We were five years into the 2 Fish Company experience when I asked Shelly to quit her job as a Job Development Counselor for young adults with cognitive and emotional impairments. She was absolutely terrific at her job. Her co-workers loved her. Her clients loved her. The business leaders that she worked with (to develop jobs for her clients) loved her. This is why I knew that we had to have her on our team.
Prior to being a job developer, Shelly was a teacher. Specifically, she was a special education teacher. She worked with the same group of young adults that she would as a job developer, only earlier in their lives, teaching them life skills and helping them navigate their general education classes via an inclusive education model. She was really good at that, too, and many of her former students are counted as our friends to this day.
For most of our professional careers, Shelly and I worked separately. She was an educator, I was a designer. We’d go our separate ways, come back together with our children in the evenings, compare notes, and repeat the cycle the next day. Often, late nights at the office prevented even that from happening. The thing is, when we were together, we loved it. We always talked about quitting our jobs, hitting the road, and never looking back, just so that we could spend as much time together as possible. We were married, after all! What was the point of marriage if we couldn’t spend time together, best friends 4ever?
By the fall of 2015, I knew that the company was headed towards break away. Having been working with two part-time designers and one intern for six months, the work load was only increasing. Our clients were asking more of us, and some simple projections indicated that we’d need to hire someone to help manage the change. Instead of hiring a designer full-time (which would have made sense), my instinct was to ask Shelly to quit her job and join me full time in the endeavor we were already partners in.
“I want you to consider quitting your job,” I said to her, in the middle of a family chaos moment. “What?” she responded. “What? Why?” It was a rational question. After all, her work provided the family health insurance, not to mention a steady, predictable income. “Because we’re growing, we’re going to turn the corner, and I can’t do it without you.” I said. That was true. I couldn’t do it without her. “Wait, you want me at 2 Fish? That’s crazy,” she said. And she was right; it was crazy. It was a giant relational trap designed to make us hate each other. She’d experience my work habits first hand. I’d have to slow down and explain things for a while to get her up to speed. We could possibly drive each other crazy. “It’s not crazy,” I lied. “It makes perfect sense. Every day you manage dozens of people who need help in making decisions. You navigate the waters of those adults, their families, the organization you work for, and the employers you set up jobs with. You basically do the work of relationship management already, and that’s what I need help with. Please!”
She said yes.
For me, it was one of the best yeses ever uttered. Having Shelly at my side meant that she was always there. She was there to bounce ideas off of, to withstand my rants when I lost my mind, to plan and plot and strategize in a way that I couldn’t with any other person, to steal a quick kiss from in the back room. And while she may not have immediately understood all of the workings of running a marketing firm, she instinctively knew scope and sequence and how to make everything flow well via strong relationships. Her first work involved managing projects and processes. She helped coordinate resources and people for a photo shoot, for a magazine, and finally for the whole operation.
Real growth came for the company when she started working directly with our clients. It’s a well-worn joke of mine that people like me but love Shelly. But it’s true. Her warmth, her drive to truly understand and empathize with the people around her, ensures that our clients’ needs are represented when we’re working on a project and focused intently on a solution. And if there’s a problem? There’s no one better to talk to than Shelly. That’s true for the team as much as our client partners.
“How do you do it?” people ask us. “How can you work together and be married?” The truth of the matter is, I can’t imagine not working together any longer. And while our relationship can sometimes complicate matters (ask the team if we always get along!), our relationship is better because we see each other all day, every day. Working together, we’ve both come to realize and understand the importance each of us has in, and bring to, the business. In the end analysis, the outcome of our work-whether that be our family work, our volunteer work, or our 2 Fish Company work-is improved by our close collaboration.
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