Co-Pilots vs. Bystanders

In October 2017 my wife and I were sitting on the couch at the condo of my professional coach in Seattle, WA, wondering whether or not we had what it took to double down on what should be our most important investment:  each other.  I had spent the last couple of days unpacking those “hard to access” feelings and figuring out how to express them without devolving into picking apart an incident that got us sideways.  We wanted to figure out our life harmony together but were struggling.

“I’m going to start a healthcare company,” I told my wife, Melissa, in 2004 as I prepared to leave my cushy private equity job in Seattle.  As she held our six-month old daughter and trusted me to figure it out, I flew out the door to our makeshift office, flying high on the possibility of changing the way that sleep medicine was practiced in our country.  What I didn’t entirely realize is that when I ran out the door that morning, I was stepping into an event for which the destination would prove elusive and rather than having a co-pilot in Melissa, I made her a bystander.

That co-pilot vs. bystander persisted for so many years and through the twists and turns, the ups and downs, the dogfight and the pursuits, Melissa was along for the ride and was rightfully tired (and resentful).  It’s a tried and true challenge of entrepreneurship, the single minded and egocentric focus that seems to accompany that which you are willing to fight for at all costs.  The problem is that the cost for me was going to jeopardize my marriage. 

So my coach, Phil, asked Melissa and me a question on that rainy day in October 2017.  He said, “Are you going to honor your partnership and build a fence around your relationship and protect it or are you going to build a fence around yourself?”  That question painted a powerful picture for me.  Punchline?  We chose to build a fence….around our relationship.

For us, that means that we lead with our feelings, that we discuss our future as a partnership, that we rise and fall as a unit.  And that is how we left our meeting with our coach in October, renewed, energized, but cautious.

One month later we were doing a check-in with Phil and catching him up on the last month.  “So, what has been going on?” Phil likes to ask.  “Well,” Melissa said.  “Things are better.  We have been talking about our next chapter and maybe the possibility of living abroad with our kids in a couple of years.  It is something we have always talked about it as something we might do.”  Then Phil made the striking observation that would change our life trajectory.  “Why don’t you go this year after the kids get out of school.  You have a daughter going into eighth grade and a son going into sixth.  You sold your company and are working for the acquirer.  Isn’t it the perfect time to do this NOW?”    What?  Why was Phil making this so real?  But Melissa and I looked at each other and said, “Hmmmm.  Well, maybe we could…..”  The opening was made.  The crack was visible and our truth began seeping through like an underground spring that found its path.  And so began a multi-month journey to decision and action. 

On June 29th, 2018, my family and I will launch a huge change in our life trajectory.  After about a decade of the “what if’s” and “if we only could”, we are spending a year abroad, immersed in a new culture.  We will be living in the urban center of San Jose, Costa Rica, a Central American jumping off point to adventure and the personal unknown.  I am not in a position to pontificate on the expectations of the journey because we will take it day by day and embrace the struggles and the victories.  What I am prepared to tell you is that this is the ultimate in fence building around our relationship.  I may be an entrepreneur but I am also so much more.  A new chapter is on the horizon.   No more bystanders.