“One minute you’re waiting for the sky to fall the next day you are dazzled by the beauty of it all.” – Bruce Cockburn
This past week, two years and a five days after my now ex-wife said, “I have a lawyer and you need a lawyer,” I am officially divorced. The first year was painful and often heart wrenching. A time full of anger, angst and resentment. I was scared and sad. Today, with it being official, I am relieved but still a bit sad. Relieved because I am released and there is closure. Not unlike how one feels when they get their final bankruptcy paperwork. It’s only a piece of paper, but it some how gives us permission to fully heal. Sad, because divorce is failure (more on that below).
I remember when it began, people told me it can take two to four years to really get through divorce. I didn’t believe it, after all, my marriage was only one week short of three years, how could it take longer to recover than the actual marriage? But they were right. When disaster strikes the smoke clears in many stages and over a long period of time.
So, I am divorced, it’s official. On this day I juggle the duality of being sad while seeing the beauty in it all. I am left with five lessons which I can also apply to my business.
1. You’ve got to love your kids more than you hate your ex. That is what a parenting counsellor said to us during our first meeting. Hate is a very strong word and I do not hate my ex, but for anyone who has been through the battle of divorce there are times you have extreme negative feelings toward the other side. But in the end, your love for your child must overpower and smother the negativity you have toward your ex. When you focus on your kids, and love your kids with all of your heart it melts just enough of that hate away that you can be productive in moving forward. When you spend your energy on negativity you will create more negativity and this vicious cycle will only hurt your kids.
In business, competitors are going to come after you, sometimes in aggressive and unethical ways. At some point an employee is going to let you down, steal from you, even stab you in the back. An investor is going to pull out and leave you high and dry. It’s easy to let the negative emotions take over but your employees are your kids and you need to love them more than you hate the people who have hurt you. When you spend your energy on negativity you will create more negativity and this vicious cycle will only hurt your employees.
2. Little girls learn how to respect themselves by watching how their father treats their mother. The most important thing a father can do for his daughter is treat her mother with respect. Kids are super perceptive, you can’t trick them here. They pick up on the stated and unstated emotions.
In business, future managers and leaders watch the entrepreneur, the CEO, for cues on how to lead. This happens, in most cases subconsciously. The most important thing an entrepreneur can do is treat his or her employees with respect. Future leaders pick up on the subtle cues the entrepreneur gives such as time, attention, empathy and respectful feedback.
3. You can’t find the lesson when you’re still in crisis. Many people asked me while I was still in the heat of the battle ‘what have I learned?’ But when I was struggling to get out of bed each day I wasn’t in a place to find a lesson. When you are in crisis mode you must put all your effort into getting out of crisis, not looking for lessons. The lessons appear when they are ready to appear, not when you look for them.
In business, crisis strikes when you least expect it. Major deals fall apart, partnerships falter, investors disappear, competitors sue you, employees sue you, vendors sue you. When crisis strikes focus completely on getting out of crisis, not being esoteric and trying to find the lesson because once you get past all the rhetoric about failure being good and at the centre of failure is a lesson, it’s still sad and with failure comes shame. You can’t get out of crisis mode when you feel shame.
4. Negotiating with someone who doesn’t trust you is futile. Trust takes a long time to build but only minutes to be destroyed, then years to rebuild again. No matter how honest you are trying to be, no matter your intention and authenticity, if trust is not there negotiating even the smallest detail is a massive undertaking during a divorce.
In business, trust sometimes disappears. We let a customer down in a huge way, we don’t deliver on a promise to an employee, we completely blow the projections we promised investors. The reality is we believe half of what people say and everything of what they do, so when trust is blown focus on actions not words. Even if you have lost trust at no fault of your own, you need to regroup and rebuild based on actions, not words, while expecting for it to be a slow process.
5. You can replace money but you can’t replace time. Divorce can be expensive but when it is all said and done you can make more money but you can’t get your time back. Forgiveness is the quickest way to create time. The more you forgive, including yourself, the faster the process.
It can be lonely running a business. What makes it really lonely is when people let you down, hurt you or take actions you can’t comprehend. You need to focus on the precious non-renewable resource of time. Make space for forgiveness and move on.
Love more than you hate. Be mindful of who is watching your actions, they will model your behaviour. Don’t look for the lesson, the lesson will come to you. When trust is lost, focus on your actions not your words. You can’t replace time but you can replace money.