walling-54

Rob and Sherry close in on 17 years of marriage. They talk about how it has been a professional asset, the challenges and benefits of working together, and what things have been important in a successful marriage.

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Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling:I’m sorry I did not give you very much notice and be like, “Hey, want to do the podcast now?”
Rob Walling:Yeah, no problem. I was just hoarking down a burrito bowl across the street at Whole Foods. It was quite good, but I rushed it.
Sherry Walling:Hey, nothing better than hoarking good food. What does hoarking mean? Is that a real word, or is that a [robism 00:00:18]?
Rob Walling:It’s probably made up. You know, I was going to just enjoy it, relish it, sit there for 20 minutes, and suddenly my wife texts me and says, “Be online in six minutes at your laptop soldier.” I rushed back here.
Sherry Walling:Have you ever enjoyed a meal, like relished? Have you ever eaten slowly in your life?
Rob Walling:Yes, most dinners that you and I have when we’re talking … and especially if we’re out having amazing food with amazing wine, I actually do relish those. You’ll notice I eat a lot slower when I do that, because that’s not … it’s not just to get nutrients in to my body so I don’t pass out.
Sherry Walling:It’s not functional.
Rob Walling:Yeah, exactly. Yeah, a lot of lunches, I mean that’s why I don’t drink [Soylent 00:01:00] very often, but when I do it’s because I don’t have the time or kind of the head space right now, I’m in the middle of something but I know that I’m going to go low blood sugar here in the next couple hours. That’s what it is, but today I was making an exception and then dun, dun … the podcast.
Sherry Walling:That, and because [Soylent 00:01:15] is made of people.
Rob Walling:That’s right.
Sherry Walling:I thought for today’s podcast, we would talk about marriage.
Rob Walling:Marriage is what brings us together today.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, just quick pop quiz. Do you have a sense of why I would’ve selected this topic?
Rob Walling:Because as of a couple days from now, you and I have been married for 17 years.
Sherry Walling:17 years is a pretty, pretty big number kiddo.
Rob Walling:Yeah, I know. It makes me start to feel like I’m old. How is it possible if I’m only 31, that we’ve been married for that long?
Sherry Walling:I’m not sure, I’m not that good at math, but we are reaching the tipping point … at least I am, where I will have been married longer than not worried.
Rob Walling:Right. We’ve already known each other longer than having not known each other. Yeah, that tipping point indeed.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, that’s kind of weird.
 I just jotted down a couple of questions that I thought we should discuss, and I’ll just ask them as we go since I gave you zero notice and you’ve not seen the outline. That’s just how it’s happening today.
Rob Walling:For sure.
Sherry Walling:I guess the first question that I thought might be interesting to toss around is, how has marriage been a professional asset to you?
Rob Walling:Yeah well, I think both of us should answer all these questions right? Cause I think that …
Sherry Walling:Right, but I’m asking you now.
Rob Walling:I see. Line up soldier, answer the question.
Sherry Walling:That’s how that works.
Rob Walling:Yes ma’am. For me, its been absolutely critical to my success because it’s the … there’s at least a couple things that come right off the bat. One of them is the support, the ability to kind of talk stuff through with a best friend who’s always around. To sanity check decisions with someone who also has skin in the game, decisions like should I buy [inaudible 00:03:43], should I pay tens of thousands of dollars for this app that you’ve never heard of you know, should I start a new one, should I sell this one? What does that look like? Do we need to make more money? What would that do to our life? You know, all these decisions where you could talk this through with a good friend, but they don’t have the financial skin in the game like you and I share.
Sherry Walling:Yeah I think that’s an important piece, that even though you’re making decisions for your business, I’m throwing the full weight of my intellectual ability and whatever reasonable good sense I have in to your success, because it directly benefits me and I like you, so that helps. You definitely get more investment from your spouse or from your romantic partner, than you do from a friend.
Rob Walling:Yeah. Then the other thing that comes to mind aside from … it’s like the sanity check, moral support, being able to talk stuff through, is a sense of stability. For me especially, my personality type, I hated dating and the chaos of that whole thing through high school and college. I’m very lucky to have found someone who challenges me and who also just is stable. We’re not drama people, you know? We don’t seek drama. You’ve referenced this in the past, but the millionaire next door and the millionaire mind talk about how the vast majority of people with a net worth above a million dollars, are married and have been married for decades. Divorce often just decimates that. Being single … not that you couldn’t become a millionaire if you didn’t have a spouse, but the odds just based on the demographics that they looked at indicate that. I understand why, it’s like having shared responsibilities, shared decision making that you tend to make better decisions having accountability beyond just being a single person.
