Do you have a spouse, partner, or other family member who's made supporting your work a priority? I know I do. My husband Bill has been solidly in my corner for the past 19 years, providing constant technical support (he's a computer geek) management advice (he's an experienced manager with great people instincts) and many, many Caesar salads with chicken.
I spend a lot of my time talking with successful entrepreneurs and while this is far from scientific, my strong impression is that most are married or otherwise partnered. Starting and running a company is so consuming that most people need that kind of support to do it successfully. It can also be very lonely. Not to disrespect any of the single entrepreneurs out there, but it seems to me it would be hard to go it alone.
If you have someone at your back, it's important to let that person know--often--that you're grateful for the help and that it really does make a difference. Here are nine things that I do--but not often enough--to let Bill know how much his support means to me.
1. Say so.
The simplest way to let someone know that the support you're getting makes a difference to you and your career is to say so, both directly to your partner and also to others. I know it sounds obvious, but I also know that I myself fail to say thank you as often as I should. If you're like me, take this opportunity, and maybe this column, as an opportunity to remind your partner how much you appreciate his or her help. I know I plan to.
2. Share your success.
If your success in the business world is the result of both your efforts, then you should share that success with your partner as often as you can. When I travel for work, especially if I'm going somewhere fun, I try my best to invite Bill along. At American Society of Journalists and Authors events, he is such a familiar figure that if I show up without him, people ask where he is. Any time you can bring your partner with you into the fun aspects of your job, try and do it. Your partner has probably seen plenty of the dark side already, so this may provide some balance.
3. Share the wealth.
Had a good year? You may be congratulating yourself with an expensive treat or using some of your extra funds to improve your workplace or thank your employees. Don't forget that the person at home should also share in some of that financial reward.
What form that takes will depend on your finances, and the particular financial arrangement in your marriage--every one is different. It could be a present or an outing. It could be a larger-than-usual deposit into a joint account, an investment in something your partner believes in, a charitable donation or even paying off a debt. Whatever it is, it should be something that will make your partner happy.
4. Remind them they're in your thoughts.
I find this particular step very easy to forget. If you're hyper-focused on your work or your company, I'm betting you do too. Just checking in with your partner throughout the (often lengthy) workday can make a big difference. Even if you're too busy or too trapped in meetings for a phone conversation, a text, Facebook message or other small bit of outreach will keep you both feeling connected.
5. Make time to spend together.
If your partner is anything like my husband, then he or she stores up things to share with you or talk with you about while you're apart during work days. Make some real time together for conversation and relaxation, preferably every day. Leave bigger blocks of time on your days off. (You're taking at least one of those a week--right? Remember, that's important for brain function.)
6. Let your partner help.
This one is always a challenge for me as I'm terrible at asking for or accepting help. Keep in mind that when you're overworked, overloaded, or frustrated that needed things aren't getting done, it affects your partner too.
I still get important items (and checks) via snail mail and near the end of almost every day I was railing at the universe because I needed to get to the post office but didn't have time. Eventually, Bill made the reasonable suggestion that he should go instead of me. It became a habit that's helped me meet countless deadlines. He's helped me in my job too, with everything from online research to phone calls. Just today he took over the task of calling the town offices to investigate some proposed construction next door to a house we're about to rent. Having his help makes a huge difference.
7. Respect your partner's time.
If you're the busier person in your couple--highly possible if you're running a business--it can be too easy to fall into the trap of thinking your time is more valuable. Thus, if you're late and make your partner wait for you, that's no big deal, whereas if you wait for your partner, that's unacceptable.
This is another trap I tend to fall into, but it isn't fair or healthy for your relationship. Whichever of you is busiest, you are equals in your household. Each of your time is just as valuable as the other's.
8. Support your partner's career.
If your partner has work he or she cares about, even if it's something that doesn't seem important to you, support that work to the best of your ability. Show up at events, create introductions to your business partners, and do anything else you can think of to make your partner as successful as you are. That will benefit you just as much as your success and happiness benefits your partner.
9. Give your partner a turn when their career comes first.
This can be difficult, especially (if as in my household) your career is better established and/or pays the bills. But if you've spent a lot of years benefiting because your partner has prioritized your career and your goals, there comes a time when you should return the favor.
For me, that time arrived this fall, when we packed up my office, our household, and our three cats to travel across the country from our old home in Woodstock to a new one in the Pacific Northwest in support of Bill's music career. The move played havoc with my schedule at a time when I've never been busier and it may even have cost me some opportunity. And that's OK.
Various friends asked, indirectly or directly, if I was really sure I wanted to disrupt the pretty good thing I had going back in Woodstock and start over in a new place. My answer is: You betcha! It's only fair after all the years Bill's spent being my support system. And if he can have a career that makes him as happy as mine makes me, well that benefits both of us.