Ask Elaine: Is my dream job worth dealing with my toxic co-founder? – Lifotravel

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Hi Elaine: I did it. I’m 27 and I have the career opportunity of my dreams. After failing my first company and landing in debt, I now sit in the C-suite of a Series A business I co-founded alongside people I respect deeply and a team I love working with. Er, except for one.

I should have been a little more specific with my three magic genie wishes, because I’m in a partnership with a co-founder and CEO I cannot stand. I’ll save you the details of his frequent outbursts and focus on the fact that I wake up in dread nearly every morning. I avoid going into the office. My enthusiasm for the business is completely deadened. And in my spare time I daydream about new businesses I could start solo. I am being neither the founder nor partner I know I can be.

For the last six months, I’ve tried a host of tactics, from setting boundaries to leaning in harder to communicating directly with my partner. When I read old journal entries, I sound like I’m in a toxic relationship, riding a roller coaster of high potential and steep dips back to reality. But like many who find themselves in toxic relationships, I feel dependent on the very person who is causing me pain. I have a great title, great money, great equity, and a trajectory I feel great pride in. My ego is fully satisfied. And for all of his personal faults, he knows how to build a business.

There’s a voice in my head that questions whether I could make this success happen on my own. I question how leaving will reflect upon me externally. I’m spiraling, and my self doubts are keeping me tightly put.

Is there anything left to salvage here or is it best to cut my losses and start over?

Spiraling: Realizing that you need to dissolve a work relationship tied to so many aspects of your identity is not easy. Losing yourself over a toxic relationship of any kind is worse.

Your reasons to walk are screaming off the page. But it seems like you are still wrestling with the truth of your situation because of fear and shame. The longer you wait to work through your feelings and act on what you already know, the more wreckage there may be. And your fear of another perceived failure may be holding you back from even bigger success down the line.

Reframe your circumstances. This isn’t about him as much as it’s about you and your needs not being met. Honor your needs and walk away knowing this isn’t your loss. It’s a win in the making. Stepping away from a toxic work dynamic that is not just stealing your joy but sapping your ambition doesn’t sound like failure to me — it sounds necessary. Think about all you’ve learned in this process that will make you an even better business person in your next venture. Take advantage of the ripe opportunity to turn this challenge into a win.

You mentioned daydreaming about different solo business ventures. Are any of those ideas worth spending more time with? If so, redirect the energy you’re spending lamenting your current situation to start focusing on your next best move. Build out your other options as much as you can to determine what the most viable next step is. It’s easier to walk away from something that no longer serves you when you are walking toward a defined vision.

If you can’t build out your next dream with this dark cloud of indecision looming, I get it. Let’s take it one step at a time. It’s pretty clear this current setup isn’t working for you. My advice is to start by disentangling yourself from this co-founder.

Breakups of any kind suck, but you’ve done your part to try to change the situation for the better. Because your partner isn’t willing to change in response to your feedback, it means you have to. While this process can be painful, remember that growth is often uncomfortable.

Co-founder divorces are not unlike marital divorces in that they can feel deeply destabilizing and may even require legal intervention. Work splits can also come with a lot of grief and shame. But know that you’re not alone. In fact, they are much more common than you may think. And that’s what partnership agreements are for.

Do you have a partnership agreement in place and, if so, what does it say about how to approach this? These agreements are like a prenup for business partners and provide a blueprint for navigating a separation. If you need legal counsel, it would be wise to line it up before initiating the conversation with your co-founder, especially if you anticipate one of his “frequent outbursts.”

Have a question for Elaine? Submit it here.

No matter how messy this breakup gets, remember that you’ve bounced back from professional setbacks before and you will do so again.

Success doesn’t have to come at the cost of your soul, your sanity or your health. In fact, if it does, I would question your definition of success.

Ultimately, the decision to stay or go is yours and it will come down to what your priorities are. What do you want in the driver seat of your life: your ego or your overall well-being?

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