According to Google, an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. I would say that it's much more than that. Statistically speaking, entrepreneurship is also about taking a risk with your relationships and possibly even your marriage.
When I was 21, I had no intention of becoming a married man by the age of 24, but low and behold I am married and I believe it is one of the best things that I have ever been blessed to be a part of. I also never thought that I would be running a startup at age 26, but once again here I am. I have learned that marriage and entrepreneurship have the ability to either complement each other or become ramming goats that never quit sparring.
My wife, Ashley, is a friend to me. I am fortunate enough to have her 100% support with our venture, Swayy, a company that makes insulated hammocks. Once Swayy becomes all I envision it to be, she will be, in a lot of ways, more responsible for its launch and sustained growth than I.
Two years ago, Ashley and I had a very important conversation. We said that we would take each other as husband and wife no matter the storm, the harvest, the good or the bad. We would have each other's back she gave a bit more than even that. She was willing to put her dreams on hold for a time so that I could chase mine — a true sacrifice. It's been two years now, and even though it's hard to admit, without her I would probably be couch surfing with $1.53 in my pocket planning my last supper at Taco Bell.
The other night we had an argument and while I stood in the shower upset and trying to simmer down as the cool water trickled down my face, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about this month: My marriage and my entrepreneurial drive.
According to statistics I found from various divorce lawyers, the entrepreneur divorce rate is 5%-10% higher than the regular one. The current divorce rate is about 40%, making the entrepreneur divorce rate very close to 50%. What makes us entrepreneurs so hard to live with? Are we controlling? Are we neglecting our spouses? Well, I can't speak for every entrepreneur, but I can tell a little bit of my experience and shed light on how to keep a marriage open and flowing.
Piece of wisdom #1: Never stop listening
It really is humbling to look back on my past. For much of my life, my mother was my predominant source of learning and growing. During those formative years, it became very apparent to her that I liked to talk a lot more than I liked to listen. In fact, if you were to ask my 34-year-old mother about her 13-year-old son, she would probably tell you that he is a great kid other than the fact that his ears didn't seem to work and his lips ran too much. I can say that while these issues have calmed some, they are still very real pieces of who I am. I grew up thinking that my mom was out to get me. I had very little problem listening. That is, when I "wanted to." But now, I can look back on those days when mom would say, "You just wait! One day, you will see that this is a problem and you will thank me." Well like clockwork, her prophecy has been fulfilled and now I see that a lot of the issues I held as a child are either "back" or have never really left me. I am banking on the latter.
Some might argue that selective listening is a skill, but there is a new type of listening that I am looking to master. In fact, it's so new to me that I am not sure what to call it. The type of listening I am talking about is a kind of subconscious and emotional intelligence. You see, there are many things that I also do that my wife loves. I do things that rub her wrong or hurt her feelings. I'm not always picking up on her subtle cues that show what I am doing, or rather what I am NOT doing, that hurts her. This is where the subconscious, emotionally intelligent type of listening comes in.
I honestly think that it takes two things 1) a humble spirit and 2) experience. Being humble in marriage isn't always easy, and there are times when I feel so strongly about being "RIGHT" that I am willing to die for the sake of virtue, justice, and true nobility! But, by stepping back, I can validate my wife by not brushing aside her way of thinking — this is the first step. I know this because of experience.
Piece of wisdom #2: Never stop sharing
If I have learned anything it's that sharing what's on your heart, even if it takes a little bit of reflection first, is unequivocally important to the wife of an entrepreneur. I know that sometimes I come home and feel like I have the world on my shoulders. I just throw that box of feelings over my shoulder along with the problems, then collapse into a state of endless scrolling on social media. Somehow it can feel easier in the moment to gloss over my day with an "it was an ok day, long but decent" as if somehow that was enough information to let my wife into who I am as a man, and entrepreneur. Sometimes we don't feel like being vulnerable about our day because we don't quite understand what we are feeling. We have what feels like thousands of to-dos bouncing around our mind along with mixed emotions and stresses. We reason that if we ignore them we'll somehow find the courage to face them later. That simply isn't true in this context. Vulnerability opens up the process of healing, and the act of speaking our thoughts aloud has an amazing effect on our spouse's empathy quotient. It helps us realize that things really aren't as bad as they seem. When tensions are high, I don't feel like talking much. However, when I do, tensions subside, stress starts to flee, and what happens is a beautiful exchange of empathy and connection. For my wife, this is crucial to our relationship. If she feels close to me, that is usually correlated to the amount of sharing I have done from my heart, not only my mind.
Piece of wisdom #3: Share the dream
It took a while for Ashley to warm up to the idea of Swayy. After several years of her witnessing my labor, her respect grew and ultimately Swayy turned into a mutual love of ours, but my heart still felt as if it was all mine. I didn't share with her the new experiences I was having, much less share the dream — my dream — in a way that she could own it too. I looked at it as my thing that Ashley supported from a distance. THIS WAS WRONG. One day, after she was crying, it finally hit me that she felt like I didn't want her to be a part of Swayy for my fear of her "screwing things up." She was totally right that I didn't want to share this dream. It felt fragile enough in my own hands and I didn't want to have us both carrying it forward because then I couldn't have ultimate control. But, I realized that I couldn't expect her to just watch and cheer, that would make her a cheerleader and not a player on the field. She's my best friend and partner.
My heart began to change so I decided to give her a project to work on, and WOW was I blown away. She was tasked to help set up a simple CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool for Facebook messenger. I had actually tried setting it up before, but Ashley went above and beyond and did it a lot better. I should not have been shocked, but I was. Which leads me to my final piece of wisdom.
Piece of wisdom #4: You aren't the best person you know
Growing up I loved soccer. I wasn't any good until one summer when I decided to practice for two hours per day. I would run drills with my sister, with my dad, and even my dog. If you ever want to gain some serious ball control skills, try playing keep away from your dog. It's almost impossible.
As I got better and better, I began playing competitively and really liked it. Now, fast forward to college. I loved soccer even more and winning was the only option that would lead to "happiness" for me. I remember standing on the field one day thinking to myself that if I only had 10 other Seth's out on the field then we would be unbeatable. I didn't really think about the fact that each one of those "Seth's" would be trying to control everyone else and everything, but I honestly believed that that would have been a legitimate way to win. The point I am making is that collective work executed by different people with various strengths and weaknesses makes for a much better team. It just takes work.
When I started Swayy I was a very different person than I am today. Only concerned for the success of myself and the preservation of my dream, I would push away anyone who held even slight criticism toward it. I was terrible at listening to the wise advice, talked way too much about my ideas and thoughts, and didn't want to share and let my wife too close to the dream because it was tied to my identity.
Marriage has been an inspirational force to the growth of Swayy and myself. If I had not been married, I'm afraid I would not be in a place to share any bits of wisdom. I know now that listening to the advice of my wife is often the best thing for growth, that listening more is always better and that the vulnerability of sharing from my heart often helps the overall growth of my marriage and my business. Marriage has taught me that teamwork makes the dream work.
Seth Hill is founder and CEO of Swayy, a Cleveland, Tennessee company that designs and manufactures fully insulated hammocks.