Q: I was let go from a position with a high-technology company earlier this spring.
For the past couple of years, on and off, I have helped an entrepreneur in another state build a high-technology consulting business. He has offered to sell the business to me for a ridiculously small amount of money, and I'm thinking this may well be my future.
My problem here is my family: I have three children ages 5 to 12, and a spouse who did work until very recently but has been laid off.
I have an offer to go back to work full-time for another company in my field. I have mixed emotions about it, however. There's a good chance that even if I accept this offer I will be back on the streets, so to speak, in a year or two. I really believe that if I buy the high-technology consulting business I will be able to make a go of it in a couple years, and I have enough saved that I can support my family until that happens.
Needless to say, however, my family is putting pressure on me to accept the full-time employment offer. I'm really torn here. What should I do?
A: No doubt: One of the hardest choices you will have to make in your career is that between a solid entrepreneurial opportunity (which this sounds like) and a loving family that just wants you to grind out the paychecks twice a month. Only the most heartless — or ruthless — of individuals would put the business opportunity over their loved ones. If the entrepreneurial opportunity doesn't pan out, there's a better-than-average chance you will end up not only jobless but also divorced and homeless, with a custody agreement that allows you to see your children one weekend a month, if that.
I used to wonder why so many successful tech entrepreneurs were young people in their 20s. Being younger and less experienced myself, I used to think it was because young people have no fear of failure, are willing to be more reckless about their futures, are more sophisticated in handling today's technology, etc.
But now I know better. The reason so many brilliant new businesses are started by young people is ... well ... best put in the lyrics of an old Bob Dylan song: "When you ain't got nothin', you've got nothin' to lose."
As horrible as it may sound, I've really come to believe that there are some things you can only do when you are in your 20s, before you have made the life choices that put limitations on what is possible — a house, a spouse, kids, a dog, etc. Once you make those choices, certain doors (not all of them, to be sure) slam shut permanently.
A youngster in his or her 20s, perhaps a recent college graduate, can afford to spend six months to a year in their parents' basement, living on pizza and Red Bull, texting their friends every five minutes, and coming up (hopefully) with something that will revolutionize the world of technology.
Once you are in your 30s, with a spouse and family, you can't just do that anymore. If I were to tell my spouse, "Honey, I've decided that my true vocation in life is to become a poet. I'm quitting my job and spending the next six months of my life writing the next 'Leaves of Grass,' and you will need to support me while I do that," I guarantee my readers would be looking at my obituary in next week's column.
Dear reader, you're far from old, but — I hate to be the one to tell you — you're not a kid anymore. The good news here is that you may be able to pursue both paths, at least for a while (in the words of the late Yogi Berra, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it"). If the owner of this business is offering a true fire-sale price you can easily afford, and the business wouldn't compete with your full-time job, I would grab it. Grow the business in your spare time, and build a team of like-minded people with enough time to spare (and I would include at least one millennial living in his parents' basement: A month's supply of pizza and Red Bull doesn't cost all that much).
Take the full-time offer, to keep peace in your family. If you haven't already done so, start creating college funds for your kids and pay off your mortgage so that in another decade or two you will be able to pursue your dreams without any friction on the home front.
Until then, however, you have made your bed, and will have to lie in it. Put your family first, and save your entrepreneurial ambitions for your midlife crisis (trust me; it will come...).
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.