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I lost my ambition after my dad died. Here’s how this led me to start my dream business

An accomplished coach of female entrepreneurs writes a deeply personal essay on how her father’s death helped her access the part of herself that embraced personal development.

I lost my ambition after my dad died. Here’s how this led me to start my dream business
[Photo: Jr Korpa/Unsplash; Taylor Van Riper/Unsplash]

I picked up my phone and typed in the name of my aunt who was in Dubai. “He’s gone,” I told her, in a flat and dejected tone.

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Moments later, people from the funeral parlor invaded our lounge. They lifted his body onto a stretcher and carried him away from the TV that served his daily fix of BBC World News. And away from us: his three children, his wife, and his two grandchildren.

My father’s death, a few months into a severe battle with cancer, left a gaping hole in our lives.

He was an opinionated skeptic who I looked up to, immensely. He made fun of feminist ideologies and laughed whenever I joined my mother on the sofa for an episode of “Oprah.” When he suggested I study English literature and economics, I listened to him. Unconsciously, I used what I perceived to be his expectations of me as a frame of reference in my professional life. While I had an interest in personal development, I ignored this at the start of my career. Instead, I directed my interpersonal and writing skills to building a communications consultancy. I ran this for 11 years.

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But then he died. And I lost my ambition.

For months, I did the bare minimum. I filled my extra time with long walks in the countryside. I watched the corn transform from seedlings into an extensive field of yellow-capped greenery during my walks. 

I spent hours every morning journaling. For the first time in decades, my writing was centered around me. A year after his death, I published my first blog—about losing him—and shared it on Facebook. I was overwhelmed by the comments, shares, and personal messages I got in response.

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A month later, I published another blog about female entrepreneurship and shared a newsletter sign-up link. Within a few months, I had a strong and engaged email list of professional women.

I remember publishing a blog about being jealous of other women before sitting back and thinking: What would my dad say? Seconds later, another thought popped into my head: He’s not going to say anything. The sense of liberation was like an elephant had lifted its foot off my chest. This was immediately followed with a lump in my throat: guilt. 

If I feel relief, what does this say about my relationship with my father? I wondered.

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During a conference in 2014 on financial planning and loss, I got the chance to interview Dr. Amy D’Aprix. I vividly remember her talking about how death can be a relief. I told her my story. “Totally normal,” she responded.

Shaping a life or career to the expectations of others—whether it’s family members or societal expectations—isn’t unique for women. A 2013 Pew Research study found that women are far more likely than men to experience significant career interruptions as a result of tending to family needs. This contributes to the economic disempowerment of women and the gender pay gap. 

As women pass 40, we tend to become increasingly invisible to the world. An interesting paradox is the liberation that frequently accompanies this. In 2019, The Washington Post did a feature on eight women over the age of 50 who—after having set aside their own ambitions for years—used their newfound freedom to do things like become a doctor or run for city council. For many of these women, tragedies like losing a husband or receiving a terminal illness diagnosis preceded their decision to focus on their own goals.

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It took almost two years after my father’s death for me to feel fully ready to start my business in female leadership coaching. This decision was preempted by my saying no to a major six-figure contract in my communications business. Instead, I completed the work with my existing clients before closing the consultancy and moving into coaching. 

To build my business, I told all of my clients from my communications business and all of my friends about my transition to coaching. I continued writing personal blogs (which I published weekly) and—at the end of each one—I communicated that I was a women’s leadership development coach and included hyperlinks on how to work with me. I also focused on intentional networking over email or setting up in-person coffee dates, showing up regularly on social media, pitching myself as a speaker to conferences and events, and attending networking events.

In Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud writes: “Many people wish for a different universe than the one in which we live. They want one where every day is harvest time and there are no long laborious summer months to go through in order to get there.” Like a newly planted cornfield, I entered a regenerative phase when my father died. For a year, I felt isolated, lost, and hollow. But just as a new crop emerges, green and full of life, I too reemerged from the depths of grief,  having shed the identity of the “rule-following little girl” that I had unknowingly clung to all these years. While I grew up hearing my dad making jokes about feminism, I made an intentional decision to ignore “his judgments” that I subconsciously carried around. I entered the next phase of my life with greater clarity, hope, and confidence.

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In some scenarios, a loss brings feelings of relief for more obvious reasons, such as the end of suffering or the unburdening of a caregiver role. In my case, it’s a little more complicated. My father’s death helped me access the part of myself that embraced personal development. I was now willing to value my own story rather than just using my skills to tell someone else’s. But the role he played as my mentor, caregiver, and advisor will always remain constant.


Eleanor Beaton is the founder of SafiMedia, an education and coaching company for women entrepreneurs.


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