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‘I would watch Netflix on my own and realize I had no one to predict the next scene with or share the experience with. Something I really enjoyed had turned to ashes,’ tech entrepreneur and app developer Darren Galvin concluded ruefully. At the time Galvin was separated from his family, living alone, and would have languished in bed if not for his business partner Danny Webster, who dragged him out of ‘his pit.’
A little backstory on Galvin’s experience, which comes to us from Liverpool, England. Galvin dropped out of school at age 15; lived hand to mouth for some time; struggled to find direction, but knew there was something bigger waiting for him. Last year, in a room above a taxi office, Webster and he founded Expert Apps, a platform for experts in niche businesses to promote their expertise. Users can then tap their knowledge for a subscription fee. The experts can also pay a fee to better showcase their business. In building the business, he maxed out his credit cards and they took loans, the grand total between the two of them reaching £30,000-plus (pushing $40,000). But then, over the first six months the business blew up to almost £220,000 ($300,000) in revenue. Still, before realizing this success, Galvin faced a ten-year struggle that took a painful toll on his personal life, namely his marriage. It would require a complete reevaluation and help from others.
An unabashed workaholic but ‘drifting in business,’ since 2008 he’d been in the realm of website SEO and marketing. By his calculation, he had been undercharging and therefore just keeping his head above water. ‘I earnt less than minimum wage at times but didn’t know where I was going wrong.’ Meanwhile, he and his wife were growing their family. Galvin wasn’t aware of how inadequate he had become as a husband and father until it was too late. ‘My inadequacies manifested themselves to me over time,’ he recalled. The deeper I fell into life as a workaholic the further I drifted away.’
Listening To A Hundred Other Thoughts
It got to the point when he was never present. ‘I would often have conversations with my wife and would be listening to hundreds of other thoughts at the same time. Therefore, I was not present and not listening and often had no idea what she’d said. I didn’t appreciate how much this was causing resentment.’ She’d ask him to come with her and the kids to the park, and he’d opt to stay home to work. He was opting out of things on a daily basis. His business was now his life partner too. ‘In her view, she became part of the furniture,’ he said. In retrospect, he termed his behavior ‘far west.’ In other words, he’d gone off the reservation.
Galvin didn’t realize how dire the situation was until his wife told him she wanted to end the relationship. ‘I knew she wasn’t happy but had not appreciated it was at a critical point for her. I was so disengaged, her life would be easier without another person to ‘look after’. As I’m a spontaneous person, I was gone from the family home within 48 hours. I think much of the decision to act so quickly was a protection mechanism for myself as I was hurting. I couldn’t really see where I had gone wrong at the time as I was blinded by my mission to build my business. I felt she should have understood and appreciated this. Later I realized my error.’ Also, with Christmas fast approaching, he said, ‘I did not want the pain of playing happy family.’
Just The Sound Of A Clock Ticking
So, a week before Christmas 2017, Galvin moved into a room in a shared house, which added to out of pocket expenses, money he didn’t really have. ‘I had to use money I had borrowed to pay for it, and therefore I was not in a position to be choosy. To be honest, it was very much ‘make do’ in order to keep a roof over my head.’ Though money was tight, materialism then filled the emotional void he felt: ‘The truth is, during this time, I actually wasted more money buying things on credit that I did not need, just to help me feel better about the situation I was in.’
Loneliness took hold of him in a visceral way. ‘In the beginning I just cried a lot, and then I felt the pain of true loneliness. In the silence of the room I could hear the clock ticking as there were no other sounds.’ Certainly not the sounds of his children who weren’t permitted to stay over at the shared house. Despair set in. He also came to understand how solitary his existence had been beyond family too. ‘I realized how lonely I was in life generally,’ he reflected. ‘I realized that my friendship circle was minimal as I am quite an introvert. However, being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t need healthy human contact.’
Letting Go And Being Present
Despite the trauma of a broken marriage and the subsequent pain, it was then, in a modest room over a taxi office that Webster and he plunged ahead on Expert Apps. At the same time, Galvin pursued opportunities to get coaching and mentorship. In fact his coaches Kul Mahay and Andy Harrington, and mentors Nick James and Matthew Elwell have added such value to his life, Galvin wants to publicly recognize them. ‘This supported me through the emotional challenges,’ he explained, ‘later leading me to be a stronger person for both me and my business. In turn, I was in a better place to recognize what I had lost.’
While his relationship with his wife had ‘broken down’ they remained friends and saw each other regularly due to the kids. A silver lining emerged: ‘Over time and because we were apart, we spent time getting to know each other as individuals again without feeling totally responsible for each other.’ They decided to try out a family vacation, something they hadn’t done in six years – since their honeymoon. It was during the vacation he had an epiphany of sorts. ‘This holiday reminded me of the joys of being a family man without any pressures of work or business around me,’ Galvin said. ‘I managed to ‘let go’ and ‘be present’. I realized I was capable of this and needed to be do it more in my life to be healthy and happy.’
After a nine-month separation, they got back together. For Galvin it has involved a reassessment across the board: life, business and marriage. For example, now, rather than closing himself off as in the past, Galvin has been proactive about seeking help. ‘I have go-to people around me who can support me.’ He continues to work with coaches and mentors to help him be more balanced and work through adversity. ‘I often do an exercise in my mind which visualizes the future as to how I want it to be, and then I write the steps I need to take to get there and go and make it happen.’
More Open About Emotional State
Galvin is much more open about sharing his feelings – a recurring theme among entrepreneurs who have struggled with loneliness – not only with his wife but with the public at large. There was a feature story in the local paper. ‘I Almost Lost My Marriage To My Business Because I Didn’t Know I Had To Share My Feelings’ (Echo, December 28, 2018). He’s posted on Facebook about the loneliness factor and about helpful tidbits he finds to keep himself centered. Recently he came across some advice from Guru Gaur Gopala Das to counter unnecessary worrying, which he posted on Facebook. And he’s taken up public speaking to share his experiences and inspire others.
Still, the day after the article appeared in Echo, tech problems hit Expert Apps just as Galvin and his wife were hosting a holiday party. ‘For the first time, friends and family witnessed me on my laptop and phone for most of it,’ Galvin said. ‘That was quite sad, however, the difference between this time and in the past was I still managed to get time in to see the children. I even went to the coast for a few hours, and I have now booked many short breaks and days out in advance during 2019 to make up for the time loss.’
In the final analysis, a pensive but introspective Galvin told us, ‘I didn’t realize I needed to create and appreciate family time and be present. I cannot even bear to think of how I ‘opted out’ of being present for my children. Now, for me it’s the thought of the impact on my children of all the times they talked to me and shared things with me that I don’t remember. I wonder now if, when they are older, they will remember the time I was of that narrow mindset?’
January 24, 2019 at 11:33AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs