When a person throws all their energy into a job, it is often the spouse who faces the brunt of the inconvenience that such dedication demands. Whether driven by the work efforts of an executive or a founder of an enterprise, this scenario plays itself out, again and again. The following excerpt, taken from the book Getting Started in Business, is applicable both to a new enterprise and an ongoing endeavor.
John complained that he was sick and tired of his idiot bosses at Xenophobic Enterprises, the hassles they created with clients and employees alike and the lousy pay he had endured for so long. Now he was going to do it himself, very modestly, he was quick to point out. And he said he needed your wifely support. “Well”, thought you, “My job is no bowl of cherries either, but I know John has had this idea of independence off-and-on for several years. So, yes, John, I will support you.”
That was three years ago. Today you can’t fathom what this is giving you – or John, for that matter. You never see John; he is so busy. He’s taken over the whole basement with his office, inventory, visitors, in and out and late-night phone calls; you’ve lost the family room. What was promised as a guaranteed success within 12 months has stretched to an agonizing 36 months. Instead of reaping all the rewards of being in business, you can only see punishment. You don’t visit your friends as often as you used to. Those vacation trips keep being postponed. Your family income has never been so low – and neither of you is getting any younger.
Such is the plight of the long-suffering spouse of the entrepreneur. Whether John or Mary is the entrepreneur, the challenges for the spouse of the entrepreneur remain the same: how to remain supportive of the entrepreneur in the face of continuous, and often demonic, obstacles.
- Looking at the Benefits
Let’s look at the bright side first. Some benefits to the new venture that may be hidden by the current pressures are:
First, John has never been so animated and motivated. In his old job he seemed lifeless by comparison and any enthusiasm for work and his life was sadly lacking then.
Second, you find yourself going down a path in this new business that while it may not be with full knowledge or full enthusiasm, you do have new discussions about widgets and items related to widgets that you never knew even existed before.
Third, the upside of John really ‘making it’ does exist; he is optimistic that success is just around the corner. No doubt, if it does happen, you will also benefit financially and otherwise.
Other benefits fall out of understanding the entrepreneur as noted below.
- Understanding Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs share many of the following, sometimes difficult-to-understand, characteristics.
They see through the fog: What is unclear to most of us, presents a clear vision to the entrepreneurs of accomplishments that will be completed successfully down the road. The entrepreneurs also clearly see the rewards that come with those successes. For mere mortals the same view is very foggy. If you have any doubts about this ability to see into the future, read the biography of any successful entrepreneur. The entrepreneurial visions were scoffed at by both the knowledgeable and unknowledgeable alike. Decca records turned down a recording contract of a young group called the Beatles. The founders of Starbucks are reported to have had 200 refusals of capital investment before finding a sympathetic listener. That is, a common feature with all entrepreneurs is a vision that very few others are able or willing to see at the initial stages. While almost all entrepreneurs share this visionary talent, it alone does not assure success.
They have unbridled optimism in the face of disaster: You yourself may see disaster around the next corner, yet your entrepreneur mate seems able to roll with the huge number of punches. Entrepreneurs are able to sleep at night even though you may restlessly wander between the bedroom and the bathroom. Somehow out of this ‘obvious’ disaster, the entrepreneur sees a ray of hope, a shining beacon and a list of good things yet to come. Optimism is good for the relationship.
They commit resources when others run for cover: Through the combination of clairvoyance, unabashed confidence in their own abilities, dedication to the passion driving them, the entrepreneur sees what has to be invested and is driven to invest before any personal considerations. It can seriously strain the family relationships.
Their efforts carry an upside potential: The upside potential of any business is that it can earn several salaries at once – 1, 2, 10, 20 or 200 and the corresponding creation of wealth. Few jobs will do that. Even a modest business will create earnings that are double or triple that experienced on the typical job. Surprisingly it takes as long for a new business to earn one salary equivalent to that previous regular job as it does to earn the next 3 or 4 salaries. Such an upside is not possible as an employee. You too can benefit if you and your mate can get through the early stages of the enterprise’s evolution.
