So much for the plans of youth.
Today I'm three years into a startup, 13 years into parenting twin boys, and my husband and I are just around the corner from 20 years of marriage. I'm still getting used to all of those things but, of the three, it's parenthood that has delivered the most eye-openers of my life.
I say that with a much heartier dose of pragmatism than sentimentality, largely because it's the resourcefulness and creativity of parenthood - not to mention the robust appreciation for play, humor and the absurd that comes along with it - that has informed most earnestly the other two defining endeavors of my adulthood.
That's why, in the spirit of Mother's Day this year, I've pulled together these three learnings about parenthood, and how they've prepared me for life as an entrepreneur.
Take advantage of 20-minute windows of "found time."
Parenthood shifts your entire relationship with time. Before we had kids, if I had 20 minutes to spare I'd browse a magazine or maybe make a cup of tea or read a chapter in a book. After we had kids and I had 20 minutes before they woke up for a nap or the babysitter arrived, my immediate thought was, "Twenty minutes! You have 20 minutes! Do you know what you could do in 20 minutes?!"
The usual suspects in that situation, from laundry to kitchen prep, quickly fell by the wayside. Soon I wanted to spend those 20 minutes writing, and more and more, that writing wanted to be about wine. That's how my side hustle in wine started, in fact: with 20-minute increments of time shortly after the kids were born, when my brain needed alternate stimulation. I tease the kids that they drove me to drink, just not in the way that it sounds.
Today, with my startup, the 20-minute windows of time get applied in two ways. First, when I'm avoiding a project and I promise myself to work on it "but just for 20 minutes!" (Inevitably the time goes longer and before I know it, I've made serious headway.) The second way is with short bursts of whirlwind energy, whether it's 20 minutes of clearing emails or 20 minutes of prospecting phone calls. Either way, it's an energetic kick-start, put to good use.
Being ultra-productive is not the goal. Partnerships and cooperation are.
With the above point, I do not mean to say that getting more done and being more productive is the best lesson I've learned so far from early parenthood. It isn't. My most beneficial lesson from that most creative and resourceful time in my life is earmarked by seeking out partnerships and cooperation.
There's a biological reason for this: few relationships exemplify symbiotic human interaction better than twin brothers, and observing them grow in relation to each other is practically a living laboratory for yin-yang cooperation. There's also an emotional reason why partnerships are a cornerstone of my role both as parent and entrepreneur: I don't want to "do it all," and I'm happy to shift focus to someone else who is frankly better qualified or otherwise well-suited to the job.
With family and at work, that realization (and the one that follows) is driven in part by humility, in part by a high priority on enough rest and recuperation, and in part by a fairly acute sense of self-preservation.
We are not always the expert, not even in our own homes.
Probably because I grew up thinking I wouldn't have kids at all, I'm super comfortable recognizing that I'm not the only one who can care for them. I'm frequently not even the best one who can care for them. (That honor goes, often, to their superlative father.) I don't need to be needed in that way, where only-I-can-do-it-best. In addition, it's important to me that the kids see that there are quite a lot of people who care for them, and that they can trust people outside the walls of our home too.
How does this play out at the office? For us, it comes back again to cultivating partnerships, and symbiotic relationships where each party focuses on what they do best. An inherent part of this is knowing when to ask for help, which is one of the most under-rated skills out there of both parents and entrepreneurs.