Lessons for The First Year of Business I Learned from My Engagement

Post by Ellen Nightengale for the Kindness in Business series.

I was engaged to be married nine years ago. You may be wondering how my engagement has anything to do with my lessons in business. A few months after my fiancé put his great-grandmother’s wedding ring on my finger, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer. The rug was pulled out from under me, and all desires to plan a perfect wedding were gone. I wanted to run away and live in a cave (I’ve also felt this way on some of my hard days during my first year of business) – but I stayed the course despite my frequent crying-in-the-bathroom meltdowns. Friends and relatives said our wedding gave my mother something to look forward to during those six months of chemo. Starting your own business can feel similar: just wanting to get to the other side of the unknown, with reassurance that things will be okay.
I’m sharing some of my lessons from my engagement which also supported me in my first year of business.

1. Only work with kind people.

This may have been my biggest lesson. I did not have the energy to deal with people who brought on additional stress during my season of vulnerability. I was 6 months away from my wedding when I began looking for a dress. My mom was too sick to join me in the fancy bridal salons of New York City. Some of the sales assistants made me rushed saying my wedding was too soon being just 6 months away and I had to special order any dress for a hefty extra fee. After crying in the Kleinfeld’s dressing room alone, I went to meet a designer in her Gramercy Park studio. The wedding dress designer was lovely, comforting, and created elegant dresses which I loved. She understood my figure, vision and budget – sharing sample sale dresses with me which were a fraction of the retail price. She included alterations and made the process simple. I liked her and came away from dress shopping like it was an enjoyable experience feeling good about my purchase. We even orchestrated an extra dress shopping event for my mom’s benefit the following weekend, so she could weigh in and ultimately say yes to the dress.
I had a similar experience while working with my web designer. My designer understood my offerings, my style and my brand. When we collaborated there was synergy. It wasn’t just about the site; it was about the ease of the entire experience. This is not always common when you hear of business owners and their website woes and brides’ stresses with their dresses.

2. Planning can be fun – if you plan.

I am not a planner by nature. I enjoy spontaneity and thought planning was a chore; especially while my mom was sick. At one point, I shifted my attitude since this was my only wedding, knowing I could embrace the journey or fight it. The planning became joyful; choosing a dendrobian orchid floral arrangement while visiting my aunt (our talented florist), talking to our photographer about his passion for celebrity sightings (my fiancé loved this), playing DJ with my guy to determine which songs we loved, and which were on the do-not-play list. (The list was quickly forgotten when I saw my new husband dancing to “It’s Raining Men.”) I began to enjoy the planning rather than looking at it as a to-do on a long wedding checklist. I received a beautiful handmade wedding binder as an engagement gift, which I slowly filled with images and ideas.
I think the same thing is true in business. We can think of all of the “to-dos” as a chore, or we can choose to embrace the journey and this phase of life. It’s easy to become overwhelmed so I look for joy in the process. On a day when I’m not booked with clients, I embrace some freedom to write and to plan. Instead of a binder, I now enjoy Pinterest to keep a file for retreat planning, blogging ideas, therapy resources, coaching inspiration, and my current obsession: a room of her own. If you are running your own business or thinking about it, I highly recommend some downtime to just browse and pin away.

3. Learn to Communicate With Your Love.

Deep breath here. When your mom is undergoing chemo and you feel like calling off the wedding, there are a lot of big conversations with your honey. You begin to understand what is most important and why you want to build a future together. You wonder if your fiancé can take care of you “in sickness and in health.” One of the best things we did for our future was Pre-Cana which is a marriage preparation program for the Catholic church. My fiancé and I both came from different religious backgrounds and we needed to communicate about how to navigate and mesh our spiritual selves while coming together as a family.
Communicating is SUPER important being in business for yourself. Going from a comfortable steady paycheck to building a business is not for the weak of heart (or weak relationships). The root of our arguments frequently comes from communication breakdowns, especially if you are coming from different backgrounds where your loved one might not have the same entrepreneurial mindset. How much money is okay to invest? Is there a business event which is calling you? What are the obstacles? Do you need some more childcare or are you worried about the travel expenses? Remember, two brains think better than one. It’s important to also listen to your partner’s fears and learn to compromise. When my husband was worried we wouldn’t be bringing in enough income after I made the leap to work part-time for myself exclusively coaching, I made a deal with him: if I didn’t meet a certain income level by a specific date, I would look for traditional speech therapy work. (Knowing that was at stake, it kicked my butt into gear.) Make time for these conversations so you feel like partners on the same page.

4. Write Thank-You Notes.

Gratitude matters. Kindness matters. My heart began to explode with feelings of gratitude during all of the celebrations for our wedding. If you are feeling like your thank-yous are just another to-do, it won’t come from the right place. Shift to a feeling of appreciation. Shower the person who thought of you with words to let them know that their kindness mattered, their generosity was appreciated.
This is one of the biggest lessons in my own business. Stoke others’ fires. Send vibes of appreciation. After going through a trying month, I sent a note to Mama Bliss Coaching School creator Kathy Stowell telling her how Mama Bliss Coaching has become my anchor through the storms of motherhood. Those words of encouragement are food for another creative entrepreneur’s soul. You don’t know when someone is having a rough day and might be ready to throw in the towel, and your words are enough to help pull them back on their feet.

5. Don’t forget about the honeymoon!

I was so busy planning the wedding, and being with my mom during that year that I completely forgot about the honeymoon. Thank goodness my husband did not and it was one of the best parts of the whole wedding experience. After the wedding, the honeymoon is an unexpected relaxing treat.
Remember the honeymoon for your business. Maybe it’s a weekend away to celebrate your first year in business. Maybe it’s investing in yourself in a much needed retreat to re-group and plan for the following year. But whatever it may be, don’t skimp on the honeymoon. You will have earned it!

Ellen Nightingale is just about to finish her first year in business for herself meshing her roles as a speech language pathologist, writer and coach. She has been helping clients find their voices for the past 11 years through her speech therapy practice and parent-child communication workshops. She recently began facilitating writing workshops and spiritual retreats to help others find and tell their stories. Personal writing has been her main tool in healing professional burnout, documenting her journey with the breast cancer gene, navigating motherhood, and redesigning her life. 
You can find her blogging at ellenightingale.com. She’s also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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