I love starting companies. I actually savour that risk and uncertainty that comes with entrepreneurship. I even relish the challenges; the times that put your skills to the test and push the boundaries of your imagination and capabilities. The thrill that comes from taking an idea and bringing it to fruition is a rush that is hard to find elsewhere. Or so I thought.
I began my journey in entrepreneurship fresh out of high school and went on to build multiple businesses over the course of two+ decades. My cofounder and I both gave up our 20s for the roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship with little to no regret. But when the big “3-0” came up, I decided that it was time to settle down and start my family. But I have to admit I was trepidacious. I was happy, contented, and didn’t feel the pressure of my biological clock ticking. My husband and I were DINKs and were enjoying the spontaneity and independence that came from not having children. I was getting a lot of personal fulfillment from building businesses and was wary that raising kids would plunge me into monotonous routine and mindless drudgery. But despite my fears and overarching contentment, deep down I knew that I wanted a family and that I would likely regret not having one once in my old age. So, when a lull between businesses came up, I took the opportunity.
Now you should know, I am not, nor have I ever been, a “kid-person”. I would find myself low on patience and mildly irritated in the presence of children and admittedly, this was disconcerting when contemplating my pending role as a mother. As a matter of fact, as it turned out, the concern wasn’t only mine. When my oldest son was about a year old, my father-in-law randomly gave me a backhanded compliment saying, “Wow, I never thought you would be such a good mom.” Ouch! But it’s that compliment that got me thinking, how was it that I went from apprehension to utter enjoyment and revelry at the role of motherhood? Years went by with this question in the back of my mind until recently when I had an epiphany. I realized that the adventure of starting a family was very similar to that of starting a business and the tasks necessary to undertake them were eerily parallel.
When I discovered I was pregnant I went into execution mode, a mode not too different from the way I handled a new business idea. I spent copious amounts of time researching all the theories on raising kids. I strategized how I was going to undertake the position and imagined all the exciting places that I could take it. I considered what I had seen work or not work for others, and developed an execution plan for how I was going to take on the challenge. I identified women whom I had known that modelled a type of motherhood that I wanted for myself and sought them out to be my mentors. I determined the end goal, (grow my two boys into men who were strong, compassionate, and just with a strong work ethic capable of balancing responsibility and fun) and began to put the steps in place to attain it. It was a path I had trodden multiple times before and I found myself oddly comforted and excited to embark on it again.
Along the way, I discovered other situations that paralleled the entrepreneur’s journey. I found that the bumps and obstacles that I faced along the path mirrored those found in an early-stage company. For example, in both business and family, one has to labour tirelessly in an often thankless, 24/7 position. In both instances, you end up having a restricted personal life and pocketbook and often find yourself having to take on tasks that you may not want to do, be skilled to do, or be prepared to do. You are forced to prioritize the needs of others leaving yours relegated to the bottom of the list. The risks are high and the payoffs uncertain and while both follow a journey riddled with self-doubt and exhaustion, I had suffered through all these before and I found comfort in their familiarity and predictability.
Both paths had their exciting, euphoric highs and mundane, melancholy lows but there was one deviation that stood out among all these similarities… the sacrifices were not as burdensome in family life and the joys were less fulfilling in professional. The trials, in the corporate world, sometimes felt empty and purposeless compared to the sense of contributing to a bigger purpose that enveloped those pertaining to raising kids. And the wins ultimately felt trivial and unsatisfying compared to the moments of joy bestowed upon me by my boys, which satiated a hole unreachable by commerce. It was with this observation that I got thinking even further.
Because the same planning, modelling, strategizing, execution and leadership skills are necessary to raise a family, I wondered, could this be why many strong and ambitious women are walking from their high-paying jobs to take on the executive position in the family? Could it be that they, like myself, are finding themselves as intellectually challenged and stimulated in their family life as they were in their professional? Could it be that these women are not selling themselves short, as some would suggest, but instead participating in something that gives them greater purpose and satisfaction?
Now I am NOT suggesting that if you are building a business or are working your career you are not living a life of purpose. Far from it! I have personally found great fulfillment in the work that I have done and know many other women who have as well. What I am reacting to is the suggestion that those who leave the corporate world for family life are doing womanhood and feminism a disservice. I am fighting the idea that these women are taking the easy way out and relegating a duty to engage in the marketplace.
See, I have found that being a parent is exciting and frightening, all at the same time, much in the same way a successful launch or exit can be. The difference is, I have found that the weighted responsibility that permeates family life, has brought with it an increase in contentment and purpose, far beyond what I found in the corporate world. Should I be demonized for seeking more of this? When someone compliments me for having well-behaved kids, or I see my sons demonstrate compassion for others, I see a world potentially better off. That in some small way (my willingness to forfeit corporate success), creates the possibility that the world will have two people of impact instead of just one, me. What a return on my investment!
I think Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy said it the best…
“I look at child-rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demands the best I can bring to it. What greater aspiration and challenge is there for a mother than the hope of raising a great son or daughter?”
Now in some way, one could just as easily interchange the words to read,
“I look at entrepreneurship not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demands the best I can bring to it. What greater aspiration and challenge is there for an entrepreneur than the hope of building a great company?”
I strongly believe in both quotes as they read. My journey as an entrepreneur has always been a labour of love and in a small way, duty. I can do it, so a part of me feels like I should. As for my current company, I aspire to see it change the lives of people around the world in a positive way and enable me to leave a legacy that stemmed from my sacrifice. I LOVE that about entrepreneurship; it is a way to impact the world AND leave a legacy for the future. However, having experienced the exhilaration of validation from the marketplace, I can honestly say, the euphoria has fallen short of the lingering personal pride that I have felt sporadically in the day-to-day raising of positive and contributory kids, and I feel like I am not alone in this.
So, what is my point? I think there is a way for women to have their cake and eat it too. I believe that women can use their brains, talents and unique wiring to impact the world through their family just as much as through business, IF they want to. There is an underlying current that is seeking to lay guilt on the woman who fails to “Lean In” to the professional world in order to engage in domestic life. It is being suggested that we are wasting our skills and abilities on family-focused growth versus corporate. I would question this. I do not see women coming home from their executive careers to eat bonbons, watch soap operas and squander their talents. I see these women aggressively seeking ways with which to bring up enlightened and conscientious children who have the capacity to change the world to come. I also see these women, as an extension of their family life, building up their community at large via their children’s schools and extra-curricular programs as well as through their own time volunteering. This is vital because we need to rise up amazing people and communities just as much as we need to rise up amazing companies. I believe that a strong, ambitious woman at the helm of a family will make just as much of an impact as one at the helm of any corporation.
I’ll leave you with one last quote from Rose Kennedy,
“Whenever I held my newborn baby in my arms, I used to think that what I said and did to him could have an influence not only on him but on all whom he met, not only for a day or a month or a year but for all eternity – a very challenging and exciting thought for a mother.”
Do you think that Rose squandered her skills and talents? History would probably say not.