6 Reasons Why Choosing Your Spouse is the Most Important Decision You’ll Make in your Entrepreneurial Career
Let’s face it: The life of an entrepreneur is made for single people. You can eat ramen everyday (or leftover pizza, or cereal) without worrying about someone else’s diet. You can eat at midnight, when you finish working. You can go to every single networking event, attend every single conference, and jump on a plane at a moment’s notice without having to consult someone else’s schedule.
There’s a lot I envy about my single friends who are starting their own companies. They can live their job without someone else thinking they’re turning into a hermit; they can get a tiny studio apartment with a broken dishwasher and deal with it for a year while they’re building their dreams.
Those of us in committed or married relationships have a little less flexibility.
I make the active choice to stop working at a reasonable hour so I can spend time with my husband, Marvin. I miss conferences because I’d be away from home too long (with a business like mine, I really could be gone for months at a time if I had the chance). I put effort into things that would have fallen to the wayside if I were running Wanderful with no strings attached — for better or worse.
The good news is, I lucked out, big time. I married a man who not only supports my entrepreneurial lifestyle, but relishes in it. I feel lucky to balance a healthy relationship with a growing career.
I know it could have been very different. When I met my husband, he was an active duty Marine. We dated in Washington, DC, lived together on the seacoast of North Carolina, and eventually moved to Chicago. In our earlier years, he would apologize for the instability of the active duty life, but I didn’t think anything of it. I knew exactly what I was signing up for — weeks of training out of state, early early mornings and late late nights, and even one long and grueling deployment. For what it was worth, he had warned me, and I got into it anyway.
But my husband never knew I was going to be an entrepreneur.
Saying goodbye before Marvin’s 2010 deployment to Afghanistan. I signed up to be a military spouse, but he didn’t sign up to be the husband of an entrepreneur.
He didn’t know I was going to quit a great job with a great future and try to make my own paycheck (and learn all too quickly how difficult that actually is). He didn’t know I was going to need him to come through both emotionally and financially, as I took on a high amount of risk with little early reward. He didn’t sign up for an entrepreneurial career. Yet when I took it on, he decided to support me anyway.
It’s why this blog post is specifically directed at those of you who are entrepreneurs, or thinking about being entrepreneurs, and aren’t married or committed yet. Because when you find that person you want to spend your life with, they need to be all in. No one else is going to take the ride of entrepreneurship quite like a spouse will, and in an environment that has a high amount of risk, requires a great deal of hustle, and commands significant mental strain, a partner can make or break your company.
Here are six reasons why choosing your spouse is the most important decision you’ll make in your entrepreneurial career (and how to find the right partner when you’re pursuing a life of entrepreneurship).
6. Because they will not just deal with the hustle — they will encourage it
Don’t forget, your spouse wins just as much as you do. Celebrating a “35 Under 35” title at the Chicago Scholars gala.
You’re not looking for someone to put up with you. You’re looking for someone who will celebrate you. You are looking for someone who will find humor in the struggle, who won’t stress about the challenges, who is game for everything. Someone who will take you out for cocktails when you nail your first deal, and take you out for cocktails again when you completely mortify yourself in front of an investor. You want a “ride or die” person who can enjoy your pursuit while not getting too wrapped up personally in the inevitable highs and lows.
What you don’t want is someone who is constantly holding you back. If you truly feel like the entrepreneurship track is right for you, having someone beside you who thinks you’re just going through a phase is not only toxic to your company, but it’s toxic to your self-esteem. You spend half your time as an entrepreneur proving that your idea is worth it: that it’s worth other’s time, money, and investment dollars. If your own partner can’t see that, then you should take a step back and re-examine what your partner does see.
5. Because they will keep you balanced
Taking a much-needed vacation to Greece to celebrate a friend’s wedding in 2015. Sometimes it’s not just about the job.
Though this person will support you, they will also keep you grounded. They won’t sweat the small stuff and they’ll continually remind you what the small stuff is.
You will make time for them because you love them. You will go out to dinner together when you could be working. You will go on a vacation together when you could be working. You will realize that your life isn’t about work, and that you are not your company.
