Anyone who’s married knows the power of what you learn “at the kitchen table,” yet it’s totally absent from any discussion of career experience. If I went in to a job interview and said, “I’ve never done that but my wife has,” I’d probably get a quizzical look in response.
The thing is, though, that we do learn from the experiences of our spouses and partners. I think we learn quite a bit.
My wife Monica and I have a lot of overlap in our work; I create conferences and parties, often with a heavy emphasis of tech and startups. In my spare time I write, either here or for other blogs and publications. My wife is a journalist who’s spent some time consulting on social strategy for local startups, she writes about and for the local tech and startup audience, as well as a column that discusses issue of digital life for those less tech-inclined.
In practice, this means that we share a lot after a full day. I’ve helped her with a number of decisions along the way, whether it relates to how she runs her consulting business or to helping edit her writing. I think I get the better end of the bargain, as she’s a bottomless source of good advice for all parts of my work: how to refine my event pitch for a speaker, or for a sponsor, how to improve my posts, great input on our company’s strategy, motivation, great specific ideas in social media, and the list goes ever on.
To say that Monica doesn’t know how to run an event is silly. She’s seen the guts of the process, and she’s seen how the different decisions we’ve made have panned out. She’s had input on plenty of them, albeit unofficially.
The real problem, I’m sure, is that it’s impossible to know how it plays out at anyone else’s table. For many people it probably looks much the same as it does for us, but for many more, there’s little overlap and little learned. Whereas if you’re working on something full time the assumption of experience is much safer.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we should all be equating someone’s work experience to the experience their spouse gets from it. It’s more like secondhand smoke.
And beyond a few rare mentions, it seems absent from our discussions of people’s background and experience.
You could argue that nobody brings it up because there’s nothing to discuss. But I think we’ve spent the last decade (maybe more?) building a fictional portrait of the entrepreneur, of the business superstar. This prototypical “rock star” has it all built in: smarts, motivation, connections, authority, a reality distortion field. And they either run it natively, or they earned it working in the trenches of another business.
The danger is that we get caught up in this prototype and never discuss realities. And the reality is that Steve Jobs had a wife. Who has an MBA from Stanford. Did she have an effect on Apple over the past decade? I’d bet good money she did. Do we talk about it? No we don’t.
We all gain a lot of experience from our spouses, and I don’t think it gets recognized as much as it should. So here’s to all the teachers at home. Thank you.