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How One Entrepreneur Mom Won the Work-Life Balance Game

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Editor’s Note: With the goal of demystifying entrepreneurs, this monthly series from entrepreneurship group Empact profiles young founders as they grapple with the trials and tribulations of starting up.

Illustration by Mario Wagner

It was 2008 when Sarah Schupp’s dream was crushed.

She had commitments (but not yet checks) for a $2 million round of funding her company was raising to scale. She had everything in place for when the checks arrived, including commitments signed for a three-year lease on a new office, hires and even a new CEO on board.

Then, the stock market crashed and everything fell apart. One by one each investor pulled out.

In the slump that followed, Schupp found herself overwhelmed and ready to quit. She questioned whether it was possible to continue without the funding.

Related: In the Startup World, Balance Breeds Success 

It was. Putting one foot in front of the other, she secured a bank loan and picked up the pieces of her company, eventually growing University Parent Media into the No. 1 college resource guide for millions of parents at more than 200 institutions.

The experience’s impact on Schupp went beyond business. She had come face-to-face with what it would look like to lose four years of hard work if her company ceased to exist. Now that it was going well, she knew she didn’t want to find herself exiting from her company -- either through a lucrative sale or another unexpected change of events -- and be alone with no identity outside of her role at University Parent Media. While Schupp's unwavering commitment to her startup may be viewed by some as honorable, having a person's entire existence defined by one life component can put a lot of pressure on someone. She needed balance.

This resolve only strengthened when her daughter was born. Adding mother to the stack of titles already on her resume -- entrepreneur, founder and CEO -- Schupp became overwhelmed. 

Work-life balance is something every entrepreneur struggles with and being a parent makes the battle that much harder. Yet, Schupp has managed to have a happy and successful life balancing personal needs and a family alongside a multimillion-dollar company. For those struggling to maintain the difficult balance between work and life, here are some tips:

Prepare for your exit.

To maintain balance in her life, Schupp thinks ahead to keep perspective.

Related: Is It Time to Take a Break From Your Business? 

“Whether you're successful or not, after you exit your company, you're going to want to have the things you valued before you started: family, friends, health and interests, says Schupp. "If you are so intertwined in your company that you lose everything else, even if you sell the business and are 'successful,' you'll have to start your life from scratch.”

Compete with yourself.

As an entrepreneur, it's easy to have a perception that others are growing faster than you, especially when you compare yourself to different industries. To remain balanced and avoid guilt, Schupp knows she has to define success. Instead of comparing herself to others, she channels her competitive nature inwards.

“I just want to beat myself -- improve from my last year and last quarter,” she says.

Build a family-friendly culture.

At University Parent Media, Schupp surrounds herself with people who value time the same way she does. “I’ve got to respect other people’s families the way I want them to respect mine,” Schupp says. This leads to an understanding culture and no pushback when sporadic events arise, like the occasional case of having to leave early or bring the baby to the office for 15 minutes.

Related: Richard Branson on Finding a Work-Life Balance 

Be open to business insights, which can pop up anywhere.

One of the biggest assets an entrepreneur brings to the table is creativity and vision, two traits that don't work in a linear fashion and won’t show up simply because you’re sitting at the computer. Insights often come when you’re not in the office.

Schupp knows the most important value she adds may come in the shower or when pushing her daughter in the swing, because her business is always “on” in the back of her head. So, she doesn’t feel guilt not putting in 80 hours at the office, because she knows she wouldn’t add as much incremental value.

Realize no one is perfect.

Since becoming an entrepreneur, Schupp’s greatest insight is understanding everyone is human. “When I was first getting started, I thought people had it together more than they do and that can seem intimidating as a young entrepreneur," she says. "In reality, everyone is just trying to do their best."

What tips do you have for handling work-life balance? Let us know in the comments below.


Sheena Lindahl

Written By

Sheena Lindahl is co-founder and CEO of Empact, an organization facilitating entrepreneurship through exposure, celebration and connection.