A rebuttal to Gimlet’s Startup podcast on running both a family and a business
I’m a huge fan of Gimlet and love their new Brooklyn-based podcast Startup.
Yet, as a female tech entrepreneur (I’m the founder and CEO of Stride, a tech startup that’s self funded that my team and I have grown to 60 people in 3 years while I’ve battled cancer and raised 2 kids), a mother, and a New Yorker, I take serious issue with Season 5, Episode 4 — Running a Family and a Business.
In this episode, executive coach Jerry Colonna chats with Diana Lovett, a female founder and mother. Lovett finds navigating being a mom and entrepreneur challenging.
As much as I empathize with her, and agree that being a mom and an entrepreneur is challenging, this episode paints women entrepreneurs as victims of our busy lives.
Ummmmm — no. Communication like this is toxic.
Women entrepreneurs are not victims. We choose to be entrepreneurs. And most of the time, we choose to be parents. Lovett’s products are in 4000 stores around the globe, including Whole Foods. That’s amazing. I’m guessing it takes a ton of work to achieve such a feat. I’m certain that running my business takes a ton of work.
But here’s the thing. Women entrepreneurs choose what role we play in our business and how much time we invest in it as it scales. No doubt, being an entrepreneur is hard. That’s the deal we sign up for. Most startups fail. In fact, only 4% make it to $1M. Only 0.4% make it to $10M. Being an entrepreneur is a slog. It requires sacrifice. It requires grit.
Yet, being an entrepreneur is a choice.
Entrepreneurs can throw in the towel at any time and get a job instead of running our own business. We can also choose to sell our business, we can choose to decrease our expenses, we can choose to hire someone to run our business so that we can do something else. Yes, to be a successful entrepreneur you often have to put in long hours and it’s likely stressful. But… it is a choice.
Contrast this to so many working mothers out there who have significantly less empowerment and choice then women entrepreneurs, like single mothers raising children who have to punch the clock just to get food on the table. These women truly have little choice. Still, they do have choice but it is significantly less than a woman who runs her own business.
Being an entrepreneur is never about playing the victim. Being an entrepreneur is about grit and slogging through complexity. It’s about how much you as the entrepreneur are willing to slog through to make a difference in what you believe is worth the sacrifice.
Women entrepreneur mothers are the Olympic athletes of business. Olympians sacrifice for their dream. When you hear them speak, you hear drive and passion. They recognize the sacrifice they make every day and are laser focused on the potential reward on the other side.
Women entrepreneurs who are mothers walk a similar path. If we paint the picture of working mother entrepreneurs as the poor victims of their environment, we are doing our society a great to disservice.
Telling women that in order to be a mother AND an entrepreneur means you have to suck it up and find the willpower to not be guilty is terrible.
We must change the story. My message to women who are mothers and entrepreneurs is — We control the story. We control what we choose to sacrifice for our dreams. We control how much time we want to spend building our businesses versus spending time with our loved ones.
It’s a mistake to pity ourselves and say “If only I had more time in the day.” There are 24 hours in the day. Always was, and there always will be.
The choice is up to you as to how to spend that time. The best we can do is choose to spend it wisely. If you’re looking for guidelines, I’m happy to share my process.
Here’s what I do: Every year, I make a list of my top three personal priorities and my top three work priorities. I write down annual goals for each and then list one or two outcomes for each.
Listen, this is real life, it’s not tinkerbell land. Every day I make choices and many of them are very hard. Some days I even cry.
Yet every day I wake up knowing that my life is my choice to make, my life is mine to live one day at a time.
I have a few rules that I set with myself and I feel good about them and they help me manage my time:
1. I exercise 2 to 4 times per week, 30 minutes each.
2. I spend time with my children’s school activities only if I get to also spend time with my children during these activities. So, I’ll chaperone a school trip because I get to spend the day with my son or daughter, but I won’t spend three hours setting up for a festival when the kids aren’t around.
3. I eat reasonably healthy yet I only cook once per week. I choose to buy a salad for lunch versus making one at home because the extra cost is worth the 30 minutes of time I get back.
4. Every year I take a weeklong vacation with my kids in the summer and a weeklong vacation with my kids in the winter.
5. I live within 20 minutes of my office so that I can see my kids every morning and night.
6. I limit late night work commitments to a max of two nights per week.
7. I attend all doctor appointments, all school plays, all parent-teacher meetings.
8. I spend quality one-on-one time with each of my kids every week.
9. Once a year, I take a two-day vacation all by myself.
We know that willpower is a finite resource. It is a mistake to think we can continuously make tradeoffs all day and overcome guilt. This will never happen and we are fighting a losing battle. Instead, make a small handful of rules with yourself and then keep to them the best you can. My rules have tradeoffs and I know that. For instance:
If I exercised more I might lose 5 pounds.
If I cooked more I might save a little money.
If I spent more time at the office I might grow my company faster.
If I lived farther away from work I could own a bigger house with a backyard.
If I came home from work sooner I could help my kids with homework.
But, I’m at peace with all of this. If I chose to worry every day I would constantly be guilty and I’d be teaching my kids that I could never be good enough. My children don’t need me taking them to 15 activities per week while I’m tied to my phone and thinking about work. What my kids need is my mental presence during the time that I do spend with them.
This is where Lovett got it wrong. Spending time with our kids does not in and of itself teach them empowerment. Spending time with our kids does not inherently mean we have unconditional love for them. The saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ existing for a reason. Taking our kid to the playground and then sitting on the side doing emails does not a quality afternoon make.
No, instead, what matters to them is that we are mentally present in their lives and that we have meaningful conversations and model the way when they need guidance.
So, to Lovett and all the other women mom entrepreneurs out there — be strong. And remember — we choose entrepreneurship. It is not something that happens to us. It is something we go after with gusto, and something which we fight for every single day, because it’s something we believe is worth fighting for.