Juggling. Life of an Entrepreneur. Choices and Priorities.

(first published on Medium – 29 Oct 2017 )

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 7.05.37 pm.pngDuring my monthly founder peer group meetings, it’s very often to hear updates on how these growth stage entrepreneurs are not sleeping well, irregular eating times or simply just having prolonged flus that would not go away. At the most recent catch up, one shared that he had to check himself into A&E after a pro-longed high fever. The doc’s diagnosis for the fever was stress-induced exhaustion, and he had to be warded. At this point, I thought of the Coca Cola former CEO’s “balls of life advice”. I broke the Gestalt rule, quoted the famous CEO’s advice, and nagged the young entrepreneur on the importance of health.

Then I was at a panel sharing, talking about balancing life, now as an exited founder. And I was reminded of the balls of life again. I would like to improvise and expand on the concept a little.

There are several key common aspects in life for all of us: Love, Work (Career), Friends, Family, Spirits, and not forgetting, Health. We all have dreams and expectations in these various aspects, and we all want them to be in the most desirable level as we would possibly want. Even for those born with the silver spoons, they can’t achieve all without focusing and putting in efforts. We all need to work to get what we want. And brutal fact in life, sometimes even with efforts, we don’t get what we want.

Think of each of the life aspect as a ball. That’s six balls in total. Some people may have more balls, say, Money or Social Standing, but I would argue those two probably happen as a result of WORK. Can we attain our desired level of accomplishment for all six aspects in life at the same time? Can we juggle six balls at the same time, without dropping them AT ALL while looping them to higher and higher levels with all six TOGETHER?

I know I couldn’t. I think it’s very likely that I would have dropped all of the balls if I tried to. Almost certain that I would have spent more efforts picking up the balls, or scrambling to locate where they have rolled to. Under the sofa or bounced out of the window totally??

On youtube, I found quite a few videos teaching how to juggle three balls expertly in ten short minutes. So let’s assume we could juggle three aspects of life easily, or three focuses are the easily achievable balance in life. But which three? It really depends on the individuals. I think the trick here is knowing which three to choose for yourself, and key is NOT to regret your choices later when you look back. Another brutal fact again, sometimes we don’t get to choose, and we are given certain balls that we cannot swap out.

I chose to be an entrepreneur almost right after university, and it was against my father’s wish. And the start-up journey was with my then-boyfriend (now husband) Things were rough at home (my parents were in a really bad patch and they have been separated since), so I made a point to spend as much time with my mom as possible. So that’s my three balls — Career, Family (Mom) and Love. Of course this is hindsight analysis; I was totally not that wise. Things just happened. But to state for the record, to ensure I spent time with Mom, I would drag her along to Coffee Clubs at night where Der Shing and I continued working or just chilling with our own books. Mom commented after a few sessions that her dates when she was young were a lot more exciting than ours…

At different stages in life, we should review and see if we need to change our balls and reprioritize our focus. When life circumstances change, we adapt and continue to strive for the best possible outcomes. Bearing in mind, while we are the heros or the heroines in our life, we need to play ball with other key characters in our lives too, like the person you decide to spend your life with. Now you have a bigger court to play on, and with much more complicated rules. Previously, you prioritise within your set of six balls; now you have two sets to play with. How exciting!!

In my case, it was both easier and more complicated than most people at the same time. We got married in the third year of working together and had our first two boys came in the fourth and fifth years (thinking then was to get it done with!) Because we were running our own business, our WORK ball got merged and went way too oversized as a result. Our FAMILY(sons) and all other balls kinda shrunk and were put in the pockets (carefully of course!) We are very blessed that our extended families give very good support to our children. So in the first five years (or even more), we were propping up our WORK ball together, with all four hands and legs! Fortunately our commitment to each other stayed through, so LOVE though stale but intact, FAMILY(kids) kinda neglected; Wealth was minimum for the first few years, FRIENDS, SPIRITS and HEALTH next to non existing since there were zero efforts put in.

As the Coca Cola CEO said, some of these six balls are made of rubber, but some are made of fragile materials. If you don’t juggle them carefully, or if you totally ignore them, they may break with neglect. You would be considered really lucky that you found a little chip in your ball but managed to patch the ball back. My husband’s health suffered really badly due to work stress. Even though the annual health checks did not discover any major issues, his constant hacking cough was his body sending huge loud SOS cries. We are very grateful that we now have the time for regular workouts. His cough is gone and cholesterol level normal.

Some balls, like HEALTH, are crucial to allow the other balls to continue and for you to stay in the game of life. Though I believe it’s the individual’s choice, now my more enlightened belief is that we need to make sure HEALTH is one of the primary focus in our life. During our earlier days, we took our health for granted. We are lucky that we live quite simply and never into unhealthy vices. Now it’s definitely one of my key focus, on top of Family and Friends.

To all my founder friends, you have taken up a gigantic over sized CAREER ball, which likely robs you from all other aspects of life, especially during rough times. It’s important to keep perspective and always be mindful of your choices. Second chances may not be available at all.

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