As you ponder your options, try to imagine your desired future five years down the road.

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Q: I feel as though I’m trapped in the family business. For the last 10 years, I have worked for my father-in-law, “Frank.” My wife’s brother and sister are also employed here. When Frank retires, the three of us are supposed to take over the company.

My fear is that this arrangement will not work out well. For one thing, I’m not sure that three people can actually run a business together. Also, Frank tends to be very controlling and may have a hard time letting go. These issues could adversely affect the company’s success.

I left the corporate world to join this family firm, and I sometimes regret that decision. I know I have the potential to do more, but with a wife and three kids to support, changing jobs seems risky. When I once mentioned that possibility, Frank angrily threatened to sabotage my career.

Although I think about this constantly, I can’t make up my mind. Should I stay and do my best to help the business succeed? Or should I get up my nerve and quit, hoping that my wife will back me up?

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A: If you quit the family business without consulting your wife, you will have a whole new set of problems. Your career choice affects her in many ways, so don’t make this decision unilaterally. Instead, the two of you must carefully weigh the pros and cons.

As you ponder your options, try to imagine your desired future five years down the road. What kind of work would be most fulfilling? What sort of lifestyle do you hope to have? What is most important for your children? See which path seems more likely to lead to your ideal scenario.

Because your father-in-law is something of a bully, either choice will require some careful planning. If you elect to stay, you need a legal agreement describing Frank’s eventual transition to retirement and the subsequent partnership with your in-laws. But if you choose to leave, you must prepare for the inevitable family drama.

Even though the decision is difficult, you need to make a conscious choice based on your goals. Don’t stay just because leaving is hard, and don’t leave just because the family is frustrating.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at