I am in Kerala. Pregnant and baby mooning. Lying on the sundeck with a book in my lap, a drink in my hand, contemplating life and whatnot. But then the phone buzzes. Somebody I had reached out to a while ago with a business proposition is responding now and wants to speak.
I think, I look up and around, then back at my phone. But it’s no use. There is a chance of a snowball in hell that I won’t take that call. Meaning, I will take it.
I did take it. And it resulted in us getting one of our earliest, biggest, and longest retained clients.
Being a founder is like conceptualising the Taj Mahal and then finding out that you only have the budget to hire 1.5 artisans and it will last you for all of 5 days. That your go-to-market plan looks great on parchment but them poets and writers have hiked up their rates, charging astronomically for anemic foot-note mentions in their ‘PRnamas’. You will try and raise some funds from the local Shylocks, and your pound of flesh, several pounds, in fact, they shall have.
But us founders, we still go on. We approach every opportunity with the enthusiasm of a Gollum discovering his precious. Because every opportunity is precious. Every win, big or small, is sustenance, hard-won. The adrenaline that fuelled our leap into entrepreneurship, continues to do the job. As do we. The only way is forward.
How then the balance? How do we relax, recharge, make time to think laterally, build new perspectives, build support systems and stamina? How do we make time for love, and laughter, for meandering and some purposelessness?
I don’t have all the answers. Actually, close to none. What I do have are a bunch of loosely held thoughts, that shape-shift, and at times, clean disappear from view as the start-up takes center-stage. But these thoughts, they are something, and perhaps they keep me sane.
A mindset of relaxation
A few calls done on a weekend don’t have to ruin it all. I found that when I operated from the lens of hours and minutes, and the depletion therein, I would invariably end up feeling unhappy. We have a small finite number of hours in the day, but a near-infinite number of moments. As I write this article at 8:40 pm after a long day at work, I steal a glance at my kid, who is on his usual trip, jumping around with springs under the soles of his feet, dancing to a BTS song. I smile at him, and it’s meaningful. I am there for him.
Time to recharge
I am an introvert, kind of. I hate small talk, but find people interesting. I am uncomfortable in social gatherings but love the high of a great conversation with a person I just met. I love messaging as a way of communication but I voluntarily lead Sales for my start-up, which entails my being on the phone or conferencing quite a bit.
I enjoy the interaction, but I get drained. I need my batteries recharged every single day, and I find that the days I miss doing it, are not good ones. I don’t have high expectations, my entertainment doesn’t need to be high-brow or skill-building. As long as it makes me happy.
Over the past 6-7 years, I have seen myself go through several phases. There was a point when I was filling my days up with a swarm of activities - singing lessons, dance classes, side projects, book writing, and all with a full-time job.
As I started up, and then after some time, got pregnant, I started finding my days getting tighter and shorter, and consciously dropped a few, then most, and then all of these activities.
Last year during the pandemic, I dropped social interaction. I had neither the time nor the mind space for it.
This year, while not very much has changed on time, I find myself wanting to do more. I have tentatively, after a lot of hesitation, resumed my singing lessons. It helps that I think my 3 year old might also enjoy it. The husband and I have started learning a new language, with the intent to make this one of the ‘things we do together’: learn a new language and then visit the country. The great hope is to get back to a way of life where we have common goals, it’s an investment into this relationship, long left to its own devices.
The point is that through all of these phases, I was at ease. One could call it prioritisation I guess, but to me, it’s about loving and letting myself be. I don’t have to do anything that I don’t want to. My life is at my service and not the other way around.
I ebb, I flow, I wax and I wane. And through all of it, I am at peace.
Trust. Hard presence
It used to be that before key meetings I would feel the need to prepare a lot. But the last year took away these luxuries. Now I trust my gut which is nothing but the experience and insights I have accumulated over the years working in this space. And I am hard present in my conversations, not spending time second-guessing myself, or feeling nervous about not knowing something. Present, confident, if a googly comes my way, I will deal.
This last year also proved the saying that ‘Work expands to take up all available space’. When I had less time, I managed to do those same tasks and jobs in the time I had, with the resources I had. Without second-guessing myself, drawing on experience, instinct. It worked.
This is not a conclusive list, it’s barely a list. But it’s something, and that I felt needed saying. Our ecosystem suffers from aggrandizing the 80-hour workweek, and many founders wear working 16-hour days ad infinitum as a badge of honor. That’s just crazy, folks.
So, can founders have work-life balance? Well, it’s hard, yes, and I personally struggle with it, but I want to try. To be honest, it is a privilege to be able to lead a full-life where one grapples with the question of plenty. Where one has work one loves, and a life that is consuming too. I want to make the most of my time here on this planet, neglecting neither one nor the other. Work gives purpose but life brings joy, and I want to drink deeply from both.