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exit: john warrillow

Last year, a New York Times reporter quoted 84-year-old Hugh Hefner as saying: "If I sold it (Playboy Enterprises), my life would be over."

If your workday involved lounging around in a robe at the Playboy mansion, most guys could see why you might not want to give it up. But assuming your business is a little less — ahem — sexy, could you imagine life without it? Some psychologists have likened the sale of a business to the loss of a child in terms of its psychological impact and its sense of loss for the founder.

I can identify with the idea that a business becomes a part of your personality. When I started Warrillow & Co., my name was literally on the door. In the beginning, I was so desperate for it to succeed that I poured all of my waking hours into it. My hobbies and relationships started to wither from lack of attention. I rationalized my schedule, saying that once I got the business going, I could get back to my life.

After a while, the business did get off the ground, but I never changed my work schedule. The source of my drive evolved from necessity to the adrenalin rush I got from building a successful company.

It all started to come undone in 2004, when the departure of a key employee made me feel personally rejected. This employee was an important part of our team and managed one of our key relationships. She was going to a great job with a big multinational firm, but I felt betrayed. The loss of this popular employee triggered the departure of a number of other employees soon afterward, and I was left with a skeleton staff, a troubled business and a bruised ego.

The whole experience made me realize just how much a part of my personality my business had become — and just how personally I was taking it.

Eventually, I picked up the pieces and rebuilt the company. But, like a person who had been betrayed in a relationship, I became more hardened and started to look at my business as an inanimate economic engine instead of a defining aspect of my personality. Rather than continuing to give all my time to my business, I vowed to get back in touch with the people and the things that were important to me.

I stopped putting "life" off and started to get one. I taught myself how to windsurf again. I bought a mountain bike and competed in a three-day stage race. I started running marathons, I bought skis and a snowboard, and I organized an annual trip with old friends. In short, I got back in touch with the things I like to do.

Now that I am no longer working in my company day to day, I miss some of the people, but for the most part, I don't miss the business because the void has been filled with other relationships, hobbies, interests and investments that I started nurturing long before selling my company.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company at