The ultimatum, part 4

A business acquaintance once said that he didn’t know any business owners who weren’t alcoholics or divorced.

My husband is a visionary. But he is more than that. He is a doer. He has the ability to take his dreams and put them into action. He sees the potential in the future. I can’t see tomorrow from yesterday. I look at the past for answers, he looks at the future…what is possible.

He had this vision for a start up company. No one else in the area had this business idea, it was a new niche. Running a business is more than just doing what you are good at. It includes many moving parts; finance, sales, marketing, HR, customer service, collections just to name a few. The pressure is immense when your name is on the door and you are the only one providing a source of income for the family.

Paul worked hard even when it took years to see any fruit from his labor. He worked when he was sick. I even dragged him to the office the day after he came home from the hospital from having major surgery. Many nights he came home from work just to work some more after supper. That wasn’t even enough. He wanted to learn everything he could about business. He worked on his MBA while running a business. Most mornings he would go into the office at 5 AM so he could get a few hours of studying in before the phone started ringing.

After ten years, I joined Paul running the business for another ten years. Looking back those were some of the best years of my life. We worked well together. Running a business was rewarding but very stressful. I wanted to be in control but I didn’t want to be in charge like Paul was.

He started having a few drinks after work to take the edge off. It was his reward for a hard days work. It’s an incredible amount of stress making high level decisions that effect the lives of other people. If an employee made a mistake, it was his problem. Every month Paul had a long list of collection calls. It made me sick to hear him have to make those calls. He had to calm down angry customers when they had technology issues that he barely understood himself. He had to make sales calls where he got the door slammed in his face. His phone was always on. We could never get away from it.

Like most things in life, we rarely heard from customers when they were satisfied. They usually called when there were issues and problems.

Getting together with business acquaintances usually involved drinking. Sometimes it meant trying to keep up with the heaviest drinker. Paul would usually say he drank as much as everyone else did. I really didn’t think much about it. Then one night he called me when he was out of town and we had a 20 minute conversation. The next morning he called apologizing profusely for not calling me the evening before. I thought he was joking at first. He didn’t remember calling and having a long conversation with me the night before.

I was starting to notice a new pattern. Paul wasn’t remembering our conversations. Sometimes he would accuse me of not telling him things that I clearly remembered telling him. Sometimes he would say things that upset me and had no recollection the following morning. Talking to him was like talking to myself. Sometimes I would just walk away. Why bother? He wouldn’t remember the conversation.

I didn’t know what to do. Running a business was his life, but the stress of the constant pressure was killing him too. Nothing I could say or do could change it. Then we sold the business. Eventually the high pressure and busyness gave way to a lack of purpose and boredom which wasn’t much better…until he was back in the game with a new business.

 

working well not working

My husband and I ran a business together for 10 years. We worked amazingly well together. Running a successful business with your spouse is a huge accomplishment that few couples wish to tackle. Both of us are rather type A task oriented people. There aren’t any back burner lists or room in our lives for procrastination. What can be done tomorrow should’ve been done yesterday. We worked together for a common goal.

At home discussions commonly were about our shared experiences. Our frustration about working with a difficult client. How we were going to solve a work related issue. Our kids got used to shop talk at the dinner table. It was a big center of our life and created a level of intimacy rarely found in most marriages.

Together we built something so amazing that it was coveted by others. It’s been over two years now since we sold our business. The new owners kept me on for the first year then outsourced my job to a centralized corporate branch. It was a huge adjustment for me.

One of my favorite ways to outrun my demons is to throw myself into the distraction of work. I didn’t have time to think about my problems because I was always too busy. I rushed to this and rushed to that. I had kids to race here and there. I had a new bigger house to clean. I filled every minute of my day. I started writing. I trained for marathons.

It was hard for me when I lost my job and my husband continued on. It was harder to push the demons down when I could finally hear the cries of my inner child. Then two out of three of my kids became adults. I was starting to feel the emptiness of losing them. My health went downhill and I haven’t fully recovered. But even worse, the foundation of my once enviable marriage started to crack.

My husband’s hours were drastically cut. He is pretty much a figurehead for the company we sold. They wheel him out every now and then as needed. But he is pretty much semi-retired. Retiring early sucks! I’m just going to say that now. It’s a huge adjustment. You really can’t do anything during the week because all of your friends are still working. It is really hard for two task oriented workaholics.

