Shawn Driscoll says:

      Thanks so much for sharing this Jan. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. I can’t wait to read your post! I’m glad what I shared was comforting in some way to you. That’s what I had hoped in opening up.

  6. Always so full of insight and clear articulation; thank you Shawn.

    My sister died a year ago; while I watched her struggle with cancer for years and knew how ill she was, the shock of her death is still with me every day. Such a vibrant, live wire! How could she not be in the next room?

    At the time, I’d been planning a huge product/mastermind rollout, something I’d wanted to do for years and enlisted the support of a dozen partners. I found I no longer had the strength or confidence to follow through and sent apologies to each of them. Lucky for me, I’d picked well as they all returned the most lovely, supportive notes one could hope to receive from partners.

    For the rest of 2015, I found I no longer had any interest in producing any event, writing a single article, pushing through with another program; what’s the point? And then, on New Year’s Eve, while out with a festive group, I posted some of the party photos and found a warm message from a connection I’d never actually met. On the spur of the moment – and with the help of a chocolate martini – I immediately wrote back and invited her to lunch. And then I decided this would be the year of ‘yes!’ So far, while it doesn’t replace the pain, it’s added a balancing element that’s added a bit of life back into me.

    My best to you always,

    • Shawn says:

      I so understand Andrea and am so glad that you honored what you needed instead of pushing forward anyway. The year of YES is great after a long period of needing to simply be in the NO. I can’t wait to see what it brings for you.

  7. Mo Bailey says:

    Shawn – First, I want to applaud you for being so articulate and initiating this conversation. I recall from long ago about how involved you were with your mom. You were always in my eyes BEYOND the “designated daughter” as it was obvious how much you put into your role in her life.

    Conceivably no longer having a parent or parent’s carries an underlying/unconscious “orphan” effect. Perhaps our roles in their lives, now gone, despite our own roles in work and with our developed families leave us in a place that begs assimilation. New footing needs be found inside of us as our roles as their children is over, as we knew it. It’s a role, an identity, and for those who took on as caretakers in any way we did, it is a void and loss inside us that cannot be filled by any other; not by a spouse, or by our children.

    Sending love, appreciation, respect and condolences to all who relate to this first hand. <3

    • Shawn says:

      Thanks Mo. Yes, it is a loss of an important role in life, and an identity issue after caring for a parent for a long time (and in many ways organizing life around it). I know you understand that. You continue to carry on your father’s message and legacy in such great ways and I love that about you!

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