St. Martin's Press
By Anna Akbari
December 13, 2016
IDEAS
Anna Akbari is a sociologist, entrepreneur and the author of Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way To Happiness

I’ve had my fair share of both business partners and boyfriends over the years, and what makes someone a good partner—in either camp—is surprisingly similar.

They say business partners are like spouses: you’re with them every day, for better or worse, in sickness and in health. And in business and romance alike, there’s usually a honeymoon phase: it’s all rosy at the beginning until reality settles in and the illusion of perfection crumbles. Across all contexts, partnerships—even the good ones—are work. The small grudges and the differences of opinion take their toll. But despite all the hurdles and headaches, partnerships can be one of the most rewarding and worthy ventures in our lives. And they are a key factor in lasting happiness.

It’s no coincidence that many of the most famous companies are a result of partnerships, and some duos are so integrated that their names are inseparable: Lewis and Clark. Wilbur and Orville. Hewlett and Packard. Watson and Crick. Ben and Jerry.

Partnerships are not just about strengths meeting strengths. A big part of the collaborative brew is the successful management of weaknesses, egos and vulnerabilities. Each individual drags their skill sets—and their baggage—to the table. But the baggage is not necessarily something to overcome. Sometimes it can even bring out the best in each individual; it can act as a sort of complementary catalyst. Like plus like doesn’t often result in relationship magic. The brilliance lies in the gentle tension. The slight difference in perspective. The ability to tease out ideas and qualities in the other person (and in ourselves) that we didn’t know were there.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says he approached his search for a life partner in much the same way he did his business. He even went so far as to create a flowchart for his dating prospects. His top criterion? “I wanted a woman who could get me out of a Third World prison. Life’s too short to hang out with people who aren’t resourceful.” Sexiness is great, but scrappiness and practical know-how—not to mention a big helping of humor—go a long way in both love and business.

Most people crave companionship of some sort. And no wonder, as it is the single biggest indicator of long-term, sustainable health and happiness. (In fact, research suggests that not having close social ties is the equivalent of smoking or obesity in terms of its negative impact on health.) But like entrepreneurship, romance—and partnership in general—is risky business. There’s no “safe” route for the pursuit of either. The way we learn to love and connect most fully is the same way startups succeed: they take a leap of faith, coupled with a commitment to everyday tedium. Entrepreneurship and marriage (or its equivalent) can both be intoxicating and thrilling, yet they’re anchored in the daily grind of unsexy realities.

In my book, Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way To Happiness, I teach people to live their lives like startups. And yet, of all the aspects of our life, perhaps partnerships, romance, and love seem most at odds with the startup approach. We meet by chance, right? And we either click or not, right? And then it either works or it doesn’t? Trouble is, that doesn’t give you much say in the matter. In love, as in life, we’re looking to “close the deal”—whether it’s marriage, or just getting them to say yes to dinner. Whatever the goal, there’s a market in which we operate, and it’s far more than merely chance that determines the eventual outcome.

Here are a three ways you can hack relationships and harness the power of partnerships to fuel happiness and success:

1. Don’t go it alone.

No startup operates in isolation. And neither do you. You construct your life in concert with others. Friends and clients may turn into business partners. Acquaintances may become gateways to new potential collaborations or introductions. And friends of friends become spouses and life partners. But before you can meaningfully connect and explore the possibilities of these relationships, you need to buy into the fact that partnerships—even when imperfect—make you stronger and life better. More often than not, our output—and our happiness—wanes when we isolate. And remember: living a networked life means committing to both in-person relationships as well as mindful, technology-assisted interactions.

2. Beef up your soft skills.

We most often use the term “soft skills” in relationship to emotional intelligence, or EQ. These skills are the social graces and interpersonal skills that are less easily defined or quantified than hard skills, but which often factor as key differentiators. Relationships, like career paths, don’t fit into a perfect mold. They aren’t always predictable and “safety” is largely an illusion. Risk abounds. Planning is for naught. And failure—to varying degrees—is imminent along the way. You can, however, redefine “success” and rewrite your own rules of engagement, but not just through ticking boxes and downloading apps. Pay attention to the little things. Be bold. Be truly present. And feel the difference.

3. Become a relationship MVP .

Come to terms with how you want to conduct your relationship startups. Too often we think in extremes: destiny or practicality. So rethink that strategy to make room for both. What are your non-negotiables? Aside from those, throw out the checklist and check back in with your gut reaction. This isn’t an attempt to oversimplify a complex question, but reverting back to the basics of how you feel and what you need is the simplest way to keep moving forward. Consider it your relationship MVP, or “minimum viable product”: sometimes you need to strip away the noise to understand the core value proposition. And that makes committing to a choice that much easier—and more satisfying.

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