Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a columnist for Inc.com focusing on startup life at the intersection of marriage, family, and personal well-being. She is also the author of Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Startup World.
“We’re not fully acknowledging the reality of what it means to pursue a business,” Dorcas Cheng-Tozun begins. “There is so much excitement and goodness in it, and yet there is this other side to it that involves sacrifice and some measure of pain.”
d.light is a global solar energy company, delivering affordable solar solutions. When Dorcas’ husband Ned co-founded d.light in 2005, Dorcas was immediately pulled into the startup orbit. She did whatever was necessary to support her husband’s ambition to change the world. This included soldering circuit boards at four-o-clock in the morning.
In 2008, Dorcas and Ned moved to Shenzhen, China to build a manufacturing and operations office for d.light. Committed to the company’s mission, Dorcas served as full-time Communications and HR Director for the company. She quickly felt the pressure and significant personal cost associated with social entrepreneurship. After ten months of working 15-hour days, Dorcas fell into a deep depression. The lack of community and substantial sacrifice was taking its toll, and she knew that they had to make a change.
Dorcas and Ned are not alone in this experience. Entrepreneurs have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and mental illness than the general population. The consequences extend to their families as well, as higher rates of infidelity and divorce occur among entrepreneurs and their spouses.
Dorcas and Ned began instituting simple changes. They established a weekly date night, reached out to mentors for support, and prioritized finding community. Ultimately, they decided to move back to the States for the sake of their family.
Dorcas sought out sources to support her. She believed that her experience as the partner of a social entrepreneur was normal. She was looking for encouragement and a sense of hope that things would get better. Soon, she realized that, of all the books on entrepreneurship, there was almost nothing for family members.
Dorcas started writing Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Startup World in response to that void: “I wanted to paint a really honest picture: There’s the excitement and the glamour, occasionally. Most of the time it’s just a lot of hard work.”
In addition to offering practical advice, Dorcas wanted to tell the story of what it’s like to be with an entrepreneur. She interviewed dozens of couples from the startup world. She wanted to give readers a sense of how “it really stretches us as individuals, stretches our relationships, and forces us to ask really hard questions.”
Start, Love, Repeat explores the realities of such relationships, discussing the added layer of pressure that comes with being a social entrepreneur: “It’s really easy to write off your own health, your own self-care, and your own family. It feels like, in the whole scheme of things, that’s not as important as the hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions of people I’m trying to serve.”
In the book, Dorcas examines how this idea extends to partners of social entrepreneurs, admitting that she used to feel a measure of guilt for asking her husband to spend time with her and their young son. In time, she came to understand that such requests were not selfish. In fact, putting the business first in every situation was not sustainable, and if Ned wanted to pursue his dreams long-term, prioritizing his well-being was necessary.
Start, Love, Repeat covers the concept of partnership, which is especially complicated within the context of a startup. Dorcas admits, “It can feel like the entrepreneur’s dreams are superseding that of everybody else in the family, and that can be very frustrating.” She suggests finding avenues that give the spouse or partner a voice in the decision-making process, and establishing priorities and goals together: “As much as you can, be on the same page because … there is so much chaos and uncertainty that comes from the business itself, as much clarity as the two of you can bring to the table…will only help.”
Dorcas equates relationship planning with strategic planning. “It has been very much about making concessions and compromises, and making sure we stay true to what’s most important to us as a family.”
Dorcas urges aspiring entrepreneurs to ask themselves, “How do I make space for my family, my marriage, and myself?” Putting off self-care and family has consequences, and waiting might mean it’s too late. As Dorcas explains, “Your chances of success are that much greater if you have a really good support team around you. They’re only able to support you if you are present to them as well.”
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Dorcas Cheng-Tozun
Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
- Book: Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Startup World by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun: http://amzn.to/2yxFtg8
- Dorcas’ Website: https://www.chengtozun.com/
- Dorcas’ Column in Inc. : https://www.inc.com/author/dorcas-cheng-tozun
- Dorcas on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chengtozun/
- Dorcas on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dorcas_ct
- Dorcas on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dorcasct
- Book: Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs: https://tonyloyd.com/book