When I started my business around 18 years ago I did not have a family in mind. The desire to create something from scratch, something that was totally mine and reflected my view of the world, was my main driving force.
However as the years passed and I got married, and I had one child, then two and finally three, I realised that my choice of career had been extremely fortuitous. Owning and managing my own business gave me a level of flexibility that my friends in regular employment did not have. I could make my own hours, work from home if necessary, and generally mould my work life around my family.
I am not saying it was a walk in the park. I was initially very cocky about it, sure that my time management and organisational skills were all I needed to juggle home, baby and business. Once the babies started coming, however, it did not take very long for me to get a reality check!
When my first daughter was born the business was still very small. I used to take her to work with me and put her down to sleep in a cot in my office. As she got older I got a walker and she used to whizz around from desk to desk giggling and flirting with her favourites. I have to admit that I got a little smug and told myself that being a working mum was not so hard after all – until one day as she scooted along she tugged a wire dangling from a desk and pulled a speaker onto her head. When the screaming stopped and she had sobbed herself to sleep I sat and watched her, as a big purple bruise developed on her forehead, and I realised that I needed to rethink my strategy. It was clear that taking her to work with me was no longer viable. It was ok when she was a baby and slept for long stretches, but now that she was mobile the situation was no longer tenable.
So I faced the dilemma all working mums face. The time had come to look for childcare. I was lucky. My husband’s employer had an excellent childcare facility, which meant that he could take our daughter to work with him every day. I used to rush off to work as early as possible and get as much work done as I could by 13:00, at which time I left my team to their own devices and went to collect my daughter. I would then continue working from home. It was not ideal but it worked, and it formed the pattern of our lives for many years.
There are no perfect solutions in this world, however I believe that entrepreneurship is as close as it comes for women (and men) who want to have the best of both worlds – career and family. As I have mentioned in previous posts about my entrepreneurial experience, there were ups and downs during the years I ran my company, however through it all I was always grateful that I had taken that path because it enabled me to be there for my children when it truly mattered. It was always very clear in my mind that my business was important, but that my family was even more so, and owning my business and being answerable only to myself enabled me to prioritise accordingly.
So whenever I speak to young girls and women who tell me that they would like to set up their own business, I always encourage them and tell them to go for it. Girls are often told to choose careers that are “family-friendly” which is something that irritates me no end, so I feel like a bit of a fraud to say this, but entrepreneurship is a great option because of its flexibility. Now that I am in the corporate world, looking back, I appreciate the flexibility even more. I realise that I had got so used to it when I had it that I took it somewhat for granted. In a world of corporate deadlines and frequent travel it becomes very difficult to scoot out of the office to go watch the Christmas Nativity Play.
So if you are thinking about your career and some kindly old-fashioned soul encourages you to become a teacher so you “will work the same hours that your kids are in school”, just answer that you have it all sorted and intend to open a business instead. That will give them something to think about 🙂