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
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.

Going Off-Script

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.

8 thoughts on “How Starting My Own Business Helped Me Balance Work and Family

  1. This is cool stuff to read. I paid my way through college by running a tutoring company, and it allowed me flexible and ample time to be with my wife and our new baby, and also to complete my degree. After we graduated, we decided that we wanted to seek out an alternative life-style that would allow me to be home a lot and share in the duties of raising our daughter.

    We’re pretty comfortable bringing in less money than we might if I had a more traditional job and rigid work schedule…and since I’m not interested in continuing the tutoring business, it may take some time to develop a really reliable new income stream. But since we stockpiled ahead of time, we’re giving it a go. It’s cool to read about others who make efforts to redefine what’s important and be willing to alter expectations and lifestyles for the sake of their family.

  2. Scott,
    Thanks for making this blog. Family/work balance is something I think about often.
    Thanks for allowing Brian to share his experiences and insights. As an old friend, I am all cheering for his success as an entrepreneur. It takes a lot of courage to do something like this, and Brian’s decision did not surprise me.

    Frank

  3. Scott,

    I think Neal sheds light on the most important aspect of the journey of an entrepreneur, understanding your goals. Goals are very important for a small business and even more valuable for all of us personally. Neal’s goals above of getting a degree while spending time with his wife and baby are great example of the focus you need as an entrepreneur. These goals help you set limits and boundaries. I think many entrepreneurs just have the goal of growing their business. If they don’t have personal/family goals, the “game of entrepreneurship” can consume you, as you’ll have no boundaries.

    One of the lessons I’m learning as an entrepreneur is that I can’t clone myself. This isn’t a statement of arrogance, as there are many people with much better skills sets than my own.

    Many entrepreneurs tinker a lot, they learn new skills on the fly, and try to get by without needing to spend too much money. This is how many entrepreneurs get started and a big reason why they have the confidence to make it happen. Also, like most entrepreneurs, we’re always selling and trying to get new business. It’s easy to grow accustomed to being a Do It Yourself web developer, marketer, salesman, system administrator, graphic designer, etc.

    As an entrepreneur’s business starts to grow, these early skills actually hurt more than help. There is only so much time, and they really can’t do it all themselves (even though they want to). Also, if they grow too fast, they’ll disappoint their customers and wear themselves out. Scott, I think this is the reason why many entrepreneurs you know have trouble achieving a balance.

    If an entrepreneur’s goal is to spend time with their family, and build a business with very happy customers, building their team should be a top goal of their business.

    How can one scale a business? —->by surrounding yourself with bright, energetic, people with high integrity. Business partners, employees, and other members of your team make this possible. Building your team needs to be a business goal or the work/life balance is really not possible. This is tough for an entrepreneur to accept, and may often slow the growth of your business. Building a team is not easy and there are many obstacles to doing so. But without the team, it is almost impossible to achieve the balance.

    I think the sooner an entrepreneur transitions from worrying less about profits and more about building a team, the better able they are to achieve the valuable life and family goals Neal mentions above.

    My team is my focus now.

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