The Day I Understood the True Price of Success

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My father’s beloved Molly, who refused to leave his side in his last days.

I well remember the sound of the crunching of gravel as two young men steadied the heavy gurney between them. I stood in the doorway with my mother and siblings, all of us holding hands, witnessing this last journey my father would make — down the walkway he’d poured, away from the home he had built. It was his final farewell, the end of the long goodbye that had been his journey since his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s several years before.

But more than those memories, I recall with vivid clarity the sound of gravel crunching under my own feet, of my keys jangling together as I pulled them from my purse to start my own vehicle, of my own half-sobs as I struggled to hold back my own tears as I followed the van carrying my father’s body down the driveway and away from our parents’ home.

I almost wish I couldn’t recall the feeling of my heart breaking over and over as the little girl inside begged for time to grieve with family, to cry and remember the small moments that had made up our fifty-some years together as a family. The little girl inside had to stay quiet that morning so that the grownup could do what needed done.

I had a meeting within the hour with an investor, and as much as I needed to grieve, I also needed to fulfill the commitments I’d made to my cofounders and employees to secure the capital we needed for our startup.

While I am quite grateful for the grace I found to get through that meeting, I am well aware that the personal cost was incredibly high.

As business owners, we calculate and plan for a lot of costs — operations, production, marketing, new hires. We make and refine projections to understand when we will break even or start making profit. But very few of us begin this entrepreneurial journey with the same level of preparation for managing our stress, fear, exhaustion or the dynamics of our personal relationships.

I had already launched APPCityLife when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the demands I faced with growing a startup resulted in very limited bandwidth to help my mom with the many hurdles she faced as his disease progressed.

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My dad with my eldest son several years before Alzheimers was diagnosed

When I took time out of my work schedule to be with my parents, it was time not spent our business. When on travel or overloaded with meetings or work, I missed out on time with family that I couldn’t get back. I endured many sleepless nights worrying about how to give more, do more, and be more to my team and my family.

Life is messy, and it doesn’t come in neat little packages that focus on one thing at a time. In the middle of our ambitions and professional goals, we often come face to face with tragedy or heartache — and finding the mental and emotional balance to cope with it all can be quite difficult.

For me, finding that balance has meant embracing a healthy dose of pragmatism about what I actually owe others in the way of sacrifice and what is my own misplaced guilt.

I’ve learned to be more efficient and disciplined with my time, getting up earlier to take advantage of the quiet time in the morning before the day gets crazy. I mute text messaging and email notifications from everyone except my family and colleagues so that I can be more focused on what I am doing in the moment.

I give myself permission to be “off the grid” to recharge whenever I can.

I am grateful to be part of a supportive team that picks up the slack for each other when the demands of life and work clash. In the time that we’ve been together, all of our startup’s cofounders have faced similar difficulties as my own — and all of us have had to balance the needs of the team with the needs of our own and our families’. We’ve done our best to carry each other through the difficult moments in our lives. For me, this mutual support is one of the markers of a truly successful startup team.

Oh, and the investor I met with that day?

They didn’t invest.

Others did, and we’ve since enjoyed an incredible time of growth in our startup.

But I’m not sorry I made the effort. I learned I was stronger than I thought — and that knowledge alone has allowed me to make decisions from a place of confidence instead of fear. I am also learning that it is ok to define better boundaries for myself on what is reasonable sacrifice to seize an opportunity or meet an important milestone or deadline — and what is unnecessary or off limits.

There is a lot of conventional wisdom telling entrepreneurs to sacrifice more, give more, and push harder in order to succeed — and it really does take being “all in” to succeed. But we don’t talk nearly enough about what to do or how to cope when life happens to us on our way to success. Nor do we talk enough about redefining our own view of success to include emotionally fulfilling, healthy lives.

Maybe it’s time we do.

Originally published on Broad Insights via Inc.

A ‘Glamorous’ Week in the Life of a Woman Entrepreneur

Enjoying an outing with my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews.

Enjoying an outing with my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews.

I was recently at the private opening of a new establishment with my cofounder of Hautepreneurs, a company we founded to enable women entrepreneurs in our state to think and create bigger, successful companies – a passion project in addition to our main careers – which, for me, is APPCityLife, a global civic tech platform connecting people and cities, and for Jessica, a serial entrepreneur, includes a myriad of companies like Untoxicating Beauty, a monthly subscription box curated organic and eco-friendly makeup, as well as Leverage Legal, an award-winning virtual law firm.

After negotiating schedules, it turned out that this event provided the most convenient time to connect with someone whose schedule was even more packed than ours. Thus I found myself in a somewhat surreal moment – weaving my way through paparazzi (if you can even call it that here in Albuquerque) and excusing myself through a long, snaking line of people who had, for hours already, been waiting their turn to get in.

When we finally reached the front of the line, a gentleman wearing dark sunglasses, a dark suit and an ear piece curly-quing its way to the back of his shirt, barked his question at us without looking up.

“Name?”

We answered, he checked his clipboard, and turned to a woman nearby, giving her instructions as to whom we were meeting. As we were waiting for our dinner companion to free up, a friend commented to us that she found our lives exciting and glamorous. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I laughed out loud. I’m not saying I don’t love what I’m doing or that I haven’t enjoyed some incredible opportunities and experiences, but glamorous? Being a founder of a startup – especially as a woman – is usually anything but glamorous.

After her comment, I decided that perhaps it was time to share a few snippets of my week so that others get a view of what it is like to do what I do. I have no idea if this is what it is like for other women growing companies, but I’m pretty sure their lives are just as crazy busy and full of the regular messiness of life.