So we fought. A lot. We fought about the big things. We fought about the little things. How come we worked so well together when we had so much stress and things to do? There was no longer anything new to talk about. Our relationship got stagnant like putrid water. Everything he did annoyed me. Everything I did annoyed him. I tried to fix him. He tried to fix me. Many times we wanted to throw in the towel but we still both wanted to keep working on our marriage.

It was hard because there was nowhere to go for advice. Neither of us wanted marriages like our parents. Most of our friends are on their second or third marriages. Where do you turn? We kept talking and working through our issues, some days that was all we accomplished.

We decided to start a second business where we could once again work together. Things were going pretty well.

Then this whole coronavirus hit. Once again we were forced together with nothing productive to do. Everything we were looking forward to is now gone. My structure and routine have been replaced with chaos and uncertainty indefinitely. We are getting ready to launch our new business. How will that work in this economy? Plus the money that we were counting on living on is simply not there. Who knows when and if it will rebound? Then we started fighting again.

We are still working on our marriage. I have to be a healthy me and Paul needs to work on himself. We can’t fix each other. If I learned one thing about being married over twenty years it’s that. Both people need to be willing to work on themselves to work on their marriage. We will get through this too.

Goal 9: Work hard, but take time to rest.

One of the hardest parts of losing my job is telling people what I do.

When meeting someone new, the first question that they ALWAYS ask is what you do for a living. The second question people ask is how many kids I have. Never fails.

Yesterday I went to the gym later than usual. Someone asked me why I wasn’t at work. I think people are just too nosy.

Two days after I lost my job some friends had a party at their house. Right off the bat, someone asked me what I do for a living. The question hit me hard and knocked the wind out of me. What? I didn’t have an answer prepared. I stumbled awkwardly through the whole story of how my husband and I sold our business last year and that the new owners recently eliminated my position unexpectedly.

My answer seemed to confuse people more. Is it a good thing that you lost your job or a bad thing? Yes, the answer is yes to both. Losing my job after working with my husband for 11 years was very hard. Not to mention that as a workaholic I wrapped a lot of my identity in my work. Yet it was a good thing because now I decided to write a book.

Now do I tell people that I am an author when they ask me what I do?? Then I have to explain what my book is about which is very personal and painful experience of growing up with a disabled sibling in an abusive home environment.

If I am a writer, I should be able to come up with a creative way to tell people what I do for a living in one word. If I tell people I am retired, that brings up even more questions since I look a lot younger than I am.

Then I decided to tell the next person who asks that I am independently wealthy just to get a good laugh. Would that shut them up?

The strange thing about not working is that I really don’t have any extra time. I am still running around like I am in a hurry. I keep a strict schedule. I drop my daughter off at school, go to the gym for an hour or two, write my book, then work on this blog. Plus I do other things like clean the house, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, and run errands. Now I wonder how I was able to do all of this while working 30+ hours a week.

You know how the saying goes, ask the busiest person that you know if you want to get something done.

I’ve always been a workaholic. I feel very stressed out if I don’t accomplish enough in a day. Resting is a form of torture and usually only happens when I am sick. One day I had doubt about writing the book and said that heck with it, I am going to watch a show on Netflix. My daughter came home from school, saw me watching TV, and was concerned I was sick. She felt my forehead for signs of a fever and was worried about my health.

Relaxing is something I rarely do. But it is something that I want to learn how to do. I’ve always had the harsh workaholic task master of perfectionism pounding constantly in my head. If I learned anything from losing my job, it’s that I can’t let how much I am able to work control my life and dictate how much I am worth as a person. It is a wonderful way to avoid relationships and look like a martyr.

Working hard was something I was good at and I ran with it. There are few that top my work ethic and determination. But it controls me. I’ve learned anything that controls me isn’t good for me. I am no better than an alcoholic looking for the next drink. I am always searching for the next project, the next goal, and I am viewed as an inspiration and a hero for doing it.

I am afraid of success. What will I do next? Running marathons is not enough. How about a 50k? I drive myself to the ground. Are you proud of me now? What more can I do to prove my worth?

It is a great way to avoid intimacy. I am in the middle of something and am too busy to talk with you right now. What a safe place to hide.

If you give me a hard time, I will condemn you of your laziness with great pride.

Then I wonder why I can’t relax. I am worried and stressed when my mind is free.

Here I am, a workaholic without a job. I never ask for help. I do everything myself. I think I am beyond reproach, but I can’t run from myself.

I am starting to see a wonderful coping mechanism being torn apart. Maybe it is a good thing I lost my job because I am now faced with myself.

You can only outrun your demons for so long.