Your spouse will give you a chance to be you — not entrepreneur you, not hustler you, just you — you who always forgets to close the curtains at night, you who is a sucker for chocolate peanut butter ice cream, you who is totally addicted to the show “Nashville”.
It will be important to remember who that “you” is, because as an entrepreneur you will feel like you are your company (and you will make others believe that you are your company) all the time. But the fact that you are not your company is possibly one of the most important lessons that I believe an entrepreneur could learn, because if your company fails (like many do), an entrepreneur who sees her company as an extension of herself will have a lot harder time getting back on the entrepreneurial horse to pursue the next adventure.
4. Because they are your first investor
Yes, there is such a thing as opportunity cost, and it is real. All the time that you could have been working at a hedge fund, or even just taking a regular salary — all the time you could have had a job but decided to pursue the entrepreneurship route — is you forgoing money, and when you’re with someone, it’s not just at your expense — it’s at theirs, too.
But a great entrepreneurial spouse understands that without your business, you wouldn’t be as alive as you are right now. And they’re willing to make that investment to help you achieve the satisfaction, the personal growth, and the professional success that you seek. And they will continue to invest, with every passing day, as they watch your company grow. They have the first seat in the house to see you succeed, and they await that moment with great anticipation.
3. Because they are an unspoken business partner, even if they don’t work with you
A professor of mine told me that his wife is his informal business partner. She knows everything about his company and she knows everything about him. When he has to get something off his chest, she’s the one to hear about it.
My husband is not just my emotional support, but my leadership coach, my financial counsel. When I want to take on a new project, he is in the best position to know if I can handle it with my schedule. When I learn about a fellowship opportunity, he is the one I discuss with before I take it. Although I think he is entirely separate from my company, he helps me make a number of important decisions without either of us even realizing it.
Unfortunately, and as much as you may separate your company from yourself, it can be very hard to avoid talking about your company with the people you love. And why should you? Especially in those early phases, you may be the only person working on your enterprise, and often need someone to bounce ideas off of. That’s where your spouse or partner comes into play. Without my husband, half the time I’d be talking to a wall.
2. Because they will smile and put up with it when their friends tell them how successful you are (even when they’re actually the one paying the bills)
My husband, Marvin, as profiled in Diversity MBA Magazine
(Thanks to Loyola University Chicago, photo by Natalie Battaglia)
My husband is about to start an impressive job doing management consulting at Accenture, one of the most prestigious consulting firms in the country. He is a hustler on his own — recently featured in Diversity MBA magazine, an inspiration to his classmates and the pearl of his family. Yet when he talks to his friends, few gush over the fact that he was able to land such a career-changing opportunity and instead tell him that one day his wife is going to take over the world. They joke that he can retire now and be a trophy husband. Of course this is all while we’re using his hard-earned salary to cover many of the expenses that my less-than-stable career can’t afford.
But my husband never complains. He never says “Oh, it looks all good online, but you should see her behind the scenes!” He never talks about the days I can’t pay myself, or the fact that my MBA education has drained our entire savings. He never mentions that actually, it’s because of him that we’re even alive right now. He always smiles and says, “she’s amazing, right?”
1. Because they know your enterprise will succeed when even you yourself think it will fail
This is, of course, the key reason why choosing your spouse is the most important decision of your entrepreneurial career. Because at one point in your career (if not many points — it happens to all of us), you will think you can’t do it anymore. You will give up. You will be exhausted, jaded. You will feel misunderstood by the market, by investors, by people who you are desperate to believe in you. You will think your business is stupid and you’ll want to get that job in marketing or consulting or accounting or at a hedge fund.
And your spouse will take you to the side and say, look. You’re not giving up on this company, because I’M not giving up on this company. Because I know you, and I know you’re smart, and I know this is going to work.
And that moment will be worth every night that you finished working early, every conference you missed to be home, and every moment you felt jealous of your peers.
Because at the end of the day, your spouse is the one who will save your business — over and over again.