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If you think work-life balance is tough, try the alternative

Spikebee's Jo-Anne Reynolds is struggling to find work-life balance as she works full tilt to get her startup off the ground

Jul 6, 2016

by Robbie Jeffrey

Stress will kill you, so you’d better write your own obituary.

Maybe that sounds harsh. Let Tina Varughese explain.

“I never see my friends anymore, I’m too tired to go out in the evening, I don’t go on dates with my husband, I’m on email 24/7.” – Jo-Anne Reynolds

Varughese is the president of Calgary’s tWorks, which she founded nine years ago. Her company focuses on cross-cultural communication and she hosts seminars on the importance of work-life balance – which, unless you’ve been working under a rock, you know is a concern du jour of employees and businesses the world over.

More than two-thirds of us, in fact, work more than 45 hours a week. Of OECD countries, Canada is ranked 11th for its percentage of employees working 50 or more hours per week, and 31st (of 38) for its time devoted to leisure and personal care. That’s a lot for professionals like Varughese to work with.

Although her clients span all sectors, there’s one subset that could really use her advice: entrepreneurs like Jo-Anne Reynolds. As the CEO of SpikeBee, an online platform that connects parents with a network of children’s summer camps and activities, Reynolds has been working full tilt to get her startup off the ground. But now, one year later, she’s exhausted from balancing family responsibilities with professional ones. “I feel like my burn rate is extremely high,” she says. “I never see my friends anymore, I’m too tired to go out in the evening, I don’t go on dates with my husband, I’m on email 24/7. Weekends, evenings, you name it – I feel like I’m drowning.”  

That’s where Varughese comes in. When she founded tWorks, “I was making no money in the beginning,” she says. “My husband used to joke that we should change the [company] name to tWorks Not So Much.” What kept her going was the fear of failure – as an entrepreneur, her entire business and reputation rested on her own shoulders. The ethos of an entrepreneur, in fact, is almost inherently at odds with any semblance of work-life balance. It’s about self-imposed martyrdom, feeling guilty for every waking moment you’re not working. After nine years, “I still struggle with the guilt of being away from my kids,” Varughese says.

Does Reynolds feel that same fear of failure? “One hundred per cent,” she says. “I feel like I’ve got one shot at this.”

So how can an entrepreneur reconcile the two? Varughese begins with three questions: Does the cost of saying ‘yes’ outweigh the cost of saying ‘no’? Is failing fatal? And, lastly, when do I surrender?

Notice a theme? Varughese’s questions aren’t about how to succeed – they’re about letting go. She tells Reynolds that she needs to give herself permission to say no, or to take time for herself and her family. And, paradoxically, Varughese says that thinking with the end in mind actually helps you focus on day-to-day tasks – not with abstract goals like “get rich” or “be successful,” which can lead to a manic pursuit of unreachable greatness, but with practical ones. Like, for example, what you might read in an obituary.

“It really does work!” Varughese says. “If you work backwards, your obituary is ultimately your own vision for life. If you want it written in your obituary, you have to start working towards that goal.” Will Reynolds want her obituary to cite SpikeBee’s revenues or the fact that she was a loving and caring mother? She obviously wants SpikeBee to prosper, but Varughese is saying that by focusing on her “obituary goals,” she’ll be a better-rounded person, which, in turn, will prevent SpikeBee from exploding under pressure.

There’s no easy answer for maintaining a work-life balance. But if you work with the end in mind, Varughese says, it’s easier to start.

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