When I co-founded Keap with my brothers-in-law in 2001, I had no idea of the scope of the challenges that lay before us. In particular, I didn’t know that the strain of entrepreneurship would pile up until, one day, it threatened to crush my marriage. Here’s what happened back then and what all entrepreneurs can learn from my experiences testing the bonds of commitment, family relationships and hope.
Get a real job
In 2003, my wife Charisse and I had an intense conversation about our finances and my budding business. I was building Keap with her two brothers, and she had always believed in us and our mission. But, as the mother of our four children (at the time), she was acutely aware of how bleak our financial situation was. It was so bad that often my parents would bring us groceries so that we could have enough food.
On this one fateful day, my wife said those seven words no entrepreneur wants to hear: “You have to get a real job.” It wasn’t the first time she had said them, but it was the first time the gravity of what they meant sunk in. When I went to work the next day, Charisse asked me to promise that I would search for that “real job.” I agreed, knowing this could end our marriage if I dug in my heels even one more day.
Related: When Is the Best Time to Make the Leap From Your Day Job to Entrepreneur?
Just keep going
The next day, I did go to work, fully intending to fulfill my promise to my wife. I took our conversation seriously and was starting to feel pretty desperate myself. But when I got to the office, I experienced what all entrepreneurs experience: I was completely enveloped by my work. Before I knew it, it was 6 p.m. and time to go home. I got to my car, and panic hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to face my wife, who would ask if I had looked for the job I promised to look for — and I would have to say no.
When I got home and walked into the house, I found Charisse making dinner. As expected, she turned around and said, “Did you look for a job today?” My face collapsed, as I had to admit that I hadn’t, and I braced for what was sure to come next. But instead, my wife came over to me, gave me a huge hug and held onto me really tight.
I asked her what was going on, and she said: “Just keep going.” She told me that she had realized that everything would be ok and that she believed God knew what was happening and we would push through. At that moment, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for her commitment and felt the most intense surge of energy. Her words and belief in me, despite the obstacles we faced, meant everything.
Related: Being Married Makes You a Better Entrepreneur — Here’s Why
How to keep going and keep your relationships intact
The moral of this story is that whether you’re married or single, entrepreneurship will impact your closest relationships. Through more than 20 years of walking this road, I’ve learned that you can decide what type — and how significant — that impact is. If you’re struggling with this issue, I’ve learned four keys to making this work that I want to share with you.
- Ask for the specific kind of support that you need. Some people need support in the form of encouraging words, while others need a hug. Still, others want some alone time, a hot meal or the gift of silence. Don’t be shy about asking your spouse, significant other, parents or friends for what you need. They may not always be able to provide it exactly as you envision it, but they’ll be happier knowing how to help in a meaningful way. And you’ll be at least a little closer to having the support you truly crave.
- Guard your time and presence. Jim Elliot is credited with saying, “Wherever you are, be all there.” For your business and your family relationships to thrive, you must lean into this philosophy with all your might. When you’re at work, be 100% there to listen to your employees and ideate on your vision. When you’re at home, silence your phone or even leave it in your car (like I’ve been known to do) so the temptation of distraction isn’t even within sight or earshot. This gives the people and tasks in front of you the attention and quality time they deserve.
- Put the right tools in place. As an entrepreneur, you wear all the hats and do everything — but you don’t have to. There’s so much technology today that can help you automate practically anything, saving you valuable time to invest in other areas. Make use of it. Also, consider what other tools can help you maximize your days. Is it a business coach? An organizational tool? An assistant? Get your systems in place, and you’ll be amazed by how much you can do in a day.
- Hire the right people. Finally, you need to have a team with both similarities and differences. You must be aligned around your mission and work in unison toward shared goals. But you should also hire people with different skill sets and perspectives from your own. This will help you create a robust, thriving company built on a solid foundation.
Related: 8 Reasons Married Entrepreneurs Are More Likely to Succeed
Even so many years and successful milestones later, I still look back at that day in the kitchen with my wife and feel completely humbled. I could have lost everything without her encouragement and belief in me. My wish for you is that your business not only succeeds but that you also prioritize the people in your life who matter most so that all that success means something. That is the truest pinnacle of what entrepreneurship can be.
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