Interview: Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, Author of Start, Love, Repeat

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I’m thrilled to have Dorcas at the cafe today. I know this incredible woman from the Redbud Writers Guild and other circles where we write and share community. I admire Dorcas’ love for her family and the many ways she juggles being the wife of an entrepreneur.

Start, Love, Repeat is a great book for spouses of entrepreneurs. She’s real and inspiring. Here are a few questions I asked Dorcas about her newly released book, Start, Love, Repeat. It’s out today so don’t forget to grab your copy!

What was the inspiration for this book?

This book came about for selfish reasons: After about nine years of being married to an entrepreneur, I was desperate for advice from someone who understood what it was like. But there are so few resources for entrepreneurs’ spouses out there, and many that exist are unrealistically optimistic.

I wanted a resource that was completely honest about how hard it can be to do life with an entrepreneur, but also provided practical advice and offered tangible reasons why all the hardship was still worth it. I wanted someone to acknowledge that I could simultaneously love and support my husband and still hate the ways in which his business turned our lives upside down.

As I talked to other entrepreneurs’ spouses, I heard the same thing from them. They couldn’t find the support or help they needed. They couldn’t find a book that reflected the experiences they had lived.

So I decided to write what I would have wanted to read when I first married my husband. I wanted to tell the whole story of what marriage to a creative, inspired, ambitious business founder looks like, in all its imperfect glory.

Why do you think this book is necessary?

The stereotypical picture of the entrepreneur is the brilliant, unmarried, twenty-something college dropout-turned-billionaire. In reality, the vast majority of entrepreneurs are running a business while also being spouses and parents.

The average age of someone starting their first business is forty. Seventy percent of business owners are married, and almost all of them also have children. The risks and challenges of starting and running a company are being borne by not just the founder but by his or her entire family.

In general, those in the start-up ecosystem haven’t done a good job of acknowledging this. As a result, when you talk to entrepreneurs and their significant others, you’ll find a good deal of messiness, and even bitterness and resentment within these families. Even if they’re successful in business, there has been a high personal cost to that success.

I’ve come to believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. Entrepreneurs aren’t stuck with the binary choice of prioritizing business or family. It’s possible to invest well in both, but it’s tricky and it takes a lot of effort, intentionality, and sacrifice—which is why not many can do it well.

But for the couple that stubbornly sticks with one another and finds a way to make it work, the benefits are immense. I am deeply impressed with the measure of love and trust, as well as maturity and good humor that dwell within families who have survived the fires of start-up life.

You interviewed dozens of entrepreneurial couples for this book. Which stories really stuck out to you?

Though my own experience of being married to an entrepreneur has been challenging, I was still surprised by the depth of pain that I encountered. There are families who have lost almost all their material possessions because of a failed business; others have lost all sense of trust in their spouse because of decisions they made or the ways in which their character changed under the pressure of running a business.

But then there were those stories of spouses who had stuck with one another decade after decade, surviving extremely trying seasons. They had wrestled with deep anger and resentment and stress, and were still able to come out on the other side of it with an even greater affection and respect for one another. They appreciated how much they had learned about themselves and one another through the ups and downs, and actually had a remarkable amount of wisdom and maturity. They knew exactly what was important in life and what was not.

These were the couples that convinced me that, despite all the challenges, or perhaps because of them, being married to an entrepreneur could, in the end, be a wonderful experience.

How did writing this book change your perspective on your own marriage?

As a perpetual pessimist, it’s easy for me to get caught up in the hardships of my marriage. I find myself counting the sacrifices, the inconveniences, and the ways in which I have been hurt.

But as I reflected on our last twelve years together, I saw how—even though there were plenty of ugly episodes along the way—our relationship has matured and been positively transformed because of all that we’ve been through. Ned and I were forced to confront personal weaknesses, mismatched expectations, and conflict early on in our relationship. Thankfully, we were both willing to make adjustments along the way, and we have been able to move closer toward a healthier and more fulfilling relationship.

I also saw how profoundly Ned cared for me each step of the way, even when I felt isolated and neglected. I realized how he had done so many things, big and small, to try to make things easier for me or to respect my wishes. He has made plenty of sacrifices as well, like booking crazy flight itineraries so he could get home twelve hours earlier, or saying no to amazing business opportunities so he would have more time to spend with our kids and me.

Being married to Ned has also pushed me to live with more boldness and courage, and to take more risks. I don’t think I would have been able to write this book without Ned encouraging me and cheering me on along the way.

What do you hope are the main takeaways for your readers?

I hope entrepreneurial couples—especially those who are struggling in their relationship—will recognize that they’re not alone. No matter how crazy your life is because of the business, it’s likely that someone else has been through something similar and found a way to make it through with their marriage intact. With few exceptions, there is always reason to hope, and there are always changes you can make to try to improve your relationship. Even tiny steps can make a big difference.

It’s never easy to change ourselves or our relationships, of course, and it takes a fair amount of dedication and effort. But I hope readers will realize that it’s worth it. Nobody ever regrets spending too much time with their family when they’re on their deathbed; we’re far more likely to regret not spending enough time with our loved ones. And if you can move toward a relationship that is healthier and nurtures both of you as individuals, in all likelihood you’ll experience rich, long-lasting benefits—in your family and your career—from living the adventurous start-up life.

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Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer, editor, and speaker. As a columnist for Inc.com, she writes about the intersection of start-up life with marriage, family, and well-being. She also contributes regularly to Christianity Today, The Well, and Asian American Women on Leadership. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Unreasonable blog, The Entrepreneurial Leader, and dozens of other publications in the U.S. and Asia.

Dorcas has more than a decade of experience as a nonprofit and social enterprise professional. She served as the first director of communications for d.light, one of the world’s leading social enterprises. A Silicon Valley native, she has lived in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Kenya. She and her entrepreneur husband, d.light CEO and co-founder Ned Tozun, have been married for twelve years and have two adorable hapa sons.

Dorcas has a B.A. in communication and an M.A. in sociology from Stanford University, as well as a professional editing certificate from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and the Bay Area Editors Forum.

Follow Dorcas at www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter @dorcas_ct.

Cover photo credit: Photo by Grovemade on Unsplash

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