After A Family Tragedy, I Finally Learned How To Balance My Work Life

Jung Lee, founder of events production-and-design firm Fête, writes about the moment she learned to create a stronger support system.

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After A Family Tragedy, I Finally Learned How To Balance My Work Life
Image credit: Courtesy of Jung Lee
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When you’re an entrepreneur, your business is your life. But it’s not your entire life. Your family and friends are there, too. You have a life to live. It’s important to remember that, but it can be easy to lose sight of.

In the spring of 2009, Fête, my wedding and event planning and production business, was taking off. I was working on one of the biggest productions of my career: a bar mitzvah for a very prominent, wealthy family in New York. It stretched over multiple days, with nearly 800 guests. We had to do everything -- build temporary housing, make sure all the meals were strictly kosher, and truly create a bespoke experience. The pressure was enormous.

Related: When Their Investor Bailed, These Female Founders Launched Their Company Anyway

At the time, my sister-in-law was fighting cancer. I’d known her since I was 16 years old. She was my oldest brother’s girlfriend then, the love of his life. When they got married, I was her maid of honor. She was diagnosed a year before I started working on this bar mitzvah, but now, just as I was consumed by the project, she was becoming increasingly ill.

I wanted to go see her, but I felt compelled to stay on the job site. We had a crew of about 70 people, but I had only one designer on staff at the time. It forced me to take charge of every little decision and detail. I was working 19-hour days for weeks leading up to the event.

One of my strengths (which is possibly also a weakness) is that when I’m focused on something, I don’t let anything else through. I did that with this event. When it was over, I rushed to the hospital and, days later, was there when my sister-in-law passed away. I wish I’d spent more time with her at home before she passed. I’ll always regret that. It haunts me to this day.

Related: 8 Savvy Ways to Promote Your Event Planning Business

The experience made me realize that I hadn’t been making the best investments in my business. I was putting everything I had into the client, their needs, and their expectations. That meant I was constantly doing instead of building. Rather than prioritizing hiring and training and developing a strong team, I was giving 100 percent to each client and managing everything myself. As my business grew, it made it impossible for me to step away; I didn’t have the experienced team in place that would allow me to do so. It was a wake-up call. I had to build a stronger, more scalable organization. 

It’s taken time for me to adapt my business and develop solutions to combat this issue. At first I hired senior people with plenty of experience, but I found that they didn’t work out. I realized I was looking for a particular kind of person -- someone who cared deeply about our mission, even if they didn’t have the experience. I could always just teach them what they needed to know about the business, but I couldn’t teach them to be smart and passionate.

Now I have a team I trust. I may still be the first person our clients meet, and I may be the face they’re looking for, but my amazing staff can lead their own projects. It has allowed me to not only expand Fête but also launch another business, a registry called Slowdance.

Related: How to Not Let 'the Practical' Drown out Your Dream

I still struggle with work-life balance, but I’m doing better. If I’m working too much, I try to sit back. I’ve learned that taking the time to develop talent will always serve a business. It’s putting money in the bank for the future -- and giving you space to focus on what really matters.

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