Work-life balance may be a chimera, Meg Hirshberg says, but you can take steps to lead a life that is fulfilling on both sides of the equation.
Every entrepreneur is going to face the challenge of how to balance the work‑life equation. Because business requires the entrepreneur to be “all in.” And “all in” they will be, unless they devise strategies for balancing the competing demands of work and family.
In terms of children it’s, of course, important to attend their recitals and their soccer games. But unstructured hang out time is also really important so that the kids don’t feel like they are just a repeating item on your Google calendar. Also bear in mind that your children may each have different needs. That was certainly true in our case.
For my book I interviewed each of our children about how they felt about their father’s prolonged absences and distractions as a result of being in business. And they gave very different answers. It turned out that my daughter needed a little bit more from her dad than my sons did. So I think it’s important, if your kids are old enough, to really ask them what it is that they need. And on that topic, a lot of entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed actually hold structured family meetings once a week or once a month. And everyone discusses how they can better help the family, better participate, help each other and make life generally better within the family itself.
As a business owner, you have the latitude to be able to bring your child to work one day a year or one day every six months. And entrepreneurs I know several do that actually. And it helps the kids to really see what you deal with every day, the kinds of people reporting to you. It helps them to see you in a leadership role. It helps them understand and respect better what it is that you do. And understand that other people are reliant on your work.
On the other hand, there may be issues. Particularly financial issues that you do want to shield your children from. But by all means, do discuss the business with your children. Though you may have to limit what it is that you talk about, but certainly you can talk to them about new products, about marketing campaigns, about interesting business travel that you’re going to be taking or buyers who you’re meeting with. It will be an amazing education for your kids.
When one spouse owns a business it’s very easy for the other spouse to feel left behind because the business is so all‑consuming. Sure, date night is very important. But I would urge you to also take advantage of small moments together. Make sure not to neglect them. Set the bar low, but set it somewhere. There were times in our startup years when all Gary and I would have time for would be just a walk down the block every day, 15 minutes. But that was really all it took to kind of keep us connected during those years even when it was difficult to take a vacation or go away for a weekend.
But the key thing is to be sure to leave the smart phone behind. In my own experience, I really wrestled with my husband’s smart phone addiction for many years until we established some parameters around its use. So for example, he doesn’t glance at it while we’re having a conversation. He doesn’t bring it to the dinner table. He keeps it silent when we’re at the beach or having vacation time together. He may have it with him, but he puts it away and it doesn’t buzz and bleep and distract us. And I think this is important not just because it actually helps to promote family time and personal time together without those constant interruptions, but it also is a way for the entrepreneur to send kind of a meta message to his or her spouse and family which is that you matter most. Yes, my business is critical, but you matter more.
One way to engage the spouse in the business itself is to have them come along on a business trip when it’s appropriate, or to work the booth at a convention, or even to come and sit in on a board meeting. These are the kinds of things that can help keep the spouse engaged with the business and with the entrepreneur and to better understand what their entrepreneur spouse has to deal with.
And remember that just because you’re not in business together doesn’t mean that you can’t do things together. Obviously shared hobbies are desirable. But even if you don’t have them you can certainly bang nails for Habitat For Humanity, or hold a fundraiser, or launch a nonprofit, or do something together that will use both of your skills and ideally even engage the business in helping out in the community.
Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, For Better or for Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families, An Inc Original, 2012, Chapters 5, 6 and 7.
Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, “These CEOs Use Business Metrics on Their Marriages“, Inc. July/August 2013.
MGroysberg, Boris and Robin Abrahams. “Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life”, Harvard Business Review, March 2014.
Dorie Clark. “How to Succeed in Business –Without Alienating Your Family”, Forbes, March 5, 2012.
Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor. Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationships with an Entrepreneur. John Wiley & Sons, Inc: Hoboken, NJ. 2013. Chapter 4: Startup Company Life.
Questions for You
What are my priorities?
How can I juggle my passion for my company with a desire to be with my family?
Tools and exercises
Ask your family members what they hope for from you. Keep in mind that family members may want different things.