My husband deployed earlier this year. It was the second one we’ve been through since we got married two years ago, so that meant by the time he got home, a few days before our 2nd anniversary, he had been gone for well over half of our marriage.
It wasn’t a fun deployment. But I survived it, and so did he, and so did we. As I take some time off with him over the holidays I’ve been reflecting on what a tough but wonderful year we’ve had, and I realized that I’ve actually become a better business owner because of it. That’s right – this deployment taught me some things I hope I’ll never forget, and I wanted to share a few of them with you.
Here are some things my husband’s recent deployment taught me about running a business:
There are no shortcuts to your destination
Really, they just do.
Working out and losing weight to surprise him when he gets home will not make it go by faster.
“Staying busy” will not make that deployment go by faster, not matter how many well-intentioned non-military friends tell you that.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the allotted days of that deployment will go by exactly as they are. You can’t press a magic button to speed through to the end or experience a single day less of that separation and loneliness.
And you know what? Since I was building my business during the deployment, I realized the two things actually have that in common.
There is absolutely not a shortcut to business success.
There’s no magic switch to flip.
I don’t know when you’re going to break even, or be able to afford another employee, or open that new branch, or take that vacation you’ve been saving up for.
But I do know that there will be a certain number of days between now and then – and not a single day less.
You’re just going to have to get through it. And the cool thing is that those days will contain lessons that you will need when you reach the next level of success. If you compared my business today with the same business 2 years ago, you would be amazed. I am doing so much better today.
When I look back, sometimes I’m overwhelmed with all the things I wish I had done differently.
But I never would have known to do those things in the moment, because I learned them all the hard way. And that is how most of entrepreneurship goes.
You can read all the blogs, business books, and articles you want, but some lessons you are going to have to learn the hard way. All you can do is keep an open mind, try to learn from your mistakes, and keep on taking new risks, even when you’re still stinging from the last one.
Communication is a survival skill
When you are separated from your spouse for months at a time, the only thing connecting the two of you is your communication. Suddenly, the quality (and quantity) of your communication is brought into stark focus. What do you have to talk about? What updates do you share? What opinions do you discuss? How do you handle disagreement when you can’t kiss and makeup when the latest screaming fight is over?
Communication is a survival skill during a deployment, and it’s the same in business.
I used to think that only English majors needed to care about their writing skills. How wrong I was. Nearly every job in today’s economy requires writing, even if it’s just exchanging emails with customers. You don’t have to be a poet. But you do need to be able to communicate clearly, respectfully, and frequently, or your business isn’t going to make it very far.
Routine helps mitigate the chaos
While my husband was on this last trip I was also taking care of our newborn daughter. I was nursing every 2 hours, dealing with her night wakings, sleep regressions, colds, gas, and more. On a good day, our lives felt a bit chaotic; on a bad day, completely and utterly out of control.
But against all odds, I incorporated a few routines into my life and they made a huge difference. Yes, you can have routines when you have a newborn – you just need to find the right balance between being flexible and being consistent.
I started every morning with coffee, breakfast and “quiet time” with my bible and prayer. I ended every evening on the couch with a good book or something funny like Parks and Rec or The Mindy Project on TV. I started and ended my day with two things I absolutely loved, which meant I always had something to look forward to. This helped me avoid burning out, made the lonely evenings without my husband a little more bearable, and made me feel at least a little less out of control.
I believe routines are just as helpful when you’re running a small business. After all, our lives as entrepreneurs often feel out of control. But we have to do what we can to stay organized and on the ball even when things seem to be falling down around our ears.
A simple routine – like starting every morning by writing a new blog post or replying to emails for an hour every day after lunch – could go a long way toward making you feel a bit more under control when the tough things hit.
You don’t have to be strong
“You’re so strong. I could never do what you do.”
Every military spouse who has gone through a deployment has heard this phrase, I guarantee you. I think it’s meant as a compliment. But we milspouses know it’s one of the most unpleasant things to hear. Why? Because we know we’re not strong. We know we would never choose to have our spouse deployed if we had a choice in the matter. We know every day drags on in slow motion and every night alone in bed is cold and lonely. But when people tell us how strong we are, we just give yet another tight smile and keep our mouths shut.
The truth is you don’t have to be strong during a deployment. It’s okay to call your best friend cussing about how much you hate the military or break down in tears when you see a couple holding hands.
And when you are running a business that seems like it’s always two inches away from utter failure, it’s okay to admit that you’re really stressed out. It’s okay to cry when you lose a major customer or screw up something really important. You don’t have to always be strong.
But you do have to keep trying
The biggest thing I learned during the last deployment was to persevere. Never, ever, ever give up. Don’t give in to bitterness. Don’t resign yourself to having a distant marriage or having to do everything on your own, forever. Yes, it sucks in the moment, but, God willing, the moment won’t last forever. You have to make it to the end and welcome him home with joy in your heart and willingness to get reacquainted all over again. It isn’t easy, it won’t be perfect, but the only thing you can do is keep going. Just. Keep. Trying. As many times as it takes.
And when you’re feeling like a failure in your business, it’s okay to admit that you’re not strong. It’s okay to fall down once, twice, or a hundred times. But you have to keep getting back up.
Sometimes I wonder what people will say about me at the end of my life. “Alana Le was a nice person,” or “Alana worked really hard” or “She was successful”. But I’ve realized that all I really want is for people to say one thing: “Alana Le never gave up.”
By: Alana Le