They are happier and more self-driven: Despite the difficulties you will notice a more positive air about your entrepreneur. The mind is more dynamic; even the gait is livelier than before. Happily, this will rub off positively on you.
- Dreams Denied
There is no doubt of the sacrifice that the spouse of the entrepreneur must make. And it is normal that there will be a limit to the patience of the spouse – especially when facing the reality of lower income, longer working hours and perhaps more family disputes. “If only Mary would get a job like a normal person and provide us with desperately needed regular paychecks”, might be the lament. “Besides, her business is not progressing so well, right now.”
Perhaps the spouse of the entrepreneur has to view the situation as similar to that of the spouse of a student doctor; the spouse provides the income while the intern learns the trade. A medical specialist, the anesthesiologist, may take 13 years in university to achieve the training and the certificate that goes with it. It is expected that the reward for the spouse will come with the higher family income later. Most entrepreneurs after 13 years should be able to earn more than a doctor – so the comparison is not too dissimilar. The problem comes with a lack of understanding of the long road required to achieve success. The media and movies are full of quick success stories. The stories may be true, but they are not the norm.
As frustrating as being the spouse of an entrepreneur may be, the solution of pulling the support, or sending the entrepreneur back to the old job will backfire. Stopping the quest will kill the fire in the belly and can easily jeopardize the person, and as a result the relationship. One has to love oneself first before one can love someone else – and it is the loving of someone that maintains a healthy relationship. Part of the soul and passion of the entrepreneur would be killed as well as part of the mind and the body. Just as the artist has to pursue art, the entrepreneur is driven to pursue dreams. Dreams denied will maim the spirit and the individual just as surely as an arrow into the heart would.
- What’s the Spouse to do?
Confronted with the situation of your mate choosing the route of starting a business, the spouse should, and the entrepreneur ought to do the following:
a) Spouse: Decide if you will to see it through the long haul or not. If you are not willing to do so, don’t let the venture begin.
Entrepreneur: You should not proceed without a commitment from your spouse. Or perhaps you should lead a joint review of the nature of your relationship.
b) Spouse: If the dream does proceed, get involved. Not directly but in a mentally supportive way. Imagine that your entrepreneurial spouse is painting abstract art that you cannot understand. At first you must be tolerant of the unusual things that are happening. As time progresses, you will see a differences in the various pieces of art. Some will please you more than others. So, at that point, offer supportive comments. “This is the best one, so far, from my perspective.” Share the enthusiasm.
Entrepreneur: You should listen to and consult your partner, should be willing to explain as much as is necessary, should be patient in sharing the information and should be sensitive to the need of your spouse to comprehend certain aspects of the business.
c) Spouse: Do not fight the imaginative dream.
Entrepreneur: You should take the time to explain to your spouse where the dream is going and why it is so important to you.
d) Spouse: Do express your own frustration, factually. “I have only $100 this week to spend on food, so that’s why the groceries lack the bottle of wine we are used to having.”
Entrepreneur: You should never trivialize your spouse’s frustrations and hurts brought about by the entrepreneurial situation. You should listen and realize the concerns are important to the spouse, and you should acknowledge that your spouse’s thoughts are valid to the spouse.
e) Spouse: As difficult as it may be, try to rise above the situation when the entrepreneur is down. This requires you to have the patience of Job. You may be down too, because of the same situation. Empathize with your entrepreneur. Later, even during the same day, express your own distressed feelings – but not at the same moment.
Entrepreneur: Do not whine and snivel to your spouse over every little setback. Your spouse has personal concerns too. Use your own broad shoulders to carry the emotional load – at least for the small things. Then some of your time should be set aside to deal with your spouse’s concerns.
So prepared, spouse and entrepreneur, arm-in-arm, can march down the road that points to success. And if no financial achievement results, it is still a successful trip for you both because you will have broadened the life experience and you had the courage to try rather than, as is the case with most other people, only wishing to try.