Over the past ten years, while my friends were openly panicking about how they didn't have a boyfriend, husband, or babies yet, I listened but almost always found my mind wandering. It wasn't that I was not interested in their stories -- it was more that I couldn't relate. I was happier having an emotionally-fraught conversation about how the restaurant we were sitting in could improve their throughput, and less about whether he just wasn't that into me. Though I was around the same age as most of my closest girlfriends, I never shared their worry that the necessary ingredients for a fulfilling family might not fall into place. After all, I always felt in control of my professional life. Surely, I told myself, when the time came, I could make a success of my personal one, too.
But as I settle into my late 30's, I've begun to wonder: Is my personal life falling down because of my startup mindset? In other words, could the same professional skills I assumed I could call upon to launch a successful relationship be exactly those that have made establishing one so elusive?
Why do I think so?
1. There's only so much resilience to go around.
I love starting new things. I love the thrill of seeing whether something works, and when it doesn't. I also love the thrill of doing an about face and trying something else instead. In the startup world, this is called the "pivot", and while it's not meant to be a steady state in and of itself, I feel strangely at home there. The trouble is that my ability to sniff out bigger opportunities than the one I initially pursued means that I've built a superhuman resilience to failure.
What I'm noticing though, is that my resilience isn't evenly distributed. As time has worn on, I'm noticing that as my threshold for professional risk is going way up, the opposite is true personally. Professionally, if an idea fails, no problem. I embrace it, learn, and move on. Start again. But I find I'm far less able to bounce back when a relationship fails. I've gotten so used to taking big professional risks -- putting all my money, time, and energy on the line -- that it seems I don't have any reserve left in other aspects of my life.
2. I don't have a scrappiness "off" button.
So, I'm kind of intense. I am a former opera singer. I have a tendency to yell, scream, and cry. Normally at myself, typically in private, but it's been known to happen over Skype or on a street corner every so often. The other side of this intensity is that when I have a business idea that I like, I latch onto it like a rabid dog. I will foam at the mouth finding ways to make it work. There's always a loophole to exploit, or a different path to explore, or a new approach to explain. I feel a need to do as much as I possibly can all by myself, for reasons I'm still not entirely sure I understand. I suppose I don't naturally expect equal business partnerships because I literally put my entire self into something I am passionate about, which others don't do so eagerly (and honestly, they shouldn't).
But the truth is that if I perceive something lacking from my colleagues, no matter how small or temporary (or imagined), I'll rush to compensate for it to ensure that things continue to move forward. In relationships, I'm too habituated to feeling the need to fill in any real or imagined vacuums, ultimately edging the other person out, which was exactly the opposite of my intention.
3. I'm a little too good at predicting the future.
I know better than to think you can change a person, but I still think I struggle to deal with the person who's in front of me, right here, right now. Why? Because I think I have a tendency to spot patterns in people that suggest who they will become -- even if they can't see it themselves yet.
The ability to spot future patterns and make smart connections is, of course, unbelievably useful in my professional life -- as an entrepreneur you want to be super early from a product perspective.
Personally, though, it's a colossal pain in the ass. It may be simply bad timing, sure, but it could also be a signal to potential partners that I'm dissatisfied with their current state, which is never the case. In truth, I was more excited for them and where they were going; understandably interpreted as disappointment with where they were.
The bottom line is this: I feel ready for a great relationship and family. They say the first step is acknowledging what's going on with yourself before you start cataloging flaws in others. I've done that, and I'll continue to do so. The good news is that the more business opportunities I've been involved with, the more personal opportunities are presenting themselves to me. And that's a great outcome.