Job or Entrepreneurship? My wife and I disagree.

Thank you for your material.  It has been a significant blessing to me and my family.  I was recently laid off when my company’s business unit was bought out by a competitor.  I am now looking for work and I am excited for a new opportunity to serve others.  

For some time I have been hoping to start or buy a business and have lacked the courage due to the comfort and familiarity of a good regular paycheck from a corporate job (golden handcuffs).   My best idea is an auto restoration business focusing on older trucks and SUVs.  Unfortunately, I lack the skill set to do the mechanical work by myself and would require outside experts to help get it rolling.  

Together with his partner who had complicated family issues, my Dad owned a HVAC company that I considered buying from him a few years ago.  My wife was very against it. 

My question is, should I pursue starting/buying a business or should I pursue getting a job for another company? My wife is hesitant of a business as she feels it is more risky.  I understand her biggest driver is the need to feel secure.  We have worked hard to create a safety factor through a nice nest egg.  We have no debt (thank you, Dave Ramsey).

Is this a wise way to go?  If so, how do I help my wife feel comfortable?  Side note; she has been home with our two kids since we adopted them four years ago.  She left a good-paying corporate job to stay at home with our kids mostly at my urging (I am a big fan of the traditional family structure).  She will frequently bring up that she left everything to do what I wanted her to do.  I feel like us owning a business would give her a chance to work as much or as little as she would like.  We could also grow the business by implementing strategies that we know can work.  This is opposed to our experience in corporate jobs where we are limited in what we can do or implement (pesky bosses).  This is limiting to our creative freedom and is soul-draining.  I also feel with owning a business that you have the added benefit of serving the community by running a Christian-based business that treats its customers, employees, and vendors well.  

Spencer C. 

Dear Spencer,

Some years back People magazine ran a cover story about what they saw as the great love stories of the 20th century.  It featured many famous couples like Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner.  LIke these three couples more than half the featured lovers were in adulterous unions, a fact the magazine neglected to mention.

At just the same time, Newsweek magazine did a cover story entitled “Corporate Killers” with pictures of many business leaders that had been doctored to resemble police mug shots.  The story depicted CEOs as criminals for laying off people to save their companies.  Losing a job is always very rough for the employee; there’s no question about that.  Yet Newsweek neglected to mention that the number of jobs lost in the actions they described, were being replaced in the American economy every three weeks.

Now we ask, what is worse, losing a job or losing a marriage?  We’ve had few divorced people tell us, “Losing my marriage opened many new and wonderful doors for me.”   But we have heard many people who lost their jobs later tell us exactly those words.

While we certainly sympathize about your being laid off, you seem to be seeing this correctly as an exciting new opportunity.  But you also report that you and your wife are not seeing this through the same eyes. Unlike popular magazines, we tell the truth, which is that marriage is more important than business.  So, let’s first discuss how you and your wife can return to being on the same page and then we shall address your next step in business.   

You mention that you persuaded your wife to leave her job and become a homemaker. In doing so she had to trust you to take care of the finances. This you certainly appear to have done.  But you say that she frequently brings up that she left her job on account of you. This is not good marital communication.  Once we agree on a course of action in a marriage it should be a joint marriage decision regardless of on whose shoulders the action rests. When your wife frequently brings it up, she is telling you that she didn’t really buy in to the decision for her to focus on building the home. Did you perhaps steamroller that decision through? Every decision is really a joint decision.  We never like hearing a husband saying to his wife, “Well that’s your choice!” The other way around is no better. All decisions are ‘our decisions.’  This is important.  Furthermore, once such a decision is reached, we can never say, “You made me do it.” It sounds like your wife is not completely happy with having given up her job. It matters a great deal whether this is because she is nervous about not earning an independent salary and building her resume (promising her financial security whatever happens in your personal lives), or whether she is not enjoying a more home-based life.

Your wife  placed all her trust in you by leaving her job to raise your family.  She  has a family background of corporate jobs and a trust in them, rather than in entrepreneurship.  By the way, we applaud her advice to you not to purchase your dad’s HVAC business.  She was correct.  And  you  are correct that it is vital that you both share the same economic vision for a business to be a success.

For these reasons, we feel that before the decision about being an employee vs being an entrepreneur is made, you must take the initiative to restore the marriage partnership to full health. Review the past four years and discuss the next four. You and your wife should both recognize that neither owning a business nor a job in the corporate world comes with guarantees of stability, something which is increasingly evident today. Do your research, have an open and unemotional exchange of ideas, questions and facts and treasure your relationship.

This is one of those cases in which outside mentorship would be useful. This needs to be someone who is a) marriage and family friendly,  b) wise and experienced in marriage matters, and c)  experienced in the realities of business. This person would facilitate the conversation between the two of you as well as recommend areas to explore.

Once that is done,  the two of you together will be in far better shape to tackle the next question of business.  You shared with us more financial detail than we wished to publish for our reading public, but the good news is that you are in about as good a situation as could be for an entrepreneurial adventure. You have a nest egg, no debt and have seen first-hand what owning a business is like through your dad’s experiences. We congratulate you on your outstanding money management.  Well done! 

In many ways, owning a business is a way for your wife to get back in the business world, though couples working together brings its own set of potential problems.  Would she be more interested in different business ideas than the ones you are favoring? What division of roles do you see? Do you know other couples who are entrepreneurs or do you have a mentor couple who can help guide you? 

There are many avenues for exploration here and they will all benefit from the participation of a coach or mentor. Do your research, have open and unemotional, fact-based discussions  (ideally with a facilitator) and treasure your relationship.  We feel certain that once you’ve performed the necessary marriage maintenance and tune up, the other decisions will emerge organically and clearly.  

Wishing you great success,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

PS:  Regarding the truck/SUV restoration business idea, we can’t tell you whether that is a good idea but what I can tell you is that your lack of the mechanical skills to do the work yourself is a good thing, not a bad thing.  If you were to be doing the work yourself, what you’d have is a job, not a business.

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5 thoughts on “Job or Entrepreneurship? My wife and I disagree.”

  1. Dears Rabbi and Ms. Lapin, the wisdom outlined in this answer is beyond my capacity to articulate them. The capacity to see and to know what deserves to be addressed first, the hierarchy of the matters of life, is a kind of art. Beyond the advice itself, there is beauty in such wisdom. The truth has a different sound. Thank you.

    1. Alessandro, that necessity to deal with all the different parts of our life at the same time is what we tried to convey in our free download ebook, The Holistic You. We’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

  2. “PS: Regarding the truck/SUV restoration business idea, we can’t tell you whether that is a good idea but what I can tell you is that your lack of the mechanical skills to do the work yourself is a good thing, not a bad thing. If you were to be doing the work yourself, what you’d have is a job, not a business”.

    Hi Rabbi Lapin, the above portion of your response to Spencer’s question was fascinating as it wasn’t what we were expecting, though intuitively we both felt you gave the right answer. Since we still don’t understand the ethical, logical and technical reasoning behind your answer, I would like to ask if you could elaborate on that concept on a separate “Ask the Rabbi” thread or respond to my response here. My husband and I are both looking forward to your response to this very timely topic.

    Thank you 😊

  3. When I read these questions, I often think of what I would say to the person, but your reply was much better than my thoughts!
    (Since Spencer mentioned Dave Ramsey, I would see if his group could help him find the marriage/business counselor they need.)

    1. We’re glad you appreciated our answer, Lyna. That’s a very interesting idea about Dave Ramsey’s company being a source for helping to find a mentor.

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