As Noah Kagan recently put it so well: can I be real with you? Real real?
I’ve talked before about how I carve my day to squeeze every drip out of it. Shared my theories for theming, a noble attempt to avoid drift and push for maximum focus. Described how I try to be disciplined with my schedule, working in bursts across a 16 hour day.
What I talk much less about is why I hack my life in such ways. About my “other job”, as parent to two small people.
Surely I must be crazy to grip onto the rocket ship that is life at an early stage startup, while also trying to be equally successful in my role as parent, no?
Some days I think perhaps I am, that it can’t be done. Those thoughts creep in whenever I’m struggling to keep my two lives separate; determined not to let my small people affect my work, or my work affect my small people. All while looking to escape assumed judgement for being a parent in a young man’s world – a place where parenting feels rare.
Slowly I’m starting to swing around. Realising I might be able to have my cake and eat it; to pull off caring for my small people without compromising my commitment to the rocket ship.
Realising that rather than being about a fight for separation [and perhaps segregation] of my double life, perhaps it’s really about acceptance and blending them, openly and honestly, into one.
I’d like to talk here about the challenges I encounter as I try to pull it all off. I know how useful it will be to me, to work through the complexities of parenting while riding a rocket ship, and it would be amazing to receive comments from others in the same position. I hope by sharing, it’s also helpful to others too.
Life’s a balancing act, or is it?
There’s always a ton of talk about ‘work-life balance’. In its purest form, the name suggests each significant area of your life should be evenly balanced and equally weighted. Therefore, as soon as one aspect appears to be receiving more attention than another, you invariably begin to feel off balance and out of control. A recipe for two-way guilt and stress if ever I heard it!
More recently, the buzz words have shifted to ‘work-life merge’ and ‘integration’. As their names suggest, the focus is on acceptance of your whole self. Rather than living two separate lives, struggling to keep each under control without affecting the other, you act openly and deliver positively to both. The guilt that comes with living in ‘middle state’ is not good for anyone, least of all yourself. Trust me on that one.
“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” Anonymous
1. Learning to let go
Not all that long ago my days were filled with plates to spin and balls to juggle. Quite simply, I was trying to have it all AND do it all. Perhaps being too stubborn to engage any help, I struggled with the feeling it was my responsibility to get it all done. To be Martha Stewart and Sheryl Sandberg wrapped into one, like some kind of superhero.
Finally letting go of my compulsion to always be in control, I’ve quietened my mother guilt a little and rallied troops to back me up. With childcare and domestic support drafted in, I can now happily hustle for the rocket ship, switch back to mama-bear, before hustling again after lights out.
All of my plates are still spinning – I’m coming to accept they always will be – but life is a little less stuck in the middle.
2. Escaping reality
I’m a lucky girl and I know it. As a working mother, I’m able to do my work without being tied to a desk or even to a particular country, a real digital nomad.
While delivering happiness to the Buffer community grants me the freedom to work wherever and whenever I choose, in reality, escaping my own four walls is still a little tricky; even with back up.
It requires a small military operation of pre-scheduling to hop into Central London for a full dawn to dusk session at a co-working space. It’s definitely something I would love to do more and I’m envious of those with greater freedom of movement than myself. I perhaps need to be stricter with my schedule to book days into my calendar to ensure their regularity.
3. The Internet never sleeps
Building a bridge between our community of awesome Buffer customers and our developers is a role you never really leave behind. Wherever I go, whatever I’m doing, a part of me is always conscious of how many people are waiting.
I’ve written before about my heavily customised schedule; about how I’ve tweaked my routine to fit around the global needs of Buffer while meeting the needs of my small people, and I’m grateful I have the freedom to do that.
I’m mindful of the inbound messages we’re receiving at all hours of the day and night, and I work hard to spread my input into the community across the widest spectrum of my day.
I also appreciate being the person who can take my little people to school each day, who can pick up from football practice and serve dinner every night. In that respect, you could say I get to have my cake and eat it, even if getting that cake out of the oven without it being burned takes a little bit of skill and negotiation!
In my quest for improvement and seeking inspiration from those in a similar position, I find myself drawn to all sources of information about other women in business and how they get it done. I can’t help but wonder if they are really pulling it off or if it’s just a cosy charade in front of a crazy mess!
From watching the frivolous Hollywood movie ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It?‘, in which the lead character holds down her job as a fund manager while just about holding her family together. To being captivated by a Bloomberg Television moderated panel discussion ‘Women to Watch: Women Take the Lead in Technology’ that featured four leading women in tech, who not only kick ass in their C-suite positions but do it with grace.
I’m the first to admit I have a heap more to learn and life is certainly always evolving [if you know of any inspiring articles or clips I might like to check out, be sure to let me know in the comments!].
While definitely tricky, and sometimes smothered in feelings of self-doubt, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I adore my small people and I want to empower them to kick asses of their own. I also love my rocket ship and the feeling each day that I’m contributing to the growth of something great. It may be a challenge but there’s only one thing to do when faced with one of those: rise.
Are you a parent at a startup? What are your challenges and learnings? How do you keep all your balls in the air? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.