I’ve been thinking about an e-mail I got last summer, related to this post on Planning Startups Stories, about how I had left a good job to start out on my own. This was from a man who was one of the most likable students I’ve ever taught, a hard worker, an achiever whom I expect to be running for public office some day (and in this case I mean that in a good way). He asked:

I was wondering, would you have still left your job and ventured out on your own if your wife were absolutely unsupportive and opposed to the idea?  And how did her words help you? I hope I am not asking questions that are too personal, but my situation is similar to yours, except my wife is the exact opposite of yours.

That e-mail came a couple of days ago, but I had to think about it. And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have left that job back then if my wife had objected. But then these are strange times; lots of people have fewer choices. And that might actually help.

I know, my answer sort of spoils the story and the rah-rah of entrepreneurship, the idea that we follow our passion and overcome all obstacles. But it’s the truth. Businesses fail, and it’s naive of us to forget that sometimes they fail despite our best efforts. Sometimes the reluctant spouse is just plain right. Sometimes the failure to get investment, the obstacles that accumulate, are a message.

Unless you don’t have a choice. That has to help with the spouse, partner or significant other who isn’t as on board with the startup idea as you would like. It might be your best option. Tip the scale.

I have a very good friend who moved from the San Francisco Bay area to Atlanta when she got her lifetime dream job. It was exactly what she’d prepared for, in the segment she’d worked in, but with much more responsibility and a lot more money.

When she was back six months later, the obvious question was: “What happened?”

“Well,” she answered, “I guess the thing is that it’s much easier to get a new job than a new husband.” (And of course you can substitute the word “wife” or “partner” and the meaning will hold.)

And looking at it realistically, there’s no denying, like it or not, that a spouse who doesn’t buy into the dream adds to the risk. You don’t want to throw the family into the mix. Plan more, research more, and either answer the objections or accept that the world is sending you a clue. Keep your job. Gulp: if you still have one.

This is a tough question, obviously. Every case is different. But we do glorify the entrepreneurial a bit too much, and we glaze over some of the risks involved. Sometimes.

Here’s a true story: Before I left a good job to strike out on my own, my wife said “go for it; you can do it.” And she meant it. At several key points along the way, she made it clear that we would take the risk together. There was never the threat of “I told you so; why did you leave a good job, you idiot!” What she said was “if you fail, we’ll fail together, and then we’ll figure it out. We’ll be OK.”

That was in 1983.  Failures, dark times, three mortgages and $65,000 in credit card debt at one point didn’t help our relationship. But what we started back then survived, and so did we; we’re still married.

If you’re starting a business and living a relationship, then think about that one. Call it a “make or break” factor.

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