Final Breath: How to Let Go of a Business You Love

My last big adventure has been building an organization called Hacker Gals. Many of my friends and peers in the Kalamazoo startup community ​have seen the grind, and have called it my baby - accurately, considering how it has been an extension of me. My goal was to build Hacker Gals into a part of the community, and not be dependent solely on my connection. But when building an organization - ultimately just a group of living people who care about the same thing - things can take on a life of their own, and it isn't always for the best. When thinking about something or someone you love, it's not easy to step back, celebrate and acknowledge the good things, and consider this: is it time to move on? Here's my story.

Whiskers and the Hacker Gals

Whiskers is an elegant, loyal companion - and my cat. When he isn't acting like his usual self, his personality toned down and irritable, there's a good reason for it. Years ago, as Whiskers was really in a fuss and limping, a visit to the vet revealed the problem wasn't just his mood. A few days at the vet and Whiskers would be able to come back home - but not before leaving me with a lesson.

With our Hacker Gals, I first saw a change of mood last summer. Feeling maxed out and unhelped by the independent foundation I had been trying to build, the weight of running the organization began to get heavy.

So I asked for help.

I organized the first "internal" Hacker Gals meeting, with a goal of learning who was interested in continuing Hacker Gals, and empowering them to take it on. The result: within a couple of months, a couple of other had jumped on board to work on the development. With Whiskers on his way home and Hacker Gals now having a development team, everything seemed to be flowing along - but there was more to these stories.

Learning to Love Again

But when Whiskers returned home, things just weren't the same. Instead of cuddling or playing, as his usual self, he spent most of his time near the litter box in a daze. Something wasn't right, and after taking him to the vet once more, I learned what it was - and it broke my heart.

Whiskers had a tumor, and it wasn't going away. In fact, it would probably get worse.

What do you do? After talking to the vet (and crying) and being able to hold Whisker one more time, I let him be put to sleep. Whisker had been the only pet I ever had, and as he was adopted while I was married, he was also the closest to having a child.

That week, someone I told this story said that “the purpose of pets is to teach about love and loss and how to love again.” The sadness didn't go away immediately, but the lesson had definitely been learned. With the support of a friend, we held a small ceremony for the remains and Whiskers' favorite toy at a pet cemetery. With some closure, we could finally move on.

No Black and White

The answer to a cat's health was black and white, literally, painted in the x-rays taken of his tumor.

For Hacker Gals, the message wasn't as clear to spot. The three of us were on a roll for a few months, but like Whiskers, it began to feel like we were trying to force something that wasn't fated to work. I was back to the same question as in the summer: should I try to find new people, or let it go?

But this time, I'm not just maxed out - I'm also involved in other projects, and cannot focus on Hacker Gals the way I initially did. As I thought about the organization and the other life-giving projects on my plate, I began comfortable with letting to, and said my goodbyes.

As a final unofficial celebration, I invited everyone on the newsletter list to reply if they wanted to join in a last meetup. We had the biggest group in a long time, and all the parts I have seen working before like “magic” finally felt true again. Since friend had been created, since I knew I'd see these incredible people again, and since we'd be having many more celebrations together as founders and peers, our goodbye was a happy one. 

Maybe I wanted Hacker Gals to grow faster than it was capable of growing, at least with those who were involved. Hopefully, the inspiration carries on as the remains are filed away. Just like with my cat, I stepped back, celebrated and acknowledged, and then moved on.