Part 2: Losing a Business- the Grieving Process

I'd like to begin by thanking all of you who read part one and responded with love and positivity. From the bottom of my heart, guys. Thank you.

if you haven't read it yet, please read part 1 first before proceeding.

Now without further ado, part 2. 

So here I was, 70 pounds overweight, unemployed, and feeling worse about myself than ever. To top it off, although I had closed and claimed bankruptcy the CRA agents were still calling me, even though I thought they had no grounds to continue. Turned out I was wrong on that one - they decided I was going to be audited. It was all my fault for neglecting my business and taxes in the last year of operation, but that didn't stop me from regressing back to what I was the day I closed. There was no classy lady Eat, Pray, Love stuff here. Try cry, panic, binge drink.

Two steps forward.... ten steps back.

That's the thing about the CRA- when you're down they won't hesitate to kick you.  There is no humanity or dignity in their methods. I still to this day remember the agent I spoke to in January before my closure calling me a common criminal, threatening me with prison, and laughing as she described what she could do to me and the business financially. I was shaken with how hatefully she spoke to me. I still am.

No wonder some entrepreneurs literally don't survive their business closures.

I planned the audit to happen at my parents house because I literally wanted my mommy. I was pleasantly surprised when a friendly agent showed up, stayed for 3 hours and agreed I hadn't embezzled or hid money from the CRA. She saw it too- I was beyond broke the last 2 years of my business. Her and mum traded gluten free salad recipes, and she left. My beloved friend Natalie (Champagne friend from the last article) who had come with to offer her support- and I headed to Hinterland and celebrated. It was a weight off my chest, another obstacle cleared, slowly fading in the distance.

Around the same time, I decided it may be time to getting back out there again socially.  Natalie logged into my abandoned Facebook for me and deleted my unbalanced posts I'd made the last days of my business and cleaned out my inbox. She agreed to tell me nothing about what she found unless it was positive. I'm still so grateful to her.

Online and in real life,  I was received with joy, empathy or anger. Nothing in between. I had entered Ottawa's social purgatory.

Mostly I was looked at like a wounded animal, with big sympathetic eyes, sometimes with tears, and I could see their anticipation of whether I would fall apart in front of their eyes. At first I was incensed. I'd come home and brood for weeks over this unwanted, uninvited sympathy. It made me feel weak. As time went by, I had to remind myself that this came from a good, caring place. To drop my anger and let the love wash over me, healing my broken heart. This wasn't just about me, the Business had been something to a lot of folks. I'd been selfish in not realizing that sooner.

Other days, there were no well wishes. Such as the former employee who accosted me on the street as I was coming home late one evening, shouting at me as they followed me to my front door. The former supplier rep who came through my line at my part time job and snidely remarked it was nice to see me "reaping what I'd sown." The three troll accounts who added me on social media just to tear me apart.  A local who insists on posting snide remarks on anything I put online if I don't block them in time. The online hatred is especially hurtful, an invisible enemy. I'm not sure what these folks would have me do? Die? Leave town? Disappear?  I have no plans to do any of those things, sorry. The various cruel lies and rumours that spread were also devastating. It stings. But again, I accept that I have brought some of this to myself, and I accept the consequences. I understand and accept the anger of some of the community, and my former employees and suppliers.

I started having nightmares frequently around this time in late spring 2016, where I'd be back in my bakery with my staff. These dreams had started in the month after I closed, but not with the frequency with which they came now. In some, I would simply show up at my first location on Bronson and open it for the day, like I'd never left. There would be batter prepped in the fridge, happy staff doing what they'd always done, and delighted regulars. In others, I'd show up at either of location to find the shop looking like a scene from Beetlejuice - twisted green and purple skies, destroyed shops, demon like creatures running about. I'd be frozen to the ground, tears streaming down my cheeks. When I would wake from these dreams, it would take me about 30 seconds to remember i didn't own a bakery anymore. Then I'd feel off for the rest of my day. I wish I could say the nightmares stopped, but they haven't. To this day I'll have a "bakery nightmare" once a month on average.

My therapist says that when something is so devastating, your mind will go through it again and again until you can accept that it's real. I'm taking the nightmares as that. I still haven't accepted it as 100% real. I can't say I ever will.

Summer 2016, I ended up securing a part time retail job. It felt good to do shift work, get out of the house and do what I excelled at - talking to strangers, matching products to needs. Once again, I kept getting in trouble for problem solving on the spot without consulting management, but my managers took it with amusement, and I'm regarded as a good worker. I'm happy to say I've kept the job for the past year. It's not my dream job, but it pays the bills for now, something that makes me feel happy and confident.

As far as employment in a business field after closing a business, I already addressed the stain that is on former entrepreneurs in part 1 of this series. I don't want to sound negative, but I also think it's important I'm truthful here. When I hear other entrepreneurs saying "oh, if I close, I'll just go teach at ______", "I'll go work at tech firm _____" I want to scream and shove the reality - my reality - in their face.

You won't. 

Folks and companies (even so called progressive ones, even the entrepreneurship based ones) are intimidated by someone who founded their own company, created their own job. Its empowering. Something employers will say they like in staff, but are secretly terrified of. A certain amount of meekness is desired in the employee, whether we admit it or not. When you hear the word "entrepreneur", the last thing you think of is meek.  I now know that having this on my resume nullified my chances for proper work in my field in which I could apply my experiences.To be frank, they’d rather see a masters degree in business on your resume than you having had lived the reality yourself. I was annoyed by this at first but I came to the realization that I often advise my own clients now to run their businesses as they see fit and hire as they see fit. I couldn't hold it against another business- doing what's best for them.

When you’re a small business owner, your desirability skyrockets. You're invited to lecture, teach, mentor, give input and discuss. Not so much when you're a failed entrepreneur. Failed entrepreneurs have seen both sides and are, in my opinion, more aware. I've seen the proverbial bomb about to crash into my business, and I now know the warning signs. I can use this knowledge to help others and potentially save businesses. I can relate to entrepreneurs in trouble because I've been them before.  I'm tired of seeing our community throw out failed entrepreneurs like trash - rumours, speculation and snark swirling around each closure. Entrepreneurs have contributed to the community and economy, making up the unique tapestry that is a city’s small business scene and culture. Frankly, we deserve better treatment. Before, during and after business ownership.

After months of trying to find employment in which I could apply my years of experience and knowledge, I gave up and did what I've always done. I gave myself a job. This Charming Mandi was born.

I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and you land in places you're supposed to. There's a reason I didn't get full time work under someone else -because I'm independent minded, entrepreneurial, and strong as hell. And that scares people. 

Entrepreneurship and helping others is my strength, passion and life's purpose.

My story isn't perfection, but I feel it's a work in progress. I gain new clients every week. I lost eighty pounds in the past year. My partner Chris is still loyally by my side, and we have great times and laugh a lot. I have my family, a new niece I adore, great friends and my health. I'm trying new things that frighten me- like joining a baseball team this summer- to expand my identity away from just being Auntie Loo, the failed baker, the failed business owner.

As for Auntie Loo, maybe she is retired somewhere. I like to picture her on a beach sipping a daiquiri watching the waves and cabana boys.

Cheers lady. Enjoy that retirement.

Mandi Lunan