The (Avoidable) Collateral Damage of Being an Entrepreneur

By Carson Conant, an EO Chicago member, and CEO/founder of Mediafly, Inc.

There are a lot of analogies when it comes to entrepreneurship. For me, starting a business was like sailing across a vast ocean on a little boat in search of new land and opportunities … with my spouse and kids by my side. There are storms, days without wind and times when it’s smooth sailing, but it’s always fun because I’m at the helm. For those who are along for the ride, however, it can be both scary and exhausting— and it shouldn’t be. They should be having as much fun as I am.

Looking back, I wish someone would have warned me about the collateral damage that entrepreneurship can have on one’s marriage and family. More importantly, what I could have done to minimize the damage. It’s no secret that starting a business takes countless nights and weekends, leaving little time for family. Most entrepreneurs think that the ends will justify the means; that “it’s all worth it because I’m going to leave my mark in the world.” I know I did. I would work until 6 p.m., drive home, give a cursory “hello” to my wife and child, and then turn on my computer to dive back into work. I told myself that I was working this hard for “us,” and believed that my wife understood that; that she was fine with my lack of presence because we were all in it together.

As I later discovered, it can take years for a company to reach the point where 18-hour days are not the norm. And it could be awhile before you or your family truly benefit from the success of running a business. In the meantime, they have an absent husband, wife, father or mother. I was fortunate over the years to have relationships with several business owners who helped me see the value of striving to pay equal attention to my family, marriage and business. But it wasn’t always easy. Here’s what I learned along the way:

Avoid Talking about Business All the Time
The business is your dream and passion— don’t force it on your family. Someone once told me that the person who talks the most thinks the conversation or meeting went the best. This is the same for family conversations. I would find myself talking about my company every chance I got, and because my wife loves me, she wouldn’t stop me. I thought everyone loved to hear about it. When I learned that wasn’t the case, I worked hard to not allow talk about my company to dominate conversations. Now, instead of sharing what I did at work, I’m eager to hear about my wife’s day.

Stop Constantly Checking Your Email
It took me years to learn that most work emails can be handled the next day. Time with family creates positive momentum. When you’re checking emails during this precious time, it’s like putting on the brakes. It slows the conversation and takes away from the connection you build in those interactions. Looking at your email isn’t bad once in awhile, but if you reach for your phone every time there’s an alert, it’s like driving a car with one foot on the brakes. You won’t go very far, and you’re creating unnecessary damage.

Check in With Your Spouse Early and Often
Early in our relationship, my wife taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life. It’s called the “no but” apology. When most people apologize, they spend the first half of the conversation saying they’re sorry for what they did. Then they negate their apology by adding, “But…,” and spending the second half saying why they were justified in their decision. When you apologize, try to follow the apology with a statement that shows that you understand and empathize with how they may be feeling, rather than tacking on a justification for your actions. If I had learned early on to ask my wife how she felt about the business, it would have helped her feel heard and understood, and prevented feelings of resentment toward the business.

It may sound like I’m discouraging the entrepreneurial life path, but it’s exactly the opposite. Starting a business is one of the greatest adventures anyone can experience! But if I had the foresight to know then what I know now, I would have navigated my entrepreneurial journey very differently. I would have made a daily effort to demonstrate to my family that all of the hard work was for them, and not miss out on precious life moments. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s really all about.

You can read the original post and browse other member articles on Octane.

Carson Conant is the CEO of Mediafly, Inc., an enterprise software company that delivers mobile-enablement solutions for Fortune 1000 companies and beyond. Fun fact: When Carson is not traveling for work, he’s spending time with his beautiful wife and two rambunctious children. Contact Carson at [email protected].

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