Living with an entrepreneur is no picnic. Building a business from scratch requires intense focus, incredibly long hours and enormous risks. Entrepreneurs are born to the lifestyle. We love the challenges, we can live comfortably with risk, and we're temperamentally suited to the ups and downs. Well, more than suited, actually. We live for this stuff.
Our loved ones? Not so much. Let's face it, living with an entrepreneur can be a real workout. If I had to list all the things that have driven my family nuts about my lifestyle, I'd be here for days, so I'm simply going to report what I think they'd say if I asked them to name the one thing they wish would change. They'd chorus in unison: Get rid of that damn BlackBerry. (I can't tell you how many family vacations have involved repeated threats to yank my phone out of my hand and toss it in the ocean.)
Because entrepreneurs can never really stop working--and in truth we don't really want to stop because it's part of who we are, and we love our work so much that it's hard to pull away--those closest to us may feel as if we're never truly present in their lives. Understandably, our endlessly buzzing phones become the most potent symbol of their inability to get our attention.
I've heard women liken the experience of being married to an entrepreneur to living with someone who's having an affair. And is flagrant about it! I've heard husbands of entrepreneurs liken the experience to living with a new mom so besotted with her newborn that she forgets he exists. As you can well imagine, feeling excluded can breed a lot of resentment.
Now imagine that your spouse, who's already feeling ignored, also has skin in the game. Maybe you've mortgaged the house or invested all your life savings in the business. Things can get intense pretty quickly.
So are entrepreneurs destined to live alone and their kids destined to suffer in silence? No. But one lesson I've learned is that you can't just cross your fingers and hope for the best. As with business, you've got to know what you're getting into and troubleshoot problems before they're too big to surmount.
A serial entrepreneur I know told me recently that an entrepreneur is like the star of a movie-- if you're going to marry or embark on a serious relationship with one, you should probably be the sort of person who enjoys playing a supporting role. But a supporting role does not mean a diminished one. Of course if you want to star in your own movie, that's okay, too, but in that case, you're going to need to hire support.
As for the kids, there's no question that they built my business with me, because they had to make many sacrifices along the way. When other kids were in the park with their moms and dads, mine were at my office riding around on dolleys. Still, I think my kids would say that they also reaped rewards.
Looking back, I guess the one change I'd make is to have been more present with them in the moment, just as I am with my clients and partners in business. They grow up fast, just like everyone says.
What about you? Do you think you have what it takes to live with an entrepreneur? And if you are one, what sensitivities have you developed to make life easier for those closest to you? I'd love to hear if and how you're making it work.