Brad Feld (@bfeld) is a prominent VC based out of Boulder, CO and he just wrote this book about the personal side of startup life: http://www.amazon.com/Startup-Life-Surviving-Relationship-Entrepreneur/dp/1118443640
This stopped me in my tracks this morning because I have lived a rather driven existence for 20+ years and though I have not read this book yet (ordered!) I am sure there will be some interesting things to learn from his experiences.
A little history. I’m from Toronto, Canada. I was on a vacation to San Diego in 1992 and decided I had to live here, but that required a work visa. I went home, found an opportunity for another trip with a different friend and started looking for work on that trip (yes, I hit the beach too of course). Through some lucky coincidence I was connected to a developer from a startup here in San Diego – ImageWare Systems today – but we did not meet. I went home, faxed my resume, interviewed over the phone, and was told “we need you here in 3 weeks”. Done. Sold my 1971 convertible mustang (sob) and drove across the country in my jeep hauling a basic amount of stuff. My family thought I was crazy, a little. Who leaves for a job and does not know the people yet? But I trusted my instincts (I think it was instinct in hindsight, because it has always served me well, but at the time there was a little bit of raw desire to be in a warm climate, admittedly).
I met my husband 1 month later, then a researcher at Scripps, but in two years he would go to Irvine to complete his fellowship to be a practicing physician and critical care doctor. He was kind enough to leave to do that while I wrote my first book. That worked. We met on weekends, he studied, I wrote, but we still had each other. Our work ethics were aligned and I think that it is also what made us a good fit.
Fast forward, 20 years later, he has endured my 16-hour-a-day work habits, weekend work, difficulty planning trips without bringing a computer, stolen moments off work rather than regularly scheduled time free. He is also very busy, and maybe that is what makes it work. We do get free time, when we need it, but we need less of it than most people. We have a weekly dinner date (almost weekly) and we enjoy good food and fine wine with our friends. Our best friends (and we do have friends despite our lifestyle) are people who are ok with with last minute cancellations, and people who don’t mind being a little proactive about calling us because we aren’t always the first to call. I’ve lost a few friends through the years who were frustrated by this…and that’s just the way it is. I love my career, my free time goes to my husband and those friends who can handle our crazy lifestyle. We aren’t the couple with regular weekends off planning to go here and there – you know, skiiing, weekend boating, sailing, anything that requires regularity…not gonna happen. But, when we get a vacation we make it awesome. And, we have been known to be spontaneous and actually go skiiing for example. Really, we have!
What really helped me balance things out though – is my son, Juan Pablo. He is only 4.5 years old now, and yes that means we did the have kids late in life thing. So glad we did. Nothing is better. I can’t imagine life without him in it. It also bonded us further as a couple and forced us to change. A lot. Not just because we had a child but because of the challenges we faced at his birth.
My pregnancy was perfect, I travelled, worked, and yes I ate Something went wrong at the end, and I had a emergency c-section at the due date. In short, our son had an inutero stroke and we don’t know why to this day. He was left with a brain injury on both sides and this was more than a little surprising and distressing. Weeks later our boy was home, and we were in heaven. We did not know what we were facing in the future, but we were in love non-the-less. We had to get over that and deal with it. And we did. I our respective work focus taught us to handle difficult issues like this – he was meant to be our baby. We went through a lot, dealt with a lot of various therapies, but thanks to all of that today our boy is doing awesome. He has autism spectrum features, but is highly functional and we are blessed. We continue to work hard with him, and we can always do more and do better.
There in lies why hearing about Brad’s book stopped me in my tracks this morning. I have never written on this subject before, I have never shared my challenges with work/life balance publicly, and I rarely discuss my son’s birth. I guess what I wanted to share here is that like many people I struggle regularly with the work-life balance issue. It is more tormenting some days than others. What makes it work for me?
a) At the end of the day I would say I married a partner with incredible tolerance for my work – but I always check in to make sure I’m not leaving him behind…too much tolerance can be bad as well. He let’s me know when it is “enough” and I appreciate that as well. We are lucky.
b) Having my son, and going through what we did, really refocused our priorities. It does not mean we don’t work – we still work and we sometimes still work too much – but we make sure that we are laser focused on quality time with Juan Pablo when we are with him. I work from home so I have the ability to take breaks, see him onto the school bus, steal a few hours for the car museum, sea world or something like that (ok, not every week, that would be impossible). I also try to be done every day and give him 5-8pm and then work when he is in bed. I could do a better job being free weekends…and I’m working on that but it comes and goes – I have a startup after all.
c) I had to learn to work more efficiently – though I still have my bad days. I used to work 16 hour days but I don’t think I was as productive as I am now, by far. Knowing I have limited time to work really focuses you. I did not impose those limits before. Today I have to really structure the times of day I do different things. Creative work that requires hours of focus has to be done early in the day. It is hard to start something that you know requires dedicated time at 2pm. If I have a runaway morning with emails and meetings, I have to choose other things to start in the afternoon. That may not be everyone’s problem – but we all have to operate in the context of how our brain works. Of course when there is a pressing deadline nothing forces you to focus more…and then the rules go out the window
I am going to read Brad’s book. I think I can do better and maybe I can learn something from it.
What is your work-life challenge like?