Let Me Introduce Myself: Q&A With Ashley

So far, I have been able to interview almost 40 other spouses of entrepreneurs (from all over the US and Canada) who were in all phases of business--from brand new startups to businesses of over 30 years. These interviews validated my own journey and reassured me that I’m not the only one struggling with some of the challenges the entrepreneurial journey brings. I am not the only one asking myself questions about if it is possible to survive and thrive in life and marriage when you are also married to the business. All of the spouses I interviewed opened up their hearts and souls to me and their stories were rich with intimate details about their challenges and triumphs and I began to notice common themes that were emerging from the content they shared. These common themes from the interviews are shaping the content, ideas, and topics I am sharing here on the blog and are the bank of anecdotal research I pull from often.

Recently, I have been receiving some questions about my own background and journey and I realized I haven’t shared much of the basics about our business and marriage. Therefore, I decided to answer several of the questions that I have been asking other spouses so you can get some context of where we are on this joint venture journey. Enjoy!

Q: Tell me about your work history and background?

A: I have a Master's degree in Performance Psychology. I’ve spent over a decade working in this capacity training and coaching on the subject of performance and resilience skills to high-level athletes, executives, and soldiers in the US Army. I am also a published author in the field of positive psychology. The past four years since the birth of my daughter I have had the privilege to mainly be a stay-at-home mom. I continue to do some coaching, consulting, and writing on the side, but my main priority right now is being with our kids. I have a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, so they keep me very busy! I have to say that all of my resilience skills have come in handy to use on myself during these crazy years while running the business and raising young children!

Q: How long have you been married?

A: I have been married to my husband Jeff for seven years now but we’ve been together for almost 12 years.

Q: What is your spouse’s business and how long has he had it?

A: Jeff started his real estate marketing and visual image company about 10 years ago. They take high-quality photographs and create virtual tours and video walkthroughs for new real estate listings and vacation properties. The business started with just my husband and his business partner working out of his partner’s rental house. It has now grown to a nationwide company doing business in 31 cities with over 250 team members and is still growing! Needless to say, we have been through a lot over the past 10 years! We experienced the stressors of bootstrapping a lean startup where we didn’t make a dime from the company for the first 3 years, felt the pressures and growing pains of an ever-expanding business, and have had many ups and downs thus far. Despite some of the challenges, I am in awe and so proud of what he has built! We also own a few rental properties in the area that we share responsibility managing.

Q: Did you know you were marrying an entrepreneur and what you were getting into?

A: Jeff started the company while we were still dating, so technically yes. However, we were young and naive about what starting a business really meant at that point! It seems very fun and exciting at the time, which in many regards it has been and still is. However, I don’t think I gave any thought to how all-consuming starting a business is and the potential challenges we might face as a couple because of the business becoming a third party in our marriage. I think naivety was bliss because maybe if I would have known more, I would have thought twice about what I was getting myself into or discouraged Jeff from starting the company in the first place. At the same time, I think it would have been very helpful and would have saved us a lot of heartaches to have some of those conversations and to set goals and boundaries together early on.

Q: What prompted your spouse to start their company?

A: That is actually a funny story, well I don’t know if funny is the right word...While we were still dating, we went on a road trip with some friends and stopped for a day to mountain bike and trail run in Moab, UT. While mountain biking on a trail, Jeff attempted to jump a ledge, but instead he caught a lip on the edge of the rock right before going off. He flipped over his handlebars and landed smack on his hip onto the unforgiving sandstone surface and sustained some pretty severe injuries (it’s actually all caught on video if you want to see it!). Since he was about seven miles into the desolate backcountry when he fell, it took the search and rescue emergency crew over four hours on an ATV stretcher to get him back to the trailhead, so he could be transported to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital in Moab, the doctors confirmed that he had broken his pelvis and shoulder, but they were not equipped to properly handle his injury and they were worried about internal bleeding so we immediately took a 2.5-hour ambulance ride to the closest large hospital in Grand Junction, CO. I forewent the rest of the road trip and decided to accompany Jeff to the hospital. We stayed in the hospital in Grand Junction for four days and I then rented a car to get him back to Denver. It was a long recovery after that. He spent most of the next two months on the couch. Luckily, he made a full recovery with no lasting injuries other than his pride!

Although at the time he had a good job and had been very successful in his career working in commercial real estate acquisitions, he wasn’t really enjoying his work and was not very happy with his current employer. During the recovery process, he had a lot of time to sit and think and the injury ended up being the catalyst for quitting his job and then starting his business. He says it also solidified the fact that I was “the one,” since I took care of him and stayed by his side throughout the entire healing process. So, I guess you can say that half an inch lip jutting out of a small sandstone ledge somewhere in the middle of nowhere near Moab shaped the trajectory of his (and our) life!

Q: What is your involvement in the company?

A: Working in the business has never been my full-time job, but I have had several part-time or unofficial roles in the company over the years to help them out. Most recently I was doing inside sales, which I stopped about 2 years ago after my son was born. I know there are many couples who work very closely together in the business and make it work, but I think we would butt heads and drive each other crazy if we worked together every day! I did really enjoy doing sales for them and would consider taking on that role again in the future though. I also continue to help with the management responsibilities of our rental properties and support Jeff and the company in many indirect ways. You can check out this post for more details about this topic!

Q: What is your biggest struggle or challenge as an entrepreneurial couple?

