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THE INC. LIFE

How to Keep Living After You Lose Everything You’ve Always Worked For

Most entrepreneurs spend all their time and energy focused on being a success. Here’s how to prepare for the day after you exit.

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BY Heather Wilde - 12 Jun 2018

How to Keep Living After You Lose Everything You've Always Worked For

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

What does it mean to lose everything you've worked for? What does the day after look like?

For many entrepreneurs, there is no day-after mentality. They don't allow themselves to think about life after the business, because that would distract them from achieving their vision. But what happens when their time in the business ends?

No matter the reason for the exit -- be it selling for millions, or losing it all -- the sudden loss of something that meant everything to them, unfortunately, leads to emptiness. If there is nothing to fill the hole, all too often it leads to suicide, or suicidal thoughts, even in people with no history of depression.

When I was a child, my dream was to become an astronaut. I proceeded to spend every waking moment working toward that goal, with very little time for anything else. And at Marshall Space Flight Center and via the UAH Astronautics Program in Huntsville, AL, I was close to achieving it.

Until one day, a neurologist took that all away from me. My body betrayed me -- my brain has a defect that doesn't allow me to go into space -- or even do something as trivial as scuba dive. As I was listening to this doctor sentence me to life on terra firma, I literally felt my reason for living disintegrate.

When I left his office, I drove to the top of a mountain and perched my car on the side of a steep cliff. I sat on the hood of the car in a trancelike state for what I was later told was three days.

In that time, I considered what I'd just been told. I pondered what the purpose had been of my life unto that point and felt it had amounted to nothing. I couldn't get myself to move -- until I remembered a school friend of mine who I had admired greatly that died five years prior.

I asked myself, if he'd had another day, what would he have done with it?

I realized he probably would have just gone to school, played games, talked to friends -- same as any 13-year-old. It occurred to me -- literally for the first time -- that life doesn't have to be all grand visions and dreams every day, it just is whatever you make of it.

It's that thought that got me to crawl off my car and drive back down the mountain, to find panicked friends and family had been searching for me. People who hadn't occurred to me to think about while I was up there, but were suddenly extremely important.

As entrepreneurs, it can be difficult to think about the ordinary. We always have to be so perfect, and exciting, and grand, that when our dreams are taken from us -- whether through success or failure -- the blow can be too much to accept.

While you may think this could never happen to you, it is always a good idea to be prepared. Here's a quick checklist to help you think about "the day after."

1. Be social, even if you don't want to be.

This is probably the hardest part, but the worst thing you can do is lock yourself away and disappear from the world. Posting on social media doesn't count; go out in public to community and volunteer groups where you can be around other people that have different needs than yours.

2. Go away.

Research shows that the best thing you could possibly do during transition periods is do something completely different than before.

Scheduling a quick retreat or vacation right away will help you acclimate to the new way of life.

3. Get a coach.

When dealing with any major life change, it's a good idea to talk to someone about it. Unfortunately, for many entrepreneurs, we tend not to share our innermost thoughts and feelings with those people closest to us.

Having a properly trained, impartial, judgment-free sounding board is more beneficial to your well-being than you may realize.

4. Start a new project.

Entrepreneurs often don't suffer from a lack of ideas. If you suddenly find yourself with a lot of free time, find something new to fill it with that gives you a sense of purpose.

5. Don't change too much at once.

No matter what you do, try not to make any radical life changes right away. During the initial transition phase, you may experience a strong temptation to be self-destructive. To combat this, try not to make any decisions too quickly, and not do more than one new thing at a time.

And lastly, the best way to plan is to start ensuring you have more than just "one thing" that encompasses your whole life. That way, it won't matter as much when it is gone.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 with free confidential support for those who feel at risk of harming themselves.

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