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How I Messed Up My Marriage (So You Don't Have to)

A founder turned VC offers a brutally honest self-criticism of his behavior at home while we was a CEO so other entrepreneurs can learn from his mistakes.
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Is starting your business having a bad effect on your family life? Perhaps it would make it just a little bit easier to know you are definitely not alone.

Being a great entrepreneur and being a great parent/partner at the same time is notoriously hard (VC Brad Feld and his wife recently wrote a whole book on the subject). Knowing that some of the biggest names in start-ups have confessed to their work putting incredible stress on their private relationships may be comforting (misery loves company, after all), but even more helpful would be a diagnosis of just how many marriages go wrong, as well as actionable advice to make family life easier.

Which is just what a recent post by Andreessen Horowitz partner Scott Weiss offers. A former start-up CEO turned VC, Weiss is in a perfect position both to have intimate knowledge of the hardships of being the boss and and the wider lens to know that these struggles are incredibly common among the CEOs he works with.

Because he meets with so many executives now, Weiss has had the opportunity to see that "many of my struggles as a CEO are surprisingly common. One observation that stands out," he writes, "is how many founder/CEOs have relationship struggles with their significant others and families." Knowing how many CEOs are barely keeping it together at home, Weiss decided to do something both brave and generous -- give readers an unflinching glimpse at his own mistakes as a dad and partner so they can learn from his troubles.

"I Often Acted Like a Self-Important A******e."

The long post is really worth a read in full if this topic hits close to home for you, but to give you a sense of Weiss’s unflinching self-criticism, here he is describing his behavior while serving as CEO:

"I was rarely home. And when I was home, well, let’s just say I wasn’t particularly helpful or cheery. My perspective at the time was: I’m killing myself at work, so when I get home, I just want to kick back with a cocktail and watch some TV. All I do is talk to people all day long and so at home, I’d really prefer not to talk much, just relax."

To sum up he admits, "I was inconsiderate, preoccupied, self-centered, and lazy." His wife, who was at home with the kids all day and in need of adult conversation and a better role model of a modern, engaged father was obviously extremely displeased with his entitled, grouchy loafing.

Pulling Out of the Dive

How does the story end? Happily for the Weiss family. After making the switch to the (slightly) less hectic life of a venture capitalist, Weiss was able to reflect and reform, saving his marriage. The process and the insights it yielded, he hopes, might prove useful for other entrepreneurs. "Now that I’m on the other side, I believe that I could have coached my former CEO self to success as well," he writes.

So what critical lessons did Weiss learn from taking his marriage to the brink? Again, the full post is a must read for those with similar struggles, but here is a sketch of the advice on offer:

  • Disconnect to Connect. "I believe the change in attitude came from truly connecting and tuning in at home. This required disconnecting from work (e.g. turning off the computer and phone), and completely focusing all of my attention on the details of the home."

  • Participate. "It’s just not possible to be a real partner if you aren’t materially participating. I believe even the busiest CEOs must drive a carpool, pack a lunch, help with homework, make a breakfast or dinner, and consistently attend school events."

  • Communicate. "Multiple, daily phone and text check-ins are the norm now, but not then… Communication was by far my biggest area for improvement."

  • Planning and Priorities. "There is a phrase-;’truth in calendaring’”-;if something is important, then you must carve out time in your life to do it."

Weiss’ post may be a recent and exceptionally honest discussion of how CEOs often slip up at home, but others have offered comment and advice as well. And if you’re looking for the perspective of the partner rather than the CEO, VC Mark Suster’s wife Tania has written up some tips that are worth reading.

Are you a founder working hard to keep your family life together? What are your tips for other entrepreneurs?

 

Last updated: Jan 28, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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