 I mean when you are out of town … you know, you went out of town for five days. I stay up too late, I mismanage some of my time, I don’t pay attention to stuff as well as I should. You know, there’s just a bunch of stuff that I feel like hopefully both of us make each other better people, but I know that when you’re around I tend to be more productive. I tend to be more motivated, so I think that’s probably the second asset.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, those are good. Just to summarize the first one, you would say shared decision making?
Rob Walling:Yep.
Sherry Walling:The second is …
Rob Walling:It’s a sense of stability and … yeah, it’s beyond stability. These both sound very boring, right?
Sherry Walling:They really do, but it’s okay.
Rob Walling:The question is how has it been a professional asset?
Sherry Walling:Yeah, yeah, yeah I asked the question that way. It’s okay, I know I’m more than stability to you.
Rob Walling:Yeah. How about you? How would you answer that?
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I was going to jump in on that. I think that our relationship has been a professional asset to me in a lot of ways, but at a very, very basic level. I just didn’t come from an early life context where I had a lot of encouragement to do big things, or take big risks. You know, I think even from really early on in our relationship, you’ve been a voice that said, “Why don’t you try that?” Or you know, “You want to apply for a fellowship at Yale, absolutely we’ll move across the country.” I think just good old fashioned believing in me, and being really invested in me being successful, and saying yes you can do it, which you know again sounds like a sort of childish way to be, but that didn’t really exist in my childhood. I think for you to come along in my life and say that consistently over and over, and sort of put our mutual assets and time and energy behind your belief, and my professional success has been really important to me.
Rob Walling:Yeah, I can definitely see that. I actually feel … as you were saying that, I was thinking about you know how you were the voice when we lived in the Bay Area of “Hey, why don’t you look for a job you know, up in Sacramento coding. Let’s make a change.” You’re the voice of change in the relationship, and that change is typically for the better, even if it’s something I never would have thought of or never would’ve wanted to dive in to. I think that’s another element that you bring.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I think also now as we’ve been working together a little bit more, and I’m [crabbing 00:07:49] in on your space in the entrepreneurial world a little bit, you know there’s just been so many practical benefits to partnering in that your network in this community is bigger than mine, but we are sort of bringing our networks together and bringing our experiences together. Just in terms of practical who knows who, who can help get this thing done. Man, two is better than one in terms of getting professional things accomplished.
 Related to I guess my last statement, you know in the last couple of years we have been working together a little bit more. Definitely on the podcast and doing some you know, conferences together. Our work lives are still fairly separate, but I guess I’m curious what it’s been like for you to work with me and what are sort of the challenges and benefits of working together with your wife?
Rob Walling:Yeah, I mean I think that the benefits have been that we tend to think pretty differently about similar topics. I’m left brained and structure about it, and kind of driven towards a goal, or like let’s make a list of all the things. Let’s do these things … you know, whatever it is. I mean I look at it as know, almost 20 years in to a career as a software developer, a project manager, product lead, founder. It’s all been structured driving and execution, and just all the stuff that we’ve talked about. You come at it from much more of a creative way of thinking about it. Not getting all the stuff in a list, but getting all the options out there and thinking about a really creative way of do we even need to do these things? Or is there an alternative? How about this crazy idea of [calling 00:09:30] this person and eliminating these four steps? I’m always like, “Well that’s not even possible.” You know, but it is. We come at it from two different … I’m the structured implementer and you’re the idea person. I’m not saying you don’t execute just cause you’re an idea person, but you come up with you know so many of the good … kind of the out of the box you know, not straight ahead thinking, creative solutions to stuff.
