My Best Career Moves Were Getting Married and Staying Married
Making your way in life too tough to do alone.
Nobody’s career shoots straight up like a rocket. Every successful business leader faces tough times when nothing goes right and everything falls apart. I’ve seen more of those days than I care to remember, but somehow, things always seemed to work out in the end. That’s not by accident.
From my own experience, and that of countless executives I’ve known over the years, I believe everyone needs three things to get through those inevitable rough patches and make it over the long haul: faith in something, support from someone, and a little luck. Home is where you’ll usually find all three.
That realization came as a real shock to me, as someone with such a dysfunctional early family life. Nevertheless, I now know that I couldn’t possibly have accomplished all that I have without that familial foundation. I’m certainly not alone in that respect.
Related: 10 Ways to Stay Inspired for Life
Let me tell you two stories about the role faith, support, and luck have played in a long and extraordinary career.
To say I grew up in a messed up household is putting it mildly. Our tiny rent-controlled New York City apartment was like a war zone. There was no escape from the constant yelling and arguing. Still, my folks slaved away at jobs they hated for one purpose: so my brother and I could someday have a better life.
That was their faith: their sense of purpose that drove them every day of their miserable lives. They didn’t have much, but what they had, they gave selflessly to us in the service of that purpose.
Unfortunately, I was also influenced by the mean streets of an inner city. I got into all sorts of trouble and gave my parents plenty of reasons to doubt their faith. But they never stopped believing in me. For that reason, I’ve always known that the only way I could possibly pay them back is to make them proud someday.
That became my faith: my sense of purpose that would drive me every day of my life. But that, as it turns out, wasn’t enough. Which brings us to the second story.
There’s only so much you can learn in 16 years, and that’s how old I was when I left home to go to college on the north shore of Long Island. Immature as I was, I lost my way a few times and nearly flunked out. But somehow, I did manage to graduate, albeit with a useless degree and lousy grades.
My prospects were bleak, but what saved me was a simple stroke of luck. One fateful day, my girlfriend’s father took me to his high-tech startup and showed me the future: digital electronics. That may seem obvious now, but it was prophetic in 1977. In any case, I had nothing to lose so I went for it.
Eight years after going back to school and becoming an engineer, I found myself in California, spinning my wheels in middle management with no clear direction. I knew what my goal was – to get to the top of the corporate ladder – but I had no idea how to get there. That’s when I met Kim.
We couldn’t have been more different. I was a city boy and she came from rural Wisconsin. But her parents instilled in her the same work ethic that my folks had taught me. Our upbringing looked different, but culturally and spiritually, we were the same. And that’s what kept us together all these years.
Not that married life has been easy, mind you. The woman puts up with a lot of childish nonsense from me, that’s for sure. We fight about the dumbest stuff. But looking back, Kim has always been my rock. Her faith and support was the foundation I needed to fulfill my purpose and become a successful top executive in the high-tech industry.
I don’t know how, but Kim has somehow managed to survive 27 years with me. As for our parents, they stayed true to their marital vows of “Til death do us part.” In an era where more than half of all marriages end in divorce, all I can tell you is that none of ours did. And that made all the difference for me.
In a complicated world, it's the simple things that matter most. Family matters.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.