For Better or Worse: Advice for the Entrepreneurial Spouse
I recently read an article on Forbes.com about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur’s spouse or significant other. The piece told the story of two entrepreneurs’ wives, detailing the best of times (being able to launch a non-profit foundation to fight poverty) and the worst of times (living below the poverty level themselves).
Reading the article brought me back to my own entrepreneurial endeavors, during which my wife of now 23 years and I experienced our own share of highs and lows. There were times of income uncertainty, an occasionally inattentive husband, and, obviously, long working hours. Of course, we made it through those trying entrepreneurial times, but not without picking up on a few coping mechanisms along the way. Here are some tips for those who choose to be involved with that crazy dreamer that dares to travel the entrepreneurial path less traveled.
- First of all, understand for many it is a calling, not an arbitrary decision that was made in some random way. The decision to pursue the lonely and uncertain trajectory of entrepreneurship usually comes after a great deal of soul searching—in some cases with the backdrop of soul crushing dissatisfaction with a current job or other life circumstances. To speak and act in such a way that implies to your entrepreneur that their pursuit was of little more consideration than one might apply to picking up a new hobby, can undermine their confidence in many destructive ways.
- Expect the unexpected—good, bad, or otherwise. Your entrepreneur, by necessity, is navigating uncharted waters. This means there will be many surprises, more bad than good early on, but with time the happy surprises start evening out and sustain you through the challenging ones. Know this (expect this) and you will be able to roll through the ups and downs with greater ease—and less stress.
- Have you hugged an (your) entrepreneur today? In the early days of launching new things, there will be no shortage of signs that will challenge the confidence of your would-be captain of commerce. Of my many life experiences, starting new companies, risking much, venturing forward based upon your instincts, has been among the loneliest; second only to going through boot camp where our field training officers were poor surrogates for the nurturing people in our life. Simple encouragement (without judgment or expectation) can make the difference in finding the energy and confidence to face the next day.
- And finally, make sure the inner circle understands points 1-3 above. Be the chief gatekeeper allowing others with positive impact access to your entrepreneur while blocking those that can only feel good about themselves when casting doubt in others. That is not to suggest that your entrepreneur has to be ‘protected’ from negative feedback, especially not when it is directly related to the business. Quite the contrary, that IS what the entrepreneur must tackle head on. I am referring to the annoying negative Ned (or Nelly) we all know who starts most conversations with, “I don't want to tell you what to do, but if it were me ...” News flash you contender wannabes, you don’t have the chutzpah to reach for the brass ring so save your bag of neurosis and self-loathing for someone else. As the company’s Chief Support Officer (CSO), your job is to triage those who get access to the inner circle by demonstrating a command of these simple values.
In wrapping this post up, I am reminded of the (presumably) British expression, in for a penny in for a pound. This sums up the role of the spouse or significant other, recognizing that your entrepreneur is all-in ... to add a poker metaphor. And while having the unwavering support of your spouse is no guarantee of success, it does make it easier to push forward to a brighter future that you both will share. And when that day comes, I promise you that your entrepreneur will know, will appreciate, and will express the vital role you played in realizing their dream.