Sherry Walling:I think that’s a real strength of our partnership, both in our personal lives and in our professional lives. It also comes with some challenges, cause we do often work hard to translate the ways that we think to each other. I know that I can be a little bit defensive about my way of thinking or being in the world. I think you’re the person that I am least welcoming of criticism from, but you know I can take feedback from lots of different sources and up and ask for feedback about you know, a [talk 00:10:21] that I’ve give, or something that I’ve done that’s public. Feedback from you is trickier for me. I generally just want you to say good job and mean it. It’s just not that effective in a collaborative working relationship, I can totally acknowledge that.
Rob Walling:Totally, yeah. I think that might be the biggest challenge, is probably feedback both ways just taken differently than it is from anyone else. It’s just like you know, our two kids were at the trampoline … indoor trampoline park the other day, and they’re playing dodge ball. Everybody’s bouncing and there’s 15 people in there just pelting each other with balls. Pelting, I mean our oldest got hit so hard his glasses fly off. He plants, and he gets up and they’re throwing … Then one of our sons hits the other son, and that kid comes out screaming, “He hit me! He hit me!” It’s like that didn’t even hurt, that was not even as hard as the other … you know, it’s this something about siblings or blood or … there’s baggage, whatever there is, there’s complexity to very deep relationships like this. As you’re saying, with external parties they could say something to us and you could either shake it off, you dismiss it or you say oh, that’s a good piece of feedback. Whereas when it’s us, it’s like you get insulted. You know not you, either one of us. You know, the person getting the feedback … it can easily evolve in to that.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. I feel like constructive criticism is hard in the marriage, at least for us. Maybe that’s not true of other people. Neutrally applied constructive criticism.
Rob Walling:Right. I would guess it’s hard for everyone, I mean cause it’s like … I don’t know, over time you develop stuff that you … you know all the ins and outs of your partner, and you probably criticize them about everyday life more than anyone else, just by the nature of your relationship right? You say, “Hey, you’re not doing this right.” Even if you do it kindly or whatever, over the course of 10 years, 15 years, that’s going to happen. I think that then when you get to work on a project of lets write a talk together, lets build a website together, lets write a book … whatever, then when you start giving criticize on that, it probably [inaudible 00:12:19] back to all these other personal things. You know, where personal stuff can be more hurtful, whereas if one of us it critiquing the others you know, way they recorded the podcast, or the way we outlined the podcast, or they way we’re writing the book, we really are criticizing … or critiquing the work, right? I think you can take it personally because it’s so much of the … so much of the discussion, so much of the time is about our relationship.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. I think when you have two people in a partnership who are both motivated and have pretty well developed identities … so much of the balance of our relationship is togetherness and separateness. We’re always jockeying a little bit for space, for our own personal space to either think our own thoughts, or do our own things. Or space for our professional endeavors. It’s not a contentious jockeying, but I feel like I’m always trying to explain this is the way I want to do it, and this is why. This is the sort of space, or time, or resources I need for this thing that I want to work on, and this is why. I think those meta conversations can come out in these very small I prefer bullet points, you prefer numbered lists. Or I format the outline this way, and you do it that way, but there’s a very, very deep conversation under that, that sometimes sort of erupts to the surface when we’re working together.
Rob Walling:Yeah. I think both of us probably are well served by the fact that the bulk of our work is done separately or individually, even if it’s partnering up with other people, but that we do get to share some of it. Right? The examples I gave, I mean I’d imagine … we haven’t done a talk together yet, but I think that’s probably coming. I think that would be really fun for you and I to craft a talk together. We obviously [inaudible 00:14:16] a podcast every week, and we’ve talked about working on the Zen Founder book. You obviously as the lead, and me as a … whatever, an editor or second author, or some type of commenter. I think there are opportunities for us to work together in a way that doesn’t require us every day to be you know, sitting next to each other and kind of working through all of that stuff.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. I think we have really, really productive working relationships with other people. Then the overlap in the Venn diagram is [inaudible 00:14:43] … that’s a good thing. It makes it fun when we do get to work together.
 Next question. Now that you’re 17 years in to marriage, 20 plus years in to you know a long term relationship, what ingredients do you think have been most important in cultivating a successful relationship to date?
