or: How I learned to stop worrying and love summer vacation
Partnership sounds like a good thing, and it is, but when you are also an entrepreneur and the founder of an organization, it can get a bit intense. Picture the army cowboy riding the nuclear bomb into oblivion in Dr. Strangelove.
As social entrepreneurs, we are so invested in what we are doing that everything is done with the tenacity (and some would argue, insanity) of that character. Everything matters…a lot. Every directive must be carried out; every objective pursued with the dogged determination of, um, well, you get the picture.
Sure, we may have a partner to help us, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it when we’re locked in the grip of whatever has our attention at any given moment. And that may work just fine for a while, with each partner toiling away in her separate corner…until something goes wrong, of course.
When partners matter most
I had just such an experience this summer. Everything was humming along nicely. Both my partner and I were working hard enough that you’d scarcely know we each had someone to share the load – yes, it’s true, we work that hard. And then lightening struck – literally.
My rural community was hit by a severe summer storm that included lightening striking the only Internet communications tower in the area. I was suddenly plunged into virtual darkness. No email, no Skype, no Google. No means of operating my business for…wait for it…two weeks!
It felt like I had been whisked back to the Stone Age, or at the very least, 1990. And it wasn’t like I could head to the nearest coffee shop for free Wi-Fi. This was a total tech blackout. The closest Internet connection was a 50km round trip. Not exactly convenient for someone who runs an online publication.
Partnership is a terrible thing to waste
Enter my trusty, and very capable partner. She was always there, of course, working away on her piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle. I had just made a habit of not relying on her. Certainly not because she is unreliable – quite the contrary – but because I am a control freak and a workaholic (so is she, btw, so it works out nicely for us).
But without my Internet connection I was suddenly just a freak, all control having vanished with one electrified bolt from the heavens. Was it a sign? I decided not to let my impromptu vacation go to waste (spoken like a true workaholic) so I wrote down – yes, with a pen, because my laptop somehow felt totally pointless without the Internet – what the whole experience had taught me. Here are just a few of my humbling insights:
1. The world did not stop turning when I stopped checking email. This was odd because normally it seems so important that I check it first thing every morning, and let’s be honest, every 10 minutes all day until I go to sleep at night. I became very “if an email falls in the forest” about the whole experience.
2. My business continued to function just fine without me. I like to comfort myself with the idea that eventually I would be needed again, but this is only conjecture.
3. My partner didn’t miss a beat; she picked up the slack left by my absence and never complained once about it (thanks, partner!). Secretly, I’d like to think she missed our regular Skype chats just a bit, but she has yet to confirm this.
The real truth about partnership
Ultimately, I learned that having a strong, functional partnership means I can let go of my iron grip on the reins sometimes and things won’t fall apart. It truly was a liberating realization. And then, just as I was getting used to a life unconnected, somewhere in the middle of week three, my Internet blackout came to an end. My partner seemed happy to have me back online, and I was happy to be back. The bonus was that I returned from my unplanned vacation a lot more relaxed and with a renewed appreciation for the person I work alongside every day.
I may still be a workaholic, but I am confident that things can chug along fine without me for a while thanks to a partner I know I can rely on. And next year, I look forward to a planned vacation that includes no lightening strikes, but hopefully still some great revelations!
Nicole Zummach is the co-founder of SEE Change Magazine. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades, and has spent most of her career researching and writing about civil society and the nonprofit sector. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.