November 13, 2011

"Work-Life Balance" - Article by Sanjay Anandaram


“My wife walked out of the house last week. I’ve known her for 7 years and we’ve been married for 5years and now I feel our relationship is purely transactional. I’m consumed by my startup and think about it every waking minute. Am obsessed with it and want to make it a roaring success. My wife works in the financial services industry and she too works long hours. We moved to Bengaluru from Mumbai so that our quality of life would be better. She travels on work and so do I. I get back home late and she’s either in bed or on her laptop. There’s no time for anything else. I don’t or can’t talk to her about the pressures I’m under. Don’t think she’ll understand. I keep responding to emails and SMS messages  when I’m home. I don’t want to lose out on any business opportunity. She wants children and I am not sure I’m ready to be a dad till my startup is done. Am depressed and lonely. But I cannot give up on my startup dream. What should I do?”

So said the 31 year old CEO of a startup. And he wasn’t the first such person saying this to me. Have rather unfortunately been at the listening and counseling end of such laments increasingly over the past couple of years. It seems that the pressures of a startup are putting enormous strains on personal relationships.

As India undergoes a huge socio-economic change, pressures on each one of us is bound to increase. Pressures brought about by changes in traditional expectations and aspirations in gender-roles. These changes are fuelled by the media, financial independence, confidence and an assertion of individuality. Nothing good or bad or right or wrong about this. These are the ways things are they need to be understood and managed in context. As more and more youngsters decide to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, they will need to grapple with the issue of managing their work and personal lives.

A digression: in the month that my son was born and my mother passed away, I decided to quit and do a startup. The urge was uncontrollable and I took the decision without consulting my wife! I was in Silicon Valley and she was in India (we had decided to have our son in India). She was surprised and understandably upset but then was fully supportive. I travelled several times from the US to India during those initial days. Those were the days of emotional roller-coaster rides. After several months, my son and wife joined me in the US (visa issues delayed the family reunion!). The startup went through ups and downs – emotional and financial. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of imagination but I was confident that I’d get all the support from my wife. Yes I did get all the support though it wasn’t always visible or expressed!

It is important therefore to ensure the following:
-       That the partner or spouse understands how important the startup is for you and they support it wholeheartedly. Openly talk about the trade-offs and sacrifices both have to make.
-       That you understand how important it is to have that support and therefore make efforts to show it
-       Spend time with the family and don’t keep checking messages during this time. Consciously keep aside time. My time, your time and most importantly, OUR TIME. Be religious about this.
-       You don’t have to respond to every message in the next nano-second. You will be surprised that the world still spins on its axis if you don’t!
-       Be open and discuss things. Take interest in the other person’s day
-       Remember to take pleasure in the small things eg just hang out together listening to music.

It is important therefore to remain grounded in one’s beliefs and values. With a rapidly growing consumerist mindset, there’s this pressure to enjoy the next great car, house, gadget and vacation. The startup doesn’t offer one the luxury to splurge on these or even if it is one those startups that does, then the time to enjoy these isn’t available. Therefore before you jump into a startup, think about why you are doing it and be clear about your motivations. A startup is not a cool place to hang out in or a get rich quick scheme. It is a vehicle to make your passion and dreams come true. And it is very critical that those who you want to share your life with understand this. As you should their point of view and understand the difficult trade-offs before you decide to do the startup.

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.