Rob Walling:You know, I think the willingness to change, because both of us are so, so different than when we met. We I think both made the decision … we’ve just changed dramatically from college students to professionals, to PHD student, to consultant, to product … whatever I was, micropreneur to running a company, to us moving. We’ve lived in I think eight or nine cities together. All of that stuff just means that you both changed so dramatically. Different sets of friends, different relationships with our extended families, but each of us whether consciously or unconsciously decided at some point that we were going to change for the other, right? That we were going to … as the other person was changing, we picked up on that and were like, “Okay, I’m going to go in that direction with you even if this is hard.” Now it hasn’t always happened that way, right? The year in New Haven in 2007 was a year I think we were changing differently, and weren’t willing to kind of … I don’t know if sacrifice is the right word, but we were both just not getting what we needed. There’s certainly been other times like that, but I think that willingness to kind of respect the other person and that if they want or needed change, to kind of go with that I guess.
Sherry Walling:I’m kind of surprised you said that, since you generally dislike change so much, but I agree with you. I don’t know if change is even the right word, but maturing … I guess it’s all a synonym, but yeah. I think that’s been especially important because we did come in to each others lives when we were so young, that a lot of change was inevitable. I mean you’ve gotta change from when you’re 21 to when you’re 40, hopefully. I think that has been really important in our relationship.
Rob Walling:How about you? What would you say are some important ingredients?
Sherry Walling:I think I have found it to be really satisfying when I really feel like we’re partners in something. Especially I think raising the kids together, and really feeling like we’re both all in, and we can really depend on each other. Parenting definitely has been one of the harder things that we’ve done in our marriage, and I think that knowing that you have my back when I’m losing my temper, or I have your back when you’re out of ideas to calm down our raging six year old. I guess it’s that sense of dependability, and also just always believing that you’re there for me and I’m there for you. We are a team, I think has been really important.
Rob Walling:Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You know, maybe my [inaudible 00:17:45] about change is kind of summarized by what you just said. Maybe it’s not change, maybe it’s just I have your back. You know, it’s agreeing that we’re on the same team and that we’re going to sometimes flex for the other, and that we’re going to kind of be there to support the other person. That’s the thing, is when you feel like you know, the rest of the world’s falling apart around you, you need to be able to rely on the someone. Given that our relationships with friends, how much we’ve moved, with how far away we’ve lived from family and how those relationships change over the years, that’s kind of like you and I have each other. We definitely have other people, but it’s like you and I have each other. That’s the backstop.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, there’s no other safety net. There’s no other people really, not really. We’ve become that for each other over all this time.
 I remember too, when my college friends were throwing me a bachelorette party, and they interviewed us and asked us different questions. Many of them were silly and profane, but one of the questions that they asked was … they asked me and they asked you separately, “What is your favorite thing about your relationship?” Something like that, and we both had the same answer. Do you remember what it was?
Rob Walling:Fun.
Sherry Walling:Yep. I think that’s another relationship superpower, is figuring out how to have fun together, and what that means as you change from being 21 to 40.
Rob Walling:Yeah, I think when we go through weeks or months of not having fun together, you kind of forget … not just us, any relationship or married couple right? It’s like if you don’t have those good times to solidify your bond and to fall back on … same thing with kids. If you’re just having a tough times with them for months and months, you just don’t have it to fall back on. There’s only so much in the bank, you know? Each painful encounter is like this withdrawal from that, and you want to keep that full of good memories and keep the relationship healthy through that. I think fun is secondary to what you said of we’re on the same team, I have your back, and I’m willing to you know, change with you. I think without fun, I think it would also fall apart. You know, there’s not one thing here, that’s why you phrased the question about ingredients that make a successful marriage, cause there’s obviously multiple. I think that having these amazing memories of going to Europe, and going to Cancun in the winter, [Inaudbile 00:20:08] shoveling snow and being out on paddle boards. I mean these are the memories that … they just don’t go away, right? This is what builds life long bonds.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I think that’s one of the things I’m reflecting on at being 17 years in to this, is that it’s a long story at this point. There are lots of trips we could talk about, lots of times where we stayed up all night painting a wall for some weird reason. You know, just so many stories that go in to making a life together. Then the practice of telling those stories, and telling those stories for our kids and [inviting 00:20:41] other people in to those stories. It’s just neat to see how we’ve come from really kids meeting in college, to retaining that playfulness and the lightness, but also with this really, really very serious, very mature commitment to making a life together. A life that’s good for both of us.
 Yeah, here’s to another 17 years.
Rob Walling:I hope you’ll stick around for it.