Growing up, my entire life was centered around one goal: playing on the PGA Tour. My family and friends knew me as “the golfer,” an identity I latched onto.
I spent every day thinking about ways I could get better. My passion led me to play two years of NCAA college golf before making the decision to turn pro.
I couldn’t believe I had the chance to make a living playing the game I loved.
Then one day I woke up, and three years had passed since turning pro. I realized my passion for golf was gone. I desperately tried to stick with it, hoping my love for the game would return, but it never did.
After 24 years of dedicating myself to golf, I made the hardest decision of my life. I hung up my clubs.
For the first time, I was no longer “Colin the golfer.” I was just Colin Morgan. The problem was, I had no idea who that person was. My whole life, I had attached what I did (golf) to who I was.
Who You Are vs. What You Do
Just as I struggled with life after golf, I’ve noticed that many owners battle with a loss of identity after selling their companies. I realized the scope of the problem when I came across a study from the Exit Planning Institute revealing that 74% of business owners have regrets one year after selling their companies.
Interestingly, both athletes and business owners often deal with their loss of identity in the same way.
They come out of retirement and back into the arena where they feel most comfortable. But just as the aging athlete grapples with recreating their past performance, some entrepreneurs struggle in their follow-up act. They’ve gone to the top of the mountain and tasted success. With their basic financial needs met, they lack the drive to push through the obstacles that would have been surmountable when their business life depended on it.
A lack of motivation combined with the challenges of setting up a new business leaves many second-time owners feeling empty and lost and their new business struggling.
How Ryan Kulp Avoided a Letdown After Selling
In 2016 Ryan Kulp launched Fomo, a company that allows businesses to show off real-time customer interactions (purchases, opt-ins, even pageviews) with a line of code customers install on their site.
The business was an instant success, and in 2020 Kulp decided to sell to Relay Commerce in a lucrative exit.
As Kulp described in a recent Built to Sell Radio episode, “It was 45 minutes of ecstasy and joy. Then I went to lunch alone and got a $9 meal from a barbeque restaurant. It was anticlimactic to what I thought it would be.”
Kulp realized selling made him feel higher than he had ever felt in his professional life and soon felt the letdown as he realized his ride was over.
Although tempted to start another business, Kulp resisted the urge. After speaking with a therapist, he learned the goals he was setting were solely focused on his professional life and not big enough to inspire him again. As a result, he decided to buy a 50-acre plot of land and has thrown himself into a new goal of building a dream ranch. He’s now happy as a clam clearing brush.
Does that mean Kulp will never start another business? Of course not. But it does mean he has a new goal that will capture his attention for a while and buy him enough time to carve out a new identity away from his business.
It can be easy to attach your identity to what you do. The problem is that eventually just about everything comes to an end. When you sell a business, consider a goal unrelated to work that will stretch you and give your mind and body time to let the adrenalin of your first exit leave your body.