How Starting My Own Business Helped Me Balance Work and Family
“Sharing Experiences” is a series of posts in which a variety of dads, all in different work-family situations, share their experiences. I hope this series can forward the important conversations we have here, and spark ideas we can apply to our own lives.
Making the Career Change at 40
A guest post by Brian Shields
Our guest blogger, Bian Shields, recently became an entrepreneur to better balance work and family
Last year was a big year for me. I finally made the leap, I started my own full-time business.
I actually tried this 1 year earlier, but things didn’t go so well. After a few months, I was offered a good job with a solid company near my home. So I took the job, only to leave 10 months later.
So Why Did I Leave the Corporate World?
At the age of 40, I only had 8 days of vacation. I was travelling about 50% and after the summer break, my vacation was pretty much done for the year. As with many Gen Xers, I’m the child of divorced parents, with my parents split between NY and FL. This is tough for someone living in Northern California and I had no time to see them now. Despite the good job, this wasn’t going to work. 8 vacation days, really!!! Who were they kidding?
So I left and started my own software development company and social media consultancy. This time, I was better set for success and able to create the cashflow needed to keep the doors open.
I’m writing this because I wish I had become an entrepreneur sooner in my life. I wish I had realized the benefits that this way of life brings to those willing to take the leap. Just this month, I’ve been able to go skiing with my family in Tahoe, visit my Mom and brother in NYC, and I have a week-long trip planned to see my Dad in FL…. Oh, and from a business perspective, I’m actually working very hard.
In NYC, I was able to visit with some clients, pitch a great opportunity, monitor my current projects and hire a great new talent to my team. I also met with some long time college friends and two close cousins. During the trip in Tahoe, I was on conference calls in the early morning, and was able to enjoy a great vacation with my family, while adding a lot of value to my business.
Placing a Premium on My Time
I’ve now made up my mind that I will never take a full-time job again. I am now an entrepreneur for life and going back to the former way of life will represent defeat for me. Why? Because I now place an incredibly high premium on my time.
I’ve been with 3 major companies since leaving the Army in the late nineties, Eli Lilly, Genentech, and CooperVision. I’ve been fortunate in that they are all ranked as top employers, but unfortunate in that I worked for some really bad managers. A bad manager is the ultimate cost of having a corporate job. Not only does this impact your job satisfaction, but it also impacts your ability to spend time with your family.
Also, being an entrepreneur brings an incredible feeling of freedom, freedom to make your own schedule and prioritize your time. I’ve been able to coach my daughter’s basketball and soccer teams, catch most of her swim meets, cheer on my wife for completing her first marathon, and become an active member of my church and my community. I also made it to my daughter’s play performances, a father-daughter dance, and some great dinners in town with my wife.
During my thirties, I missed many of these events. And when I was at these events, my mind was somewhere else- my mind was on the corporate game- Getting a project done, meeting my deadline, frustrated with my boss or senior management or struggling with the politics of corporate America. Corporate America certainly got a good deal from me. They had me and my mind working 24×7 for them, and received some great production. Talk about selling your time at wholesale!!
Now I produce for my family 100%. I build a business, and I spend time with my family and my community, and make time for myself to play basketball and work out. My time is now mine and it’s never wasted. I only sell my time at a Premium.
During my last year at Genentech, about 3 years ago, the company brought in a team of health, wellness and motivational speakers to speak about keeping yourself “Corporate Fit”. This was a series of workshops to a large audience of marketers, IT personnel, etc in a hotel ballroom. Besides all the “Rah Rah” there were some nice takeaways: Some cool exercises to do when you’re sitting at your desk all day, or if you’re travelling and you’re in a hotel room. This was good stuff and I learned how valuable a medicine ball and an elastic band were in the battle to stay “Corporate Fit”.
Something unexpected happened…One of the speakers went off script and got on his soap box. He said that we all needed to control our own lives. We needed to stop making excuses for ourselves and take ownership of our path. He said that if work is preventing us from achieving a work life balance, change your work. And most importantly, he said that we should stop blaming our family for our fear of fixing our lives. We should stop blaming the people we’re hurting for the path we’ve chosen for ourselves.
My wife and daughter didn’t tell me to interview for that job, they didn’t tell me to choose this career path, or join this company…so why should I say that I have a horrible work life balance—to provide for them and their way of life. This is the ultimate in hypocrisy—blaming those you’re hurting for your own actions and fears.
The audience of corporate chieftains and worker bees like me were floored. Did he just tell us to have the guts to quit our jobs? At a corporate sponsored event? Wow!!!
I remember speaking with a senior manager right after this startling presentation. She said that she couldn’t believe that the consultant said this at a corporate event, and wondered how many people would quit after this powerful talk. The talk obviously impacted her and had her thinking about her chosen path and the sacrifices she was making.
So how many people quit out of the nearly 1,000 people that were there? I think I may have been the only one. The odds are in the house’s favor— The manager I mentioned above was eventually promoted to a busier job, and the 1,000 employees left the meeting with the their knowledge of how to be “Corporate Fit” and do exercises at their desk to stay sharp.
So What is My Advice nNw?
Choose a path that allows you to place a high premium on your time and your time with your family. The life of an entrepreneur is stressful, and you’re on 100% of the time—except when you’re not on, and you’re focused on your family and yourself. You control the on and off switch.
Thank you Brian! So, what do you think about business ownership as a way to better balance work and family? Any similar experiences/ Let’s discuss in the comments section.
PS- Next week, FWF will have an article about how “women men NO ONE can have it all”, and a lighter piece on the perils of smartphones eating into family time.
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