The hardest part of life is learning to live with ourselves and, the more we work on ourselves (versus our partners) the more progress we make.
One of my favorite young friends is going through an excruciating divorce. It’s very sad. He was overjoyed when he found his life partner, they were married six years ago, his world revolved around her.
Experiencing a friend’s divorce is not new to us. We’ve had a hundred other friends divorce over the years. And over time, we’ve learned two lessons that apply not just personally but to our organizations as well.
First, fundamentally personal and business relationships are always 50/50. Not 90/10, not 30/70 and not even 51/49. Every positive and negative outcome of a partnership rests equally with each partner. The only exceptions are those caused by addiction and/or mental illness.
The second lesson is one I heard from my father very early on: He would say, “You come into this world alone and you leave this world alone. In between you will have parents, maybe a spouse and kids, and that’s of incredible value. But in the end, you must learn to live within your own skin. And it’s not easy.”
In the movie Jerry McGuire, Tom Cruise made famous the line, “You complete me.”
It’s mostly been used for humor since, and it should be.
I’ve been married 35 years to Alice and while we’ve had plenty of tough times, I would never try to complete her nor hope that she completes me. In fact, some of our toughest times were when we were trying to complete each other.
It’s really the same in business. No employee should depend on us completing them, nor should we over-depend on them. If so, we are both doing the wrong job.
Entrepreneurs tend to build their identity around their business. I’ve met many, many successful men and women who define themselves by their firm. I was tempted to do the same over the 19 years we built a unique idea into a nice middle market firm.
But I was always wary because I did not want WorkPlace Media’s success to define me. If it did, who would I be now that it’s gone?
Great organizations and great lives are a series of successful, healthy relationships.
My divorced friend’s other relationships have probably had a lot to do with where he’s arrived at this moment.
His parents were brilliant and very close to him. They died young and he felt lost.
He had a brother very close to him who died in his 20s. He was crushed.
So maybe he became too dependent on his spouse. Maybe she “completed him” or maybe he tried to complete her. Neither works.
It’s still a struggle for me, getting comfortable with myself. More or less, we all share the same struggle. It’s the human condition.
But the best people I’ve known and the best organizations I’ve known are the ones who work to be aware that they are always “incomplete”. And as “works in progress”, they try to be aware of their weaknesses and strengths and deal with each reasonably directly.
Organizationally and personally, it’s up to me to grow into my own potential. It’s nobody’s job but my own. And no matter how strong the relationship, my partners must grow “into their own skin” as well.
So as I walk with my young friend, it will be important to remind him that no one can live inside of his skin but him. He’s young and bright and healthy and good looking and so with discipline and hard work, like all of us, I trust he will learn to live in his skin, too.