A: We have had several struggles over the years and I think they have changed as the business has evolved and as our family has grown. It has often felt like just when we figure out one challenge, something else unexpected comes up! However, one consistent struggle that we have had is making quality time for each other and our relationship. The business takes Jeff away physically with all of the demands, the incredibly long work hours, and business travel it requires; but it also often takes him away mentally. It is hard for him to “shut off” the stressors of the business even when he is at home. Also, I already think this is a difficult season for marriage with raising young kids, so when you throw in the added stressors of the business and the constant needs and maintenance on our rental properties, it leaves very little time and energy for much else. Therefore, much of our time together becomes dealing with transactional or to-do items and the majority of our conversations tend to turn to “business” related discussion. I have noticed when this becomes a habit over several weeks it takes a big toll on our relationship and connection.

Q: What do you do to help with that challenge?

A: We try to set aside a designated time every Sunday when we can discuss all of the “business” and calendar-related topics. We talk about any decisions that need to be made and fill each other in on the calendar for the upcoming week so we can ensure we're on the same page and there are no surprises. We also share with each other one thing that we did well and one thing that we could improve upon from the past week. Before the pandemic, we were also doing weekly date nights that were designed to just have fun together and connect without any logistics or business talk. (We need to get back to this asap!) I think it is also important to regularly get away together even if it is only for a night, or weekend twice a year or once a quarter. That uninterrupted time doing things that we both love has been invaluable and reminds us that we can still have fun together! We are still a work-in-progress though and consistently need to be working at keeping our connection strong!

Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you personally?

A: I think it has been juggling all the additional responsibilities that tend to fall on my plate because the business takes up so much time and energy for Jeff. Often it becomes this pattern of taking on too much and putting my head down and just doing what I need to do until I hit a breaking point and find myself completely overwhelmed or burnt out. I know that some of this is self-inflicted because I tend to be an overachiever and put a lot of pressure on myself, but there are also just a lot of things that need to happen between taking care of with the kids, the house, our rental properties, etc. This cycle has obviously not been good for me personally and has lead to bouts of anxiety and insomnia and some pretty dark moments, but it also negatively affects our relationship because I tend to build up resentment or adopt this “lone ranger” mentality that drives a wedge between us.

Q: What do you do to help with this personal challenge?

A: I am getting better at outsourcing and asking for help when I need it. I try to notice signs of becoming overwhelmed or burnt out and take care of myself before I get to that point. I can usually tell I have hit my max and I’m on the brink of burnout when I start to become easily frustrated and overly agitated. I am working on being kinder with myself and let go of some of my deeply held beliefs around the way things need to be or should be. Things are not going to be perfect and in fact, they are going to be pretty messy and a little crazy when you are raising young kids and building a business, so learning to accept that has helped! Self-care for me comes in the form of trail running and I have made that a higher priority in my life over the past year. I feel so much better mentally and emotionally when I can get outside for even a short run to get some alone time, fresh air, and clear my mind.

Q: What are the positives or best things about being married to an entrepreneur or having a business in the family?

A: I know our life together will never be dull or boring! Seeing Jeff dream big and his never-wavering persistence and dedication toward making his dream come to fruition is so inspiring. He has built my confidence, challenged me to think bigger, and has expanded my view on what is possible. We have also been able to have some really amazing experiences through some of the travel and events we have been able to do, which wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

Q: Why did you choose this topic to research and write about?

A: I wish I could tell you I chose this topic about how to thrive in an entrepreneurial marriage because I have it all figured out and that I have been the perfectly supportive spouse through the highs and lows we have faced during the course of the business thus far. That would make sense based on my background in resilience and thriving in difficult circumstances, right!? But the truth is, I chose this topic as a sort of self-help project because I was truly struggling to make it work and I was having an incredibly hard time both personally and in my marriage.

Several years ago this started out as a simple journal. It was a way to get my most private thoughts down on paper, which seemed to lessen the stress they were causing me. It also morphed into a sort of sick, gallows humor exercise. If something crazy, stressful, or downright terrible would happen, I could make a joke out of it and say “at least I can write it down and it will make good material for my book one day!” I began to notice that I was asking myself a lot of questions in my journal such as, “Is there room in a marriage for two big dreams?” “Can our marriage survive if the business fails?” “What if that ‘someday’ we’re holding onto never comes?” “Is it normal to feel this lonely in a marriage?” “Why do I feel like a single parent even though I’m not?” So, I decided it was time to seek out the answers and find resources to help me. To my surprise, despite the thousands of resources out there devoted specifically to helping the entrepreneur, I found very little out there for the spouse and the relationship, especially from and for those who are still in the midst of the journey. I thought that maybe this was an opportunity for me to use my background in performance and resilience psychology to find out answers for myself and help other spouses of entrepreneurs who may also be struggling or feeling alone. Then I started doing my own research, conducting interviews, and writing on the topic. After two years of doing all of this, I finally got the courage to share.

Trust me that this is outside my comfort zone and honestly I am terrified to put myself out there like this, but I think it is an important conversation that deserves to be started. Like I mentioned before, I don’t have all the answers. But what I can tell you is that I am determined to make my marriage work and live life to the fullest. I also know that my role as a spouse is vital to the health of our business. I want this to be a place where we can gain inspiration and figure out together what it takes to survive and thrive in the entrepreneur life.

As always, thanks for reading! If you have any other questions you are wondering about, ask them in the comments or send me a message and I would be happy to answer!

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