What’s a partner? For a long time I struggled with this question. I went through a series of bad relationships; I had bad friends, bad girlfriends and bad jobs. They weren’t bad because they people were bad. Maybe they were. I don’t know. We were bad together. We weren’t partners. It takes two to tango.
I went through a series of companies I just didn’t fit in. I didn’t like the culture. I didn’t like the projects or the people, sometimes both. I spent at least a third of my time, over half my waking hours, doing something I didn’t want to do. I was paid well so I tried to enjoy it. The money didn’t fill what was missing.
There was no partnership. They didn’t want me to improve myself. I didn’t want to improve the business. I wanted a paycheck. They wanted software. We simply exchanged services, but there was no relationship.
And then I gave up on this idea. Well, gradually. It took a long time. It took a decade, in fact.
The last 10 years of my life have been pretty amazing. I’ve gone through some serious tragedy, found my life partner and what is my current calling in life. I found a company in which I feel like a partner (and hey, I actually am a partner).
Through all of this I’ve learned the real value of partnership, and the variety in which it comes.
My wife, the best partner.
It’s fairly common to hear about relationships going south because a person is trying to “fix” another person. It’s easy to think that if you bring goodness into someone’s life, they’ll climb up to greet it. It rarely works that way, partnerships go to the lowest common denominator unless both people work hard. Find someone better than you in certain ways and work, deliberately, on being better.
I fortunately found a partner who looked into the future with me. She laced up her boots, started hiking on this journey with me without a complaint. She pushes me forward and asks me challenging questions. She doesn’t let me slack off. She’s a partner in this, we’re in it together.
Partners in business.
It was much harder to find partners in business. I struggled to understand teamwork for my whole life. Through school a group project was punishment. In the working world, I had teams that were 80% useless and 20% got work done. If we were a squad of super-heroes, most would have the super human ability to do nothing.
I was surrounded by that guy from Office Space. They would do nothing and enjoy it. They resented anybody upsetting the balance. This is what it felt like, but I know that wasn’t the real case.
Then I found my calling. I found what it was that I wanted to do. The difference I could make. I started working in that direction and felt good about it, even though economically it didn’t make sense. I trusted Benjamin Franklin and his maxim:
Do well by doing good.
I did good by my own reckoning, and I met people who became partners. We are working together to improve all of us. To make us all more capable than we would be alone, and to make a business out of it.
This is the value of partnership. Whether it’s romantic, friends or business, partners make things possible that a single person can’t do.
For a long time I resisted that and I limited myself. Now I’m working to embrace it, but old habits die hard. I worry I’m a bad partner. I hope that worry is preventing me from truly being a bad partner.