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Matt Wallington

Divorce, startups, and children. Dad's journey.

Divorce, startups, and children. Dad's journey.
January 22, 2018
Portland, OR

In this episode we talk to my friend Matt Wallington about his experiences of raising kids while at startups, then at Amazon, and how those impacted him, his kids and his marriage. We also talk about getting through a divorce, what to expect, and how to do it quick.

Kids, life and startups.

Matt’s been in startups for 5 years and 4 out of those he was a dad. The thing with startups and kids is - you’ve got conflicting priorities. You always feel like you should be working more. At the same time you want to go home and spend more time with your kids. You try desperately to invent more time in the day, but with kids, unlike a startup, if things don’t work out you can’t just pivot or go work on another thing.

You think that it’s possible to manage your time, wheres after a major launch you can go and refocus on other priorities in your life, but in practice, there’s always more work to do and shortly after your last major event you start working on the new one. In hindsight, given a choice to work on a billion dollars company vs. having a Basecamp-like startup, a happy and successful team that just works together to make good revenue, Matt would choose the latter. The problem is, it takes a lot of blood sweat and tears and learn what your priorities are.

You hope that you will be able to work out a good balance, but again, in practice it doesn’t happen and something’s gotta give. Be conscious of that going in.

Time goes by really fast, and in the heat of the moment you might wish that your kids grow up fast so you could do all the things you wish you could do. But every moment is special and if you rush too much, you will miss the moment which is now.

Perhaps some people should just not have kids?

It certainly might be the answer to some people, but for others, realize that indeed, kids are going to be hard for a while, but after a few years it gets better, and then you get to rig the benefits. When you do any work in life, you may be doing something that’s not fun in the moment, but you’re doing it for the rewarding outcome. Same with kids, you start with babies that aren’t giving you much back, but soon enough they’d be coming to you, saying they love you, and amusing you with their amazing personalities. Do you like doing things with your parents? Imagine you’re 50 years old one day and you don’t have anyone? 

The nitty-gritty of a divorce.

Know what you’re getting yourself into. As a startup person, It’s important to find a partner that understand who you are and that doing startups is not a phase, it is who you are and what you want to do. Otherwise it might lead to problems where your partner wants you to stop doing the thing that is most important to you (outside of kids), and it would just make you miserable. 

You can only fake happiness for so long.

Part of the reason Matt’s marriage was working is because they were not together most of the day. Being very different people, once they started to spend more time with either other, he realized they didn’t have all that much to share, outside of children. How many people do you think live in the same situation? How many people end up staying together for decades “for the kids,” even when it’s obvious that divorce is imminent?

Divorce is a lengthy process, it sucks. On a bright side, now that Matt has less time to be with kids, he makes sure to always be present, to put the device down and to be engaged with his kids. Don’t worry, if you get a divorce you are not going to prevent them from having a happy life. When Matt is with kids now, he is doing it on his terms, without the control from his ex-wife. 

Do you remember friends breaking up and you looking at them from the outside, looking at the fights and the stress, and you know exactly what they need, but they don’t want to follow you “good advice?” When you are in the middle of the situation, your emotions cloud your judgement and make the process way more complex.

Matt grew up in a family where his parents fought his entire life and he kind of came to expect that as a norm, so when it came to stressful situations with his x-wife, and seem like it was a norm too. Perhaps if he were to grow up in a loving family, or had his parents gotten a divorce early on, he would have a very different expectation of family life. He grew up to think “you’re supposed to make it work at all costs.”

Going to counseling didn’t work for them because the ex-wife went there “to make sure the councilor can give Matt the help that he needs.” Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way, but if you know things aren’t going awesome, then act on them fast. If Matt got divorced a few years ago, everything would’ve been a lot simpler [emotionally and financially.]

Note: Divorce can be a beautiful thing freeing both parents to do what they love, while giving each plenty of time with kids. Don't believe it? Check out Sarah Lacy's book, it's all in there. Yes, the name of the book is a little unusual, but you'll be better off after reading it.

Working at Amazon. The inside scoop

For any given employee there’s 3x times to do each day than there’s time to do it. Managers will always look out for your best interests, but if you think you can take on all the work, they won’t stop you, so you have to manage you own time. 

Where’s in the military you sign up to go fight wars, and you might die, at Amazon you sign up to do progressive work for a company that’s always innovative. It’s not always going to be easy, but you are not asking for easy when joining it. Anyone at Amazon can leave work at 2pm and go home, but people love what they do and they stay around for much longer. They get “Fulfilled by Amazon.” Of course, much like in other things , your family needs to be okay with you spending a lot of time at work (because it makes you happy).

Cool advantage of Amazon over startup is their scale. At startup, if you screw up or don't work all the hours you need, you are in trouble. At Amazon, it’s still a big company and there are plenty of people and resources to support and help you when the going gets tough.

Lessons

Time goes by really fast, and in the heat of the moment you might wish that your kids grow up quicker so you could do that thing you’re waiting to do with them, but this way you’ll miss the hear-and-now. Every moment is special. Don’t forget to have a blast doing what they want to do today. You will miss it.

Also it’s great to have preconceived notion about what kind of parent you are going to be and what you want to do with/for your kids, and how you want them to grow up. Don’t forget to re-evaluate those criteria and make sure that you take time for yourself too. You’d be a much better parent if you give yourself, your feelings and thoughts time. Refresh mentally, exercise, ..etc. You’re not being a great dad if you’re operating at 1/3 capacity.

Show Notes:

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