Joanne F. Miller has lived the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial life with her husband Dan for the past 48 years. During that time, she has learned the secret of creating a haven of peace for her family away from the uncertainties of life. As a couple, the Millers have put their marriage and family before business and material success. This is a rare decision in our time, and Joanne has a voice we will do well to heed. Keeping their priorities straight has not hurt their success. Dan and Joanne have built an internationally recognized business together at 48Days.com.
In Creating a Haven of Peace, Joanne shares advice and accumulated wisdom that will be helpful to entrepreneurial families. In such families, one spouse, like Dan, is given to dreaming and reaching for new and exciting adventures. The other spouse, like Joanne, is usually more cautious with regard to risk. Over the past 48 years, the Millers have learned to benefit from each other's differences and Joanne shares these lessons in her book.
In your book, Creating a Haven of Peace, you mention that both your husband Dan and you came from homes that left some emotional scars. How did those scars affect your early marriage and business?
Dan and I both came from home environments we did not want to emulate. Dan’s parents stayed married but were very distant and often angry. My mother was divorced three times, and I don’t recall my father living in our house. Dan and I knew we had a choice to make. We could either let our dysfunctional family history define us and repeat the brokenness of our childhoods. Or, we could change our family tree and work intentionally to create the life of our dreams.
We found mentors other than family to help us learn how to love, to parent, to do business and to live life. We were serious learners then, and we still are. After 48 years of marriage, we are now often mentors for others. We feel honored to give back what was so generously offered to us through the people we sought out, the books we read, and the seminars we attended.
If we don’t know our purpose, it is easy to focus on superfluous things. Where do entrepreneurial couples most often waste their energy?
That is a two-fold question. First, entrepreneurial couples often try to do everything themselves. They lose sight of where they are most gifted. That leaves them with burnout and at odds with one another. Second, a spouse often must fill a position for which they are under-qualified or ill-equipped. This leads to frustration and a poorly run business due to lack of interest and passion.
You went through several significant financial struggles as a couple, yet you never considered divorce. What is the most important thing any couple can do to stick together during difficult times?
Remember what is truly important. Relationship trumps all. When we lost our business, our house and cars and were left with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, it would have done no good to point fingers and say, “I told you not to go into that business!” Dan was just as hurt by our state of affairs as I was. We were in it together because we had committed to love one another through the good times and the bad.
No, there was no thought of divorce. We decided early on that marriage and family came before business and monetary success. So when confronted with a problem we always said, “We have an opportunity for a solution here!” We got creative about solving issues as a team, often including our children.
In your book you mention several times, “If Dan was happy, we were happy.” This struck me as unusual since I often hear, “Happy wife, happy life.” Why did chasing Dan’s dreams work out so well for you as a family?
I led a sheltered life as the oldest of three daughters raised by a puritanical and dictatorial single mother. I saw Dan’s dreams and goals as great adventures. We were young and ready to try anything. I am far more cautious than Dan, so it was a big learning curve for me but I enjoyed it. We remained happy as a family regardless of how much money we had in the bank (sometimes none) or what we drove, where we lived or what work Dan was doing.
We knew we were able-bodied and could always get work. When all else failed, we cleaned houses and did home repair—together and sometimes with our children in tow. We both had known poverty, so we didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about keeping up with everyone else. My career was to create a home atmosphere where everyone felt safe and loved, and I took that seriously.
Usually, entrepreneurs don’t marry the entrepreneurial type. What simple advice can you give couples to manage the tension between the dreamer and the maintainer in the family.
Certainly that describes us. Dan has always been the dreamer. I have been the glue that holds everything together. Between the two of us, we have a great balance! In any decision we make, whether it be starting a new business, moving to a new city or state, or disciplining a child, we always work to have a win-win scenario.
Dan would never intentionally do anything to harm me or the family. I am secure in that belief, and I trust him to make the best decisions about his career given what he knows about himself. I know he always has our family’s welfare in mind as his top priority. It wasn’t always easy.
I talk a lot about our differences in my book, Creating a Haven of Peace. I also share how respect, integrity and trust are vital to marriage relationships. We walked some rough roads with a failed business, financial upheavals, and all that goes with the unexpected or unwelcome. But that’s just how life goes. People get fired, downsized, or demoted in the real world.
Life happens. The question is, “How will you respond?” Anger and accusation only creates conflict.
Your children and grandchildren are quite entrepreneurial. In fact, your 8-year-old granddaughter just published her own book. How is this enterprising worldview being passed from generation to generation?
Our children have never seen their father have a traditional job. As soon as they were able to fold a newsletter or lick a stamp they were always included in our business projects. When they wanted a new bike or car or money for a date, they knew they had to work for it. We helped them tap into their gifts to come up with creative ideas to earn money.
At a young age, they listened to motivational speakers like Zig Ziglar (a family favorite). Now, they are teaching the same principles to their own children. My very creative granddaughter, Clara, and I wrote a book together called, “What If It Were Possible?” She did all the illustrations. She is having so much fun signing books and speaking in schools. She tells other children they too can write and create.
As a busy wife, mother, grandmother, event hostess, and business partner with Dan’s 48 Days business, how did you write this book?
Creating a Haven of Peace is my life message. I have written bits and pieces of this book for at least 25 years. So, in spite of a full life, it was a delight to compile the journal entries I created over the years. In the book I say that anyone can create a haven of peace in spite of their circumstances.
I also share personal stories to illustrate the roller-coaster of entrepreneurial life. With a sense of humor, I say what couples should expect in taking this journey, and it isn’t all fun and games! I answer many of the questions we get from couples who are looking to start a business, and allay some of their fear.
How can parents, spouses, and employees do justice to family relationships, please their employer, and build successful businesses on the side?
It is possible, but it takes discipline and intentional living. It also takes family support. Dan and I believe both spouses must be on the same page before beginning a new business. If you dream of starting a business and your spouse is opposed, then you must reconsider your goals.
Placing yourself in positive environments is necessary to achieve success in any business, and in life. You can help your spouse catch the dream by taking them with you to motivational, career-oriented conferences. Inclusion and communication is a key to gaining support and enthusiasm. Many reluctant spouses come to our conferences as support and leave with their own entrepreneurial ideas!
As I said before, relationship trumps all. Spouse and family must stay high priority, and that takes intentional day-to-day interaction.
Besides everything else you do, you are an artist and facilitator of art classes. From the outside, it looks like you take on an impossible amount. Is all the work worth it? Why?
I didn’t begin to write seriously and to draw, paint and teach art classes until I was in my fifties. I was a career housewife and mother until suddenly my children were gone. I felt I had been downsized from what I loved doing. So I knew I had to reinvent ME.
I learned to transfer some of the nurturing skills I had into other areas such as our business. I needed to explore new things I thought I might be able to do. So I took art classes for almost 13 years. Those classes helped me find confidence to explore new avenues of self-expression.
With the support of those classes and my family, I began to sell my art. I also have written two books for adults and five books for children. I speak at conferences and do interviews such as this. We all have so much inside us if we just take time to explore. Life is short, and I want to continue learning, growing and exploring till I simply wear out!