Remember as a kid when you got back to school after summer break and you told the class what you did all summer? Well, here’s my report from Summer 2019: I decided to start a new company and (try to) remain a dedicated dad.
Let’s be clear there’s no pretense here: I do not have it all figured out as I balance all things dad and entrepreneur. A week ago I kicked a plush toy out of frustration and it cracked a window (deservedly). Pressure was mounting and it got to me. In the space of one week, there were a dozen things needed to be done on my new startup, Unitonomy, in time for our first customers; we were competing in a really important pitch contest; and our international, remote team was gathering for the first time all together. The kids’ preschool wasn’t back in session, the one year old was sick, the sitter cancelled, my wife was off preparing for the academic year at the college where she teaches, and I didn’t want to bother any of the grandparents to help out once again.
If you’re a parent, I bet you’ve had a few days like this.
Looking back at that last week of August — and the entirety of the summer before — I’m proud to say I got the job done, both as dad and as entrepreneur. Unitonomy made it to alpha in order to pilot with customers and was selected as a winner of the pitch contest; our remote team gathering was fruitful; the family had a ton of fun and made great memories; and there was only one casualty to report (the cracked window). I certainly didn’t do it alone and here are some practices that really helped.
10 takeaways from my experience this summer:
- Surround your family with an army of support. We moved back to Louisville (from NYC) for the core reason we have lots of family here. Grandparents and great aunts were all star supporters, but support came from neighbors and friends as well (plus the kind we had to pay for in the form of camps and sitters). We’re fortunate to have such support around us and I’m glad we moved closer to it.
- Know when to shift focus (or rest) and then really focus (or rest). I don’t always do this one well but I’m getting better at it. I’ve learned there’s a real benefit to not thinking about the startup when I’m with my family. The zen idea of holding a glass of water comes to mind: the glass becomes heavy after awhile if you hold it long enough because your arm grows tired; if you put it down (only for a moment) and then pick it up again, the glass is no longer heavy. Plus, it’s proven humans find solutions when away from the problems. It’s why ideas come to us in the shower. What better way to not focus on my startup’s problems than by being engrossed and engaged with my kids?
- Plan (way) ahead with childcare coverage. For summer day camps, a lot of the good ones filled up in January (!) and we wanted to make sure the 3 year old got a lot of different experiences instead of sticking her into daycare or a single camp. Kudos to my wife for the effort to research and plan some great spots for our daughter and thank you Google Calendar for keeping us straight on when and where to drive our kid.
- Set goals and work backwards. This trick works across life, no? I use Trello for planning all things personal, along with every aspect of Unitonomy. I’m a fan, to say the least, and it probably shows in the UX of Unitonomy.
- When adversity strikes, roll with it. Kids get sick, sitters cancel, and you need to yell into a pillow (better than cracking a window like me). Get composure and let the universe keep spinning while you step away to get silly with your kids.
- Find your quiet hours to crank. I’m a night person. So after the kids go down I can usually crank for another 3 (uninterrupted) hours. Like right now as I type this.
- Communicate needs with your partner. There’s a lot of give and take to the modern work-life balance. Ensure you’re doing your part to help your partner find their equilibrium and surely that loving partner will, in turn, give you your shot at achieving the same. My wife has found meditation and early morning exercise work for her. For me, it’s swimming and playing Ottoneu fantasy baseball.
- Compliment yourself (when looking at the past). Take a deep breath followed by a long exhale at the end of the week and write down core accomplishments. Look at that list. Then think about what you want to enjoy with your family over the weekend. Things are moving. You’ve got this under control. Your family loves you.
- Pinch yourself (to be in the present). I’m cognizant that my time with my kids at these ages will be one of the best times of my life. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean. You want a hit a pause button most days (though of course there are a few times when you’d like to pound the fast forward). Have you ever met a parent that doesn’t say “they grow up so fast” with a hint of remorse?
- Ignore your (worst) self (when planning for the future). Anxiety is your enemy. I have an absurd level of confidence in myself and in the plans behind Unitonomy, but anxiety tries to squeeze in anyway. How do I build awareness? How much runway do we have? Will anyone really use this? If I learned anything in the seven years of building TouchCast, it’s that looking down has absolutely no value other than inducing a list of all the ways things can go sour. Just climb to that next hold. If you hang on to anxiety you’ll take it home to your family and it’s a rather unpleasant houseguest.
After the toy hit the window and I let an f-bomb slip, I took a deep breath and the kids and I laughed at silly dad and the crack in the window. Seconds later we were chasing each other like dinosaurs, just as we should have been doing all along.
That’s the main trick to this balancing act: don’t let the juggle get to you. But if and when it eventually does, just try not to kick a toy toward a window.