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2015-04-04 Startup work-life balance. Is there such thing
 

2015-04-04 Startup work-life balance. Is there such thing

My husband (Craig) thinks further into the future than anyone I have ever met. We've choosen to walk a different path, and do a startup. Our lifestyle, with four kids and a startup, is now so different to others. Can there be balance?

 

I patiently let Craig do his side projects as he worked at Microsoft or HP (EDS). One day, we together decided for Craig to quit and spend all of his time on a startup instead. He quit his job and we started the search for somewhere cheap to live. We lived in:

  • A tent outside his mother's house.
  • A cabin in my parent's front garden.
  • A secluded beach front in a remote area of the Philippines.
  • And now, a small creaky house near Manchester, UK.

Craig working in the tent

For the longest time, I felt so alone. It wasn't until I widened my readingScore and YouTube channels that I found there were others. I read how Amy Chua in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother felt alone in her journey, tiger parenting her two daughters. I watched interviews with other startup founders. I realised I was not alone. I enjoyed the Female founder conference that Jessica Livingston hosts. I found a group I could relate to.

 

People say a mother wears many hats. I feel that's been true for me.

They say, "if you start your own business you get to work any 16 hours of the day". That pretty much sums up our life in the past 6 years. Very long hours, with no end in sight.

 

Craig was working long hours writing code. He spends time with me, he spent time with the kids, but he doesn't spend time on much else.

Something wrong with the car? I had to get it fixed. An appliance breaks? Yep, out with the screw driver, that's my job too. Kids coughing through the night? Guess who gets up to comfort them. Homework to be done? Time to crack open the books, 'cause I'm the tutor. One of my team late for their shift? Yep, I'll cover till they arrive. And, oh yea... a sounding board for my husband's business ideas? Yep, that's me too.

 

To cover the cost of running Zipier, we run a call center in the Philippines. It started out with all of us being involved, but gradually we were able to simplify our operation and hire others to help. Now it's just me that manages the call center (so the others can focus on our payroll product).

I remember, one time I was driving to the school nativity play of my youngest daughter. I was on the phone (headset) with my team leader in the Philippines the whole time as I drove. I pulled the headset off just as I walked into the school hall. The children started singing sweetly. It was like being transported to a different world.

Amy with cousin at the nativity

 

Firing employees surely isn't the best thing in the world. I don't know how others do it. I remember the time I had to fire two employees who weren't a cultural fit. Right after that, I went a family event with my children. How could I enjoy it? I remember looking around the room at all the other mothers. How could I fit in?

 

For a long time I tried to hush up my kids while on business calls. I felt anxious about the sound of four kids raging in the background. I wanted to seem professional.

In the last year, however, I've decided to stop trying to impress other people. As a company, and as a family, we've decided to be more transparent, and not "shoo" the kids out. Instead, we turn on video during all the calls we can.

Now, when I'm chatting with customers or employees, I'll sometimes have one of my children on my lap. I've accepted that whoever's on a video call with me will see and hear my children in the background. It's a great ice-breaker.

Our youngest doing her multiplication on the tablet while sat on Craig's lap

 

What about romance, you may well ask? I smile as I type this. :)

For me, romance now is a midnight stroll with Craig through the aisles of our local 24-hour supermarket, walking hand-in-hand, and browsing for breakfast cereals. That counts as a date, right? :D

For variety, we'll sometimes go to a different supermarket. LOL

 

Birthdays, Christmas, and other events aren't a big deal for us. Craig would say, "why wait till Christmas to give a special gift." To us everyday can be Christmas. We don't wait for special occassions. When we need it, we get it.

 

I couldn't tell all this to my mother, who, of course, will worry for me. I accept it's an unconventional situation.

Our home life and business life are now so intertwined. We end up talking about work and kids as part of the same conversation. Both encroach on each other. I see my children benefit from this. They see their parents work hard. They overhear conversations. They ask questions. They learn from the environment we've built around our home.

Is there really such thing as work-life balance? Perhaps, to the outside observer, there is not. But from the inside, it feels pretty balanced.

I remember sitting in the audience of a talk titled "Finding comfort in uncomfortable situations". The message hit home, that "hey, I'm in an uncomfortable situation, and yet, I actually don't mind it."

I went home that night. It was raining, and cold. As soon as I got home I snuggled up in my duvet, pulled out my laptop and start working again.

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