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“Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid…” – Brene Brown

In the last twelve months, I have seen it all in the faces of my clients, my colleagues, and my team. I have felt it with my family, within myself, and my thoughts. While each group faced its unique challenges, there was a common need woven throughout it all for everyone this year. And that is my one word to sum up 2021 – belongingness.

Belongingness is a need. It is an emotional need to feel accepted as a member of something larger than oneself. The root cause for many of the challenges I witnessed was a lack of belongingness – the feeling that you’re alone in what you are experiencing or want to experience. Clients, colleagues, friends, and family members saw themselves on a lonely island through much of this year, not realizing that they had so many neighbors and other humans experiencing similar feelings, the same isolation that spilled over from 2020 into 2021.

Every group of people I interacted with this year were just that – Human.

And humans – whether they be my adolescent daughter, my parent-of-a-newborn colleague, my overwhelmed friend in search of a new job, or my client who hasn’t spoken to his family in years – all need to feel as though they belong. Somewhere. To something.

2021 brought with it a new phrase related to belongingness (or a lack thereof). Data from a September 2021 McKinsey and Associates study noted that one of the top reasons employees left their jobs in 2021 was due to a lack of belongingness. The phrase “The Great Resignation” appeared. Hard data related to an emotion – related to a need – data that we can not ignore as business owners and leaders of organizations.

I believe what is lost on many is the dual meaning of resignation. At the surface and related to the study, resignation is the personal decision to leave a job or position. Yet there is another meaning and it’s the one I’m writing about here. To resign oneself is to give up, to accept something as inevitable.

It is this I truly want to call out, because it is the only way to render it powerless. Many clients I’ve worked with this year have felt this resignation, a lack of belongingness, in so many different ways. And I am here to say, you are not alone.

  • When you feel, as a family business owner, that you are alone in the feeling that your family may implode because of a lack of governance around business decisions, you are NOT alone.
  • When you look back on the work you once loved that got you here, and realize now you are no longer running the business, that it is running you, you are NOT alone.
  • If you are not sure how to develop an onboarding program or create a company culture to keep the great people you have and attract new talent, you are NOT alone.
  • If you have a child in your business, but you are concerned that he/she might not be ready to take over the business, and think there are no other options to continue the business’ legacy, you are NOT alone.

Every family business, if they are honest with themselves, has been there (is there) in one way or another. No one wants to belong to the group called “family business owners who have no succession plan if I were to die tomorrow.” But perhaps knowing that you are not alone might give you some sense of solace. The knowledge that whatever you are experiencing as a family business owner has been experienced before and, most importantly, CAN be overcome.

Here is the rest of Brene’s quote…


Brene Brown quote "Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave, worthy of love and belonging.”


The moral of this story is that despite all the issues or concerns I witnessed this year, there is hope and there is help. Giving family businesses the space, the tools, and the conversations they need to come together and grow as a company and a family is the greatest gift I gave this year.

In 2021, belongingness was not found in a box under a tree or on a P&L statement.

Belongingness lives in our hearts and in our words – now and always.

Share your thoughts on my word or share your word that sums up 2021. As always, my calendar is open to family business owners who need a sounding board – Connect with me on LinkedIn to get started.

Cheryl Doll profile picture
Cheryl Doll

Cheryl’s 20 years in higher education honed her passion for teaching, strategic planning and organizational development. Raised by entrepreneurial parents, she pivoted out of higher education to work with family business owners, providing the guidance, structure and tools required to build thriving companies and families.

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