Monday

It is 4 PM when I realize I have completely forgotten about parent night which starts at our high school in just a few hours. My day began at 4:30 AM, and I am so not in the mood to scurry from one end of the high school to another and back again to follow my son’s schedule and hear the same thing in every class: I am your kid’s teacher, this is my name, this is how you can reach me, I don’t answer my phone during the day so don’t bother calling, this is how I grade, and this is what I think of the class your kid is in. But I go, because I need to meet them, and because my son needs to know I want to meet them. I am not as available for the school with this child; I can’t volunteer for bake sales or drive kids places; my schedule just won’t allow it. I walk home from parent night feeling a bit like a gladiator who gets to live another day.

Tuesday

In the middle of a meeting, I realize that I forgot to pick up my kid’s band uniform from the dry cleaners, and he needs to be in it by the end of the day when he rides the bus with his band members to an event. I text my older son who is currently on campus at the university and ask if he has time to get it. He bails me out. I go back to paying attention to my meeting. After my meeting I listen to a voicemail message from the school nurse reminding me I still haven’t turned in the form they need on file.

Wednesday

I spend the day buried in work. Somehow without me noticing, the clock skipped from 10:30 AM to 4:52 PM, and I am nowhere near finished. I take a break long enough to throw some clothes in the washer, yell upstairs to my son to come set the table, and stare into the refrigerator as if by doing so something will magically appear that I can serve for supper. I peel away the wrapping on a frozen clump of ground turkey and drop it like a rock into a cold skillet and fill a pot with water, setting it to boil. It isn’t until the noodles are almost cooked and the meat almost ready that I realize I don’t have any marinara sauce. I used to be a food writer, spending days tweaking a single recipe. If I have thirty minutes to put supper on the table now – that is a good day. My teenager recently told me, “Someone at my school was saying something about this business lady they read about, and I realized they were talking about you. I don’t see you as a business lady. I just see you as the lady who used to have time to make homemade pizza but doesn’t anymore.” We can all live without homemade pizza, but I hear the wish behind the words and purpose to make him pizza later in the week.

Thursday

I attend a community event where I receive an award. I sit among my peers feeling incredibly grateful for this honor, making sure to savor this moment of my journey. It is far too easy when building a startup to not actually celebrate milestones or awards or special occasions but to see each as a goal to check off of a list in order to move on to the next. The fear of losing momentum, of not building more success on top of the last success can often inhibit our ability to fully celebrate the good stuff. I text my husband that the event has run long, and I won’t be home in time for dinner. He heats up something for the family and is putting the food away when I finally get home. As I’m standing at the sink cleaning dishes from a meal I didn’t even get to share with my family, wearing my favorite apron to protect the nice dress I’m still wearing, I joke that where I am at this moment is closer to the true reality of a woman founder of a company instead of the glamour that others see when they simply read the blurb in the paper the next day about the awards ceremony. And it isn’t that I don’t have help – my husband has been incredibly supportive; it’s that I can’t let myself off the hook. I don’t want to give up being mom, and so I push to try to do it all, even when it means doing dishes in a fancy dress at ten o’clock at night.

Friday

I finally make pizza for the family and look forward to a chance to relax a bit and decompress. Instead, I find my mind wandering, and I begin to making mental checklists for the weekend, for the team next week, for upcoming deadlines. I find it hard to let it go, to actually think about something else. In quiet moments, whether they hit at 2 AM or 9 PM on a Friday night – I end up with my thoughts back again with our company. I feel lucky to have a spouse working in the same startup. While it means that some days may end up feeling like a 24-hour board meeting, it also means having a spouse who gets the obsession, the intense focus – it becomes a shared thing rather than something that can tear a couple apart when only one is building a company.

Saturday

With a business trip coming up the next day, I spend the entire day getting ready to leave. It isn’t the packing or prepping for the meeting that takes so long – it’s getting everyone else ready for when I’m gone. I make sure there is enough food to heat up so the 14 year old has supper if his brother gets in late. I make sure everyone’s laundry is at least clean, if not folded. I go over my high schooler’s schedule and talk to him about what he needs to do while I am gone. I make sure he has found a ride home from the game so that I don’t have to worry while I’m gone. And when evening hits, I decide that packing can wait for the morning. I share a flurry of back and forth emails with a potential investor and schedule a time to meet when I am back in town.

Sunday

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Lawrence and I hanging out with Chris and Aileen Gemma Smith at 500 Startups in San Francisco.

This is usually our day, the day we set aside, but we don’t have that luxury this particular Sunday. An early meeting is scheduled on the West Coast for the next day, so my husband, who is traveling along with me this time to address the technical aspects of the project, and I have to fly out a day early. We land in San Francisco late afternoon and spend a nice evening visiting with friends that we met earlier in the year in New York City and who are now part of an accelerator in the Bay Area. We talk about startups and open data and civic tech; it is a nice evening sharing common interests with friends. We check into our hotel late that evening and prep for our meeting before calling it a night.

Monday

A new work week, and it starts all over again. There is no place to get off of this ride, and if there was, I wouldn’t want to take it. I love what I’m doing, and I love what our team is building. We’re solving big problems with global reach, and we’re meeting the challenges necessary to not only keep our company afloat but to build it quickly enough to meet the growing demand. It’s not what I would call glamorous by any means, and we have all sacrificed a lot of personal time and money to make it happen. But when you’re in the middle of something that sparks your passion and where your vision sees the end game, you don’t see the sacrifice – you just see the value of the journey.