The work-life dilemma

A reoccurring theme nowadays seems to be the topic of work-life balance. How to achieve it, and what (if any) sacrifices need to be made from either side in order to make such a thing achievable.

Looking back at my career to date, there are certainly themes to how our work-life balance has changed over the years and our subsequent priorities.

When we started Au Pair Link, I was studying full-time, working full-time (as a receptionist) and putting my heart and soul into making the business successful. I would go to work, then go out for a lecture on my lunch break and then after work, head straight out to interview potential host families and educate them about what Au Pair Link was all about (these could last a few hours). I’d arrive home, then be on the phone to overseas partner agencies to source au pairs for the families I’d been meeting. It was a bit like Groundhog Day mixed with The Apprentice, in a way. Overnight, I’d often receive 200 – 300 emails which all would need to be responded to before the day was over. Over this period of time, I developed one of my most important skills, which is the ability to digest a lot of information in a short space of time and make a decision.

My then boyfriend (now husband and co-CEO) was also working full-time in a corporate job and each pay cheque he received was used to pay our bills, with any residual put in the business to help us pay expenses. On the weekends, we’d do interviews together and work on Au Pair Link’s key business metrics. It sounds pretty sad, but at that time, we had no ‘life’ outside of work/school/business. There was no ‘balance’.

While it was hard, we were in early our 20s, had a high appetite for risk and felt invincible. We didn’t mind having our lives at risk because we didn’t have very much and all we needed was each other. We also always felt that if we needed to start over, we could.

The turning point came when one of our mentors at the time told us that the ‘Au Pair Link thing’ could have legs but we’d need to make the tough decision to either pursue it full time or close it down. I dropped out of uni and quit my job. James found a job that would enable him to spend more time on the business while still earning an income. Both of us felt the fear of the unknown, but with our strong belief in ourselves and each other, we made it work. While we’d just got married and craved our private space, we decided to bring flatmates into our home, to help pay bills and enable us some breathing space.

It’s been 7 years since we made that decision and while we spent most of our 20s continuing to work in the same way, life did change when we had our son. I believe owning your own business when you have a child is very different from being employed. The fact of the matter is that you never truly unplug from your own company – you can’t help but be consumed by it.

So, while the GroundHog Days of my 20s are hopefully behind me, the level of responsibility and accountability that comes in a very senior role means that more often than not my husband and I are having our morning de-brief over breakfast and then our end of day wrap up over dinner.  In-between we are having impromptu meetings in the car, in the bathroom, while getting dressed or at 10 pm when one of us is suddenly struck by a thought. Many spouses in business have told us that they have clear boundaries and never discuss work at home. We never bought into that idea. The idea of trying to compartmentalise work and life hasn’t worked for us and we are happy for it all to be jumbled together. The fact is, our work and the team at My Food Bag isn’t just work – it’s our life, and we love it.

For us however, there is one thing we never sacrifice and that is the time with our son. As a family we always eat breakfast and dinner together. My husband and I, more often than not, both drop him off and pick him up from kindy together – neither one of us willing to sacrifice the special hug that you can only receive after a day at kindy. We are both incredibly present parents, meaning he has built an equally strong relationship with his mum and his dad.

So what are the tricks to achieving a healthy work-life balance?

  1. Set the expectation – for me, it’s been critical that my team understand how I work and why it’s important for me. It means that we are all on the same page and that no one is booking a 4pm meeting on a kindy pick-up day.
  2. Use technology to your advantage – I am available to my team whenever they need me. I mostly bring my laptop home and I always have my iPad and iPhone available to work from home. My team knows I’m only ever just a phone call away.
  3. Protect your personal time – my time with my little boy is priceless, it is minutes, hours and days I will never get back. So unless it’s critical (and I mean critical), I am 100% focused on him as soon as I come home.
  4. Surround yourself with people who will help you – to be able to be a successful mum and run a business, you need to face the facts – you can’t do everything. I make sure that I have people around to help me so that I can focus my energy on where I am mostly needed. Both at home and at work.
  5. Don’t feel guilty – we tend to beat ourselves up about not being perfect, but no one really is. So, recognise how you’re feeling, and instead, make sure you put appropriate steps in place to avoid feeling guilty again. By doing this, you might start to feel the opposite of guilty.