On Being a Startup CEO and a Dad
I recently stumbled upon a Quora question titled, “What does a startup CEO really do?” The answers read like the to do list of a fairytale chief executive officer unicorn. What does a startup CEO really do? How about worry, doubt, sacrifice, over-think, self-criticize, and fail, fail, fail...
The stereotypical entrepreneur is a twenty-something kid with a great idea and a knack for fundraising. But, more often than not, the real entrepreneur is a mom or a dad with a mortgage, a lonely spouse and a house full of toddlers who think of daddy as a “treat” because he’s not around that much, and when he is, he’s working.
Related: The Truth About Work-Life Balance
Long hours, nearly impossible problems, no breaks, no friends outside of work, and always living on the financial breaking point, entirely dependent on a combination of one’s life savings and other people’s money -- most startup CEOs have no clear answer as to if or when victory will ever be achieved. The only consistent feedback founders get sounds like, “this will never work” or “you are crazy.” And let’s not forget the one word we hear so often which we pretend “is almost as good as a yes” -- “no.”
This isn’t just my life. This is the life of a nation of founders, a nation of moms and dads who put their lives in a guillotine and attempt to race the blade to create something new, something better: new products, new services, new jobs. Better products, better services, better jobs. They are those who sacrifice their lives to make life better. And yes, we hope this sacrifice ultimately comes with a healthy payday.
Dad founders don’t go hard or go home. Mistakes are mortal sins because these leaders know the sacrifice, and they see the impact every decision has on their family.
Numerous articles have been written on CEOs and depression, CEOs and loneliness and the many quiet struggles of company leaders. But the most difficult aspect for me has been that, wherever I go, I’m expected to lead, to create, to solve and to do so with 100 percent of my attention and focus. My beautiful wife frequently complains that she feels like she gets “what’s leftover” of me. I come home emotionally drained from “CEOing” at the office and have to start over with the same responsibilities in a different environment: build, fix, pay, care, create, go, go, go.
My wife sees the effect this lifestyle has on me -- the gray stubble in my beard, the weight gain and loss, my short fuse and the long hugs I give my boys as if they will make up for lost time. She also sees the heartbreak that accompanies any prospect of failure.
But as a CEO who is expected to always be “on,” I rarely get the opportunity to let my guard down and step away from the duties of protecting and providing for my flocks. I’m rarely afforded the opportunity to be viewed as human, to take time for myself, to call in sick, or to not answer a late night “Call me ASAP” text message.
I am confident in the decisions I have made and I am confident we are building something lasting that will make the world a better place. But until the world sees us as successful, I’ll need to remind myself to plan “away time” and “alone time,” where I can take a deep breath and just be Jeremy. And I need to remember that no hug is long enough to replace missed time with my wife and my boys.