Joanne asks:

Do you have any tips for what messaging to put out to your mailing list of followers when your business partner of 14yrs is moving away/leaving the enterprise (it's a very-local nonprofit) and you're faced with carrying on, and you just aren't feeling the spirit right now, you'd rather curl up in your pjs and eat chocolate …

My answer:

Thanks so much for writing in with your question, Joanne. You sound like you’re in a tough situation, and you have my sympathy.

When it comes to the personal aspect of business, it can be hard to know what to disclose and what not to. The world of the ittybiz has become very transparent these days, or at least it seems so. The transparency we see is usually filtered and cultivated, rather than organic, but it’s natural to think we have to disclose everything. God knows, everybody else does.

This becomes especially true in arenas where the relevance of a piece of information is a grey area. In your case, you have a very local nonprofit, and perhaps your partner was deeply involved in your organization and community. On a level, it seems like we have to say something to that community. Sitting around humming “LALALALALA NOT HAPPENING” doesn’t seem like it’s going to work.

There are a few things to consider here. I’ll go through them in no particular order, and you can pick and choose your own adventure – consider what resonates in your situation, and discard what doesn’t.

1. Some people care. Most people don’t.

I did not say anything publicly when I got divorced. I didn’t try to hide it, and it came up occasionally in context. But I didn’t send an email to my list saying, “By the way, you know my husband? We’re not together anymore. Just FYI.”

My rationale for this was twofold. One, my industry is renowned for blasting around personal information as a way to keep attention share, and I didn’t want to be a part of that. But two, and far more important, was my understanding that there are more people that don’t care than there are people that do.

Sure, some people are interested in my marital situation. Some people are Capital I Interested, and those are usually the gossip hounds. Some people are minorly interested – we all enjoy a good tidbit every now and again. But the overwhelming majority don’t know me or my personal situation well enough to care one whit.

If I had emailed everybody and said, “By the way, my husband and I split up”, a lot of people wouldn’t know who my husband is. I’ve just injected a whole whack of drama into their day for no reason whatsoever.

2. Don’t make announcements when you’re not at your best.

Having said that, you may be in a place where a great number of people care, or are at least vaguely interested. You may be in a place where people not having that information would become conspicuous to the point of being suspicious. So you may have to say something.


If you’re in the pajamas and chocolate space, now is not the time to say anything at all that isn’t absolutely necessary. When we’re in the pajamas and chocolate space, we don’t tend to have a lot of perspective, and our frame is really negative. That’s understandable – it’s a necessary part of the change / grieving process. But it’s not a good time to issue a press release.

So even if people do care, they don’t need a memo right now.

3. It’s not an all or nothing proposition.

Also to be considered here is that we do have the option to tell some people and not others. We can phase out the information without having to do anything big.

One of my clients was suddenly widowed last year, and her husband was quite present in her business. That’s big news. She knew she couldn’t just say nothing forever and ever. It was going to have to be addressed at some point. But since she wasn’t ready to make a big announcement, she decided to put the business on autopilot for a while and only answer incoming questions. If someone asked about him, she told them. But she didn’t come out with an announcement before she was ready.

(Interestingly, after a while of doing that, she realized she felt comfortable never saying anything publicly. She just never said anything. She’s working her way through the handful of old posts that reference him and tweaking the copy so that newcomers aren’t confused. Gradually, more and more people in her business’ community are finding out, largely because, well, people talk. That means other people find out, but it’s not ever her job to tell them.)

4. You can always say something minor.

If your circumstances or preferences are such that you feel it’s necessary to say something direct, your best bet is to bury it in other news. You know nobody wants the drama of hearing someone else’s behind the scenes unpleasantness, and you don’t want the drama of getting into it, especially given the pajamas and chocolate situation.

So stick it in a communication that’s full of other stuff. However you normally communicate with your people, do that, and make it like a round-up.

Section 1: Vote on our new logo!
Section 2: We’ll have a booth at the fair!
Section 3: I saw this cool blog post!
Section 4: Mike doesn’t work here anymore!
Section 5: We’re starting a series about cheese popsicles next week!

There. You’ve said something, but it’s buried enough that it doesn’t become a centerpiece.

5. Last, be positive. Lie if you must.

If you do decide to do something explicit and public, be brief and be positive. This is why the Public Relations industry exists – to take things that completely suck and de-suck them to the point where they’re palatable for the public.

Be nice and be positive. Say Mike’s pursuing a new opportunity. Say you wish him the very best in his future endeavors.

Even if the opportunity is 22-year-old Staci, and all you wish is that he dies alone in a ditch, this is where the white lie shines brightest.

But most importantly? Be nice to you.

When it comes to forces beyond our control, we only really get hurt when we struggle. If you’re in the pajamas and chocolate place, be nice to yourself, have compassion, and embrace it. Any kind of unasked for change carries with it a grieving process, and the more we fight grief, the more it kicks us in the ass later.

Eat your chocolate. If you won’t do it for you, do it for your ittybiz. You’re the only one it has left now, and it deserves you in fighting form. If that takes a prolonged period of mid-day Netflix and cocoa binges, so be it.

You’ll be back to yourself soon enough.