July 1, 2016 – Yesterday, I was the General Manager of my family’s business, but today, I am out of work. . We sold the business, and the transfer was completed yesterday.
On May 1, 1991, my parents bought this business, a retail location in Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was a freshman in high school, and I worked on Saturdays and summers in my youth. My father had worked as a Public Certified Accountant of many years, but grew tired of answering to someone else. He desired to be his own boss, so he bought this Store. He enjoyed the freedom of being in charge and doing things that he wanted to do. The Store was very successful, having put 3 kids through college and set up my parents for a nice retirement.
After I graduated college, my father asked me to take over the Store. But I refused, knowing that he worked long hours to provide for our family. He is not a very trusting man, so he personally managed the store himself, working 70+ hours over 6 days a week for years. Even on Sundays, he wasn’t really present in my life, either playing tennis with friends or napping at home from the exhaustion of his work week. Unless I worked in the Store, I didn’t see much of my father from high school forward.
Every year, we had a ritual: Dad would ask me to take over the Store, and I would refuse. One year, he even asked me to start my own Store (we were franchisees of a well known retail brand) hoping to expand our empire. Again, I refused, knowing that starting another location from scratch would be even more difficult than taking over an existing storefront.
4 years ago, I relented and did take over the day-to-day operations of our Store. I had left my job as an IT Manager (Hello, I live in Silicon Valley; almost everyone works in the tech industry!) and needed to do something else. My father wanted to retire, but was not ready to sell. So, I came in on my white horse and saved the day.
A funny thing happened during these 4 years. While I was very successful running the Store (improving sales and profits each year), and making a good living while doing so, the rest of my life was on hold. Because I worked long hours and weeks, anything not Store-related was put aside. I love reading but stopped doing so, as I was too mentally drained to consume any outside literature. And forget my social life: while my friends knew I was alive, it didn’t show from my lack of attendance at parties and other gatherings. There were even times I was concerned for my marriage, as I did not spend as much quality time with my wife.
So, I had a bunch of money, but no time or energy to enjoy it. Is that successful living? I concluded that it was not, so I convinced my parents to sell the Store. I was not happy running it, and they did not want to work there, either (my parents were semi-retired, working in the Store a couple times a week).
After almost a year of trying to find a buyer and negotiating the particulars, we finalized the sale yesterday. This last week was very bittersweet. While I was looking forward to taking a break and getting my life back, I was sad to leave such a great group of customers. Over 25 years, my family met and befriended 100s of great people, who we consider to be a 2nd family. There were a lot of hugs and promises of coffee and dinners made over the last few days. While I won’t be physically seeing many of these people much anymore, we will always have social media!
As I was driving from the Store for the last time, I pulled over to get a boba drink at a local tea shop. In line to order, I received a text from my cousin’s wife. My uncle passed away in the Philippines at age 80. He has been in very poor health over the last 10 years, payment for a life of hard drinking and smoking. He was my father’s oldest brother and raised 5 great children himself. He was hospitalized a month ago, with complications breathing. Though we had many hopeful thoughts and prayers for him, we knew that this could happen. He did pass away with many family members by his side, and I am thankful for the life that he did live and for the love he brought to so many people.
I went from thinking about my life and the Store to thinking about my extended family and the frailty of life. Initially, I was worried that I was being selfish with my desire to leave this business and sell the Store. Isn’t part of being a member of an Asian family deferring to the needs of the greater group? Will selling the Store hinder the financial future of my parents and the rest of our family?
But my uncle’s passing gave me a different perspective. I will be turning 40 in September, so I figure I’ve already lived half my life. While I don’t live as hard as my uncle did at my age, I also know that I don’t want to waste these years with just work. Money is important, but it is not the most important thing. I also don’t want to be defined by my work alone. I want to be remembered as someone who enriched people’s lives, with laughter and thoughtful conversation.
So, I embark on a new journey. I have no job and no solid prospects for a new one (while I did do well working in the Store and will get a portion of the proceeds from the sale, it is not enough for me to retire at 39). The road is wide open, leading to any number of possibilities. Just like this blog, I do not know where this road will take me. All I know is that I want to enjoy the ride and to always make it interesting.