Thursday, November 16, 2006

Entrepreneurship and Parenting

This mini-essay was written for Ben Casnocha's upcoming book.

Entrepreneurship has long been synonymous with long hours and tunnel vision. Reporters delight in noting when the unimaginably wealthy still keep a sleeping bag in the office for pulling all-nighters (Dave Filo of Yahoo) or work 14-hour days (Marissa Mayer of Google). But what happens when the culture of workaholism meets the reality of parenthood?

If entrepreneurship requires reaching deep into your bank account of effort and energy, becoming a parent involves emptying that account, taking out a second mortgage, and then borrowing an extra $50K from that guy named Fat Tony who hangs out downtown in his always-empty dry cleaning business. How do you balance two seemingly all-consuming pursuits?

Historically, the answer has been the "starter family." The spouse (usually a wife) you divorce and the kids you never get to know, but whose therapy bills you cover. Then, once you’re rich and successful, you find a younger spouse and raise a second set of children whom you shower with wealth and affection.

Increasingly, however, parents are unwilling to pay this price. I know I’m not. We’re looking for that magic solution that will allow us to have both startup and family, and the techniques we’ve adopted might just help everyone (yes, even you Ben) improve their work-life balance.

1. Multitasking

Whether it’s bringing your computer into your son’s room and lulling him to sleep with the gentle clacking of the keyboard, or bottle-feeding your baby during a board meeting, a willingness to incorporate work into family and vice versa allows you to double-book without cheating either.

2. Compartmentalization

When you’re not explicitly multitasking, compartmentalize. Establish that every day includes periods for work, and periods for family, and keep those buckets sacred. This will also force you to focus on your top priorities in both categories, rather than allowing one or the other to run away with your life.

3. Meaning

Find meaning in your work and family, rather than seeking it in golf or other hobbies. There just isn’t much room for frivolity when you’re committed to a 28-hour schedule in a 24-hour day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t recharge your batteries. Your work and family should be rewarding enough so that you don’t need to sneak off to the golf course or a bar to derive enjoyment.

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