The start of a company? … the end of a marriage. I read that somewhere once, and as I read it, quiet tears fell down my cheeks because I genuinely know how much potential truth there is within that statement [and have had 1-2 moments in seven years of business ownership myself where I’ve absolutely thought, “yep. This is it. This is the moment where my business is about to cost me my 20+ year relationship, and marriage].
But it hasn’t. Yet. Because I really, genuinely did marry one of the good ones … and even having married one of the really good honest? I have still lived through moments where I’ve cried as Dave has given me particular – incredibly reasonable – ultimatums, like promising to visit his parents with him off the back of a particularly sad diagnosis within the family … and then [of f*cking course] our offices flooded, and I had to leave him to navigate that alone while I tried to save all of our newly purchased tech etc.
I remember standing in our sh*tty old flood-prone “startup offices” desperately holding my hands over plaster that kept bursting open despite my best efforts to just … stop the water pouring through [and destroying our tech]. Water was literally gushing at my face with full force, and I remember thinking, “my husband is driving to regional Victoria on his own, navigating a sad diagnosis within the family … and I’m over here trying to save our offices from flooding”.
This blog post isn’t going to go into huge detail about the tough times my relationship has endured throughout my business ownership journey [particular in TDP’s startup years where it was eleventy billion hour working weeks, and zilch financial ROI] … because my relationship is 20+ years long [I met my husband when I was 18], and it’s a relationship I cherish too much to talk about in great detail via this blog.
That said, I am comfortable disclosing that there have been some incredibly raw [and rock bottom] moments where I’ve absolutely known, “this is it. I’ve lost him. And deservedly so. Because I promised him laptop-down on a family holiday, and then [of course] sh*t hit the fan. Somewhere. Somehow. Like it always does when you start the company … and potentially end your marriage”.
In the early days of TDP, this here little startup absolutely competed against my marriage [and often still tries to, if I let it. The difference these days is that we’re not a startup any more, and I care more about my marriage than I do this company … so I make sure I let the “startup” know that the marriage wins now. And it’ll always win].
To ensure that’s the case, I have three “rules” that I try to stick to in order to make sure that I didn’t start the company that ultimately ended the marriage with someone I still care about as much as I did when I met him 20+ years ago.
Rule #1: don’t forget the relationship
As soon as I met my husband, I knew. He didn’t [lol!], but I did. I loved him almost immediately. We met in a bar [I was the bartender, he’d just won a football premiership], and instead of getting smashed with his teammates? … he sat at the end of the bar and helped me study for a law exam I had the next day at university by – semi drunkenly – quizzing me on law of torts-related questions.
He saved possums from being killed, and released them into nature reserves. He had a seriously beautiful family, and he loved his parents [I love family oriented people, and always told myself I’d look for someone who loved their family intensely: Davey Boy is that person].
I remember telling my younger sister about him and she said, “don’t date the footballers, Cherie. They’re all ar*eholes” … but I have never [ever] allowed a person to influence my opinion of someone before that particular someone has the chance to have me make my own opinion of them.
In business ownership [and particularly in your company’s startup years, which – by the way – really are the “bad old days”, lol!], you can so easily get caught up working a million hours per week for almost no financial return … and before you know it? You’re completely consumed by your business [obsessively so], and you’ve forgotten that 20 years ago? … you met someone who scooped possums up from the side of the road in order to save them.
Don’t become so engrossed in your business that it’s literally all you can think about/talk about [admittedly? I’ve been there. And it’s embarrassing. I’m not there any more], and I speak from personal experience when I say, “don’t make the mistake of forgetting your relationship”.
My beloved possum saver is far more important to me than my multi 7 figure business is.
Rule #2: what happens at TDP, stays at TDP
Following on from the above, I can honestly say that I now barely talk about my company to Dave. So much so, that he’ll see a viral piece of content on social media where we’ve rented out a “secret apartment” via my company and donated it to an organisation that re-accommodates victims of domestic violence … and Dave’ll be like, “this is incredible?! I didn’t know you did this?!”.
I barely discuss anything related to TDP, unless he specifically asks [which he barely does, tbh … because he lived those “bad old days” startup years with me, and he saw some sh*t, ha!].
I don’t discuss its day to day, I don’t discuss our finances, I don’t discuss pressures or stresses, I don’t discuss wins, I don’t discuss disappointments, I don’t discuss my employees … I’m not kidding when I say this, I barely bring TDP up in front of Dave because I just don’t wanna know about it when I’m around him [and vice-versa].
What happens at TDP, stays at TDP [unless he specifically asks me something].
Disclaimer: I do discuss Workcover premiums with him, because he’s got a lot of professional experience in this space and taught me how to save my company tens of thousands of dollars per annum thanks to what he knows.
Cheers, Davey Boy.
Rule #3: prioritise your mental health
This is a newer rule for me, and we’ll thank a certain little global pandemic for this one.
The last x2 years have taken a toll on my mental health, absolutely: I have CEO’d. I have home-schooled. I have gritted my teeth through working in a way so completely [and utterly] unsuited to my preferred ways of working, which has been fully remote work, with fully remote internal comms via internal messaging programs: I hate it. It goes without saying that I prefer in-person collaboration, creativity, strategy, huddling, office banter, lol’s, kindness, and not trying to decipher tone via messaging programs like Slack [when I’m Autistic, and don’t read tone well].
So, uh, how did my mental health go throughout all of this? Terrible. Thanks for asking, ha!
I broke my rule of “what happens at TDP, stays at TDP” and often cried to Dave and said, “this isn’t what I signed up for. I’m miserable. I am so lonely. I haven’t seen my team in 2 years. I don’t want to engage with my employees via an internal messaging program with messages like “good morning” and “breaking for lunch” and “that’s it for the day! See you tomorrow”.
I cried: a lot, and I still cry. A lot.
… and then I begun to prioritise my mental health again, because I could see how my pandemic-induced misery was impacting my marriage. And as I said much earlier, “My beloved possum saver is far more important to me than my multi 7 figure business is”.
Sure, 2020/2021 didn’t give me the business I signed up for owning [I have been working in a way so indescribably unsuited to how I work best as a Creative Director, according to my business coach] … but Dave shouldn’t have to wear the impacts of that, when he’s also been homeschooling x2 kids alongside me for the last x2 years [whilst also juggling his own full-time job].
Starting a company and not wanting it to end your marriage? … prioritise your mental health.
Is this helpful? Relatable? Throw a comment down in the comments section … let’s have really honest business owner’y chats together, yea?