My wife Jenny is my greatest, (not-so-secret) weapon. She’s incredibly smart, very intuitive, brutally honest, and my mentor.
I know it’s a little odd to call my wife my mentor, but she really is. I would never be where I am today without her support and her intelligence. Early on, I realized that if you don’t add your spouse to your dream, you aren’t likely to achieve it. Many people make the mistake of putting their spouses on the opposite side of their dreams, which pushes everyone (and everything) further away.
Jenny grew up as the daughter of one of the top builders in the country, so she had a head start into the field she’d eventually make her own. She got her Master’s degree at Georgia Tech on a full-ride scholarship and worked her way into the male-dominated construction management industry. She was in high demand as a woman leader, but the road was rough. She literally walked waist deep in snow to get to the porta potties, where she found lewd statements scrawled on the walls. She often ended up in the middle of fistfights during meetings. But she powered through, because that’s the kind of woman she is.
When we got married at the age of 22, we still didn’t really know who we were. I’ve watched Jenny come into her own strengths over the last twelve years, but it has been a work in progress. A few years back we went to a counselor, who after listening to us for an hour commented, “Jon and Jenny, you both have tremendous insight into Jon.” I realized I wasn’t creating space for Jenny to be Jenny. That realization has led to growth opportunities for both of us and has strengthened our marriage. We recognize that we’re both very driven, which is a strength when we’re pushing the same way, but a fight when we’re not.
Like Sheryl, I believe marriage is a team sport. Having children ups the ante because you have to look at your marriage as a working partnership and yourself as a whole person; you can’t give something to your spouse or your children that you don’t have. It’s a daily struggle to find balance, and I find that if I’m not doing well as a person, everything else suffers.
Jenny and I have two daughters, L.E. and McRae. L.E. wants to be a meteorologist when she grows up. She tears into every science book she can find and is obsessed with storms and weather patterns. McCray wants to be an artist, but we try not to push that too much. I think parents do their kids a great disservice when they suffocate them every time a new interest arises.
One of our most important tasks in raising our daughters is to have the “digital footprint” conversation. For the first generation in history, this is a requirement. When Jenny and I were kids, we didn’t have to worry about something from eighth grade going viral and then being brought up in a job interview ten years later. I want my daughters to have as many opportunities as possible without worrying about a status message or video haunting them forever.
It’s an exciting time for my daughters, as women entrepreneurs are incredibly powerful right now. I recently spoke at a nationally sponsored event called Blissdom that featured women bloggers. I met one woman who had sold more than 70,000 hairbows online and had made more than a quarter of a million dollars in a year. That wouldn’t have happened in 1982, or even 1992. The opportunities are staggering.
Because of this, entrepreneurship is starting younger and younger. In fact, my daughters have already approached me about designing bracelets for my upcoming event, the Start Conference. My oldest said, “Take a photo and put these on Instagram. Tell people that we’re going to sell them at the conference.” I had to teach her that the West Coast wasn’t awake yet, so it wasn’t a good time to post, which started a conversation about playing the time zones.
Jenny and I definitely make work a family affair. She often joins me on stage during my conferences for a special Q&A, which is usually the hit of the whole event. Jenny is the kind of woman who doesn’t pull punches and tells everyone the good, the bad and the ugly (and believe me, there’s plenty). One of my favorite moments from my Quitter conference was when a man raised his hand asked, “How do I get my wife to support my dream?”
Jenny didn’t miss a beat, responding, “Income is good.”
While the line itself is funny, it’s also one of the smartest pieces of advice I’ve ever heard: Work hard and show that you’re not trying to bankrupt your spouse with your dream. Man or woman, we all want to feel safe in our relationships, and that means going after your dreams with purpose, not recklessness.
Jenny once commented that if you put us together, we would make one pretty amazing person. I’d have to agree. We are a partnership, from beginning to end.