My last post led to a flood of comments and emails. There's so much sobering insight packed into the reactions, so many personal stories that stand out, I'll highlight a few of them below.
First though, I want to talk a little about the connection between my work and the failure of the relationship. As I said, there wasn't a direct, clear link. I fought hard to carve out time to spend together, since I knew that was the classic mistake. It was more subtle - when at some level I started to sense deeper problems with our relationship, I'd try to spend more and more time together as a fix instead of talking about the issues and confronting them. I had my work to soak up any frustration and bring me some measure of satisfaction, so I let things linger. Looking back, I should have known what was going wrong, but it was easier to hide in the world I could control than face painful conversations. I shut myself off, and left her facing our problems alone. When she finally had the courage to confront me with them, she felt it was too late for a fix. It wasn't that work kept me physically away, it's that it gave me a place to hide from our problems.
"I know how it is to be on the other side of the story. It's hard for us too. I'm really sorry."
That's what I'm going to regret for the rest of my life, the pain I caused someone I love.
Alex Dong paints a picture of where I could be in 50 years time if I'm not careful:
"When I met Frank, he was 97. Just came back from his first accident falling off from stairs. A visit to his house was like a tour of the car history museum. He was there when Ford was just starting up. Frank invented a shitload of gadgets and mechanical devices that made the model-T possible. Most bleeding edge technologies they created have long gone. Today we don't even have a chance to see them anymore. Like a reflective mirror on top of the front light that can tell the driver whether the light is on or not. He was so lonely by then that he took us for a ride in his still brand new Ford Model A and refused to stop and let us go home.
Frank's personal life was a complete failure. He was so passionate about changing the world that he had a workshop at home, with lathe and tons of great manual tools. His wife became an alcoholic because Frank completely ignored her. His two sons hated him so much that none of them came to visit him in the last 5 years.
A month ago, I heard that Frank finally moved into a nursery home. He sold his house before he left. My friend Walter was there when one of his son hired a dumpster to take away all Frank's tools. The whole workshop was thrown away. Nobody, even a museum, wanted his stuff. All the great books, models, designs, gadgets. All into the dumpster."
Jud Valeski talks about the impossible balancing act:
"Thanks for the honesty. I'm sorry this happened. The apparent out-of-the-blue nature scares me. Things seem "fine" in my world. I fear coming home one day to an empty house and a note on the table.
There are so many conflicting desired behaviors between work and non-work relationships. In order to make my company succeed, I have to pour everything I have into it. In order to make my marriage and parenthood succeed, I have to pour everything I have into it. What the!?!
Over the past six months, since taking on the CEO position at work, my world has shifted. Even more than before, as a founder, my time is absorbed by work. I've never been good at balance, but I like to think I'm doing ok with it. I get support from my spouse (tremendous support), but I don't know how real it is. Not because she's potentially dishonest, but because I don't know if these are the kinds of things that even she can know in the moment (can any of us?). I can't ignore the frustration in her voice when talking to her on the phone on a work trip asking "how many more nights are you gone?"
For better or worse will be determined in time, but we've split the balance up at a unit level. We've curiously fallen straight back into the 1950's; I bring home the bacon, and she runs the house and kids. I try to be a good father by showing my children what hard work means. What it means to dedicate yourself. What it means to be passionate. What it means to run fast. What it means to pick yourself up after you face-plant. What it means to work and love. What it means to love work. Those are the examples I can give. That is my life. That is how I can contribute to our child rearing as a parent. It's not necessarily my preference, but it's what I can do, and do well, at the moment."
Adrian Ashton on the hidden costs behind work we admire:
"I occassionally get to guest lecture to enterprenuers clubs in colleges and universities and always end with an image of Edward Much's 'Scream' to illustrate the point that the piece of art has changed the world, touched and changed countless lives... and all it took was for the artist to have a breakdown."
Mitch Fillet on a time limit for startups:
"It is very hard to navigate the desire for achiievement, the demands of your employer aas they heap on both responsibility and compensation and the needs of your family.
Wrap those demands woth some aging parents and a few chldren and it becomes an almost impossible cycle to shoulder for more then a year or two. That is why we speak about a 36 month exit of some sort. This, of course, does not mean an IPO. It just means a recognition that a combination of delegation, infrastructure build-out and possibly the inclusion of other stakeholders preserves the sanity and family of the founder group."
Nicholas Napp on the sacrifices you have to make:
"We talked and agreed that there needed to be more ground rules other than simply keeping to the truth. If you're not willing to sacrifice your relationships (something I am no longer willing to do) you have to make other compromises. That's why I now have a startup and a consulting business. Yes, VC's hate the idea, but they're not the people I want in my personal life.
For me, there has to be more balance. You can't stay happy and walk away from your passion and a desire to build things, but that passion can easily blow up the rest of your life. Being hyper focused on work is the natural tendency for an entrepreneur, but for most of us, I don't believe it's effective. You lose perspective, miss opportunities and make mistakes. Not that you don't make mistakes otherwise, but at least if my work life sinks, I have a rich personal life to anchor me. That gives me the chance to reset and try again."
Kin Lane on sharing the obsession:
"Definitely an area that young entrepreneurs do not consider. My marriage eventually ended after 10 years due to my chronic entrpreneurialism.
I still suffer from it, but manage it better these days. Also found an equally geeky, obsessive GF....and our obsessive world is shared. "