How to maintain work, life balance during a pandemic

Steven Loeb · October 12, 2020 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/5110

Entrepreneurs share their journeys via "Becoming Us" a BetterHelp series

Last Thursday, Vator and BetterHelp held their latest Becoming Us session, a bi-monthly program to help professionals build mental resilience through these surreal times filled with an unprecedented lockdown, lost opportunity, soul-searching protests and political unrest. As we transition to a new normal, we wanted to create a judgment-free place where people could share their unique journeys - struggles, hopes, etc. And in so doing, inspire others. 

This session, hosted by Amanda Smith, a therapist in North Carolina, specializing in telemental health services, and moderated by Vator CEO Bambi Francisco, was focused on work/life balance and how to maintain that in the pandemic which has turned so many lives upside down.

(Our next event on this topic is happening on October 22. Register here. The event is free and anyone is free to share their story, or just listen in to what others have to say)

Here's how a few of them shared their journeys.

Profile photo of Alex RoizenAlex Roizen, Real Estate investor.  

"I manage a small portfolio of real estate and we do higher-end, short-term rentals. Obviously I can't control city regulations or county or state regulations, for that matter. And we did get shut down for a while, but I can control how I react. And so, we had to change the business model, we've had to change the business model a few times. Typically it's people going on vacation, or they're celebrating a bachelor or bachelorette party, a corporate event or something. All that stuff ended. Even if it didn't, I wouldn't have been able to do it because the city shut us down, but they allowed for essential workers, they allowed for people that were displaced because of COVID. So, we had to rewrite the descriptions of the property market in different areas and we managed to sort of limp along and still make ends meet until everything opened back up again.

I was able to control the way I reacted and I think we managed well. My returns to the investors aren't what I expected them to be, but, really, I'm comparing myself to alternative investments, like the market. So, if my investors had their money in the market prior to investing with me, well, they actually saved money because I outperformed the market during that time. So, rather than trying to hit the numbers I was planning on hitting, I'm comparing myself to alternative investments and so none of my investors were too upset. They understood what happened and they understood that they were in a better place with me than they would have been where they had their money previously to investing with me. So, I was happy about that. 

On the work/life balance, I didn't have such a problem with it. I don't have kids, but lots of options were not there anymore. So, work/life balance is difficult when you have tons of options to juggle around but, all of a sudden, all I could do was stay home, do what I could at work and work out. I was eating healthy, because I was going to the grocery store and cooking at home, and so I didn't have a real difficult time with the work/life balance. I mean, maybe boredom could have set in a little bit, but I didn't have a whole lot of other options like I would if it was business as usual. So, the struggle with the work/life balance, I never thought it affected me quite as much. I had a similar routine; I've been working from home for over a decade, so I'm very used to it. I do remember when I first started doing it it was kind of a struggle, because there were a lot of things to pull my attention away at home that I didn't have at the office, so I gather lots of other people that just started working from home were probably going through that struggle, but I have gone through it. Then you find the routine, hopefully it's a good one. I'm focused on working, working out every day, obviously the gyms are closed so I had to order some stuff to work out from home or you go for a run or something. The work/life balance wasn't too difficult. I imagine if you have a family and kids running around behind you and other things, it makes it more difficult to work from home and to keep them entertained. So, I'm probably not the best one to speak to that.

There’s some things you can't control, but you can always control the way you react. Adapting to your environment is a big part of running a business. If I just became depressed and started sitting around feeling down about the fact that my initial business model was shut down for the time being, I don't think that would sit very well with my investors. It's my job to brainstorm other ways and see what we can do to at least get by. We did that and, of course, we didn't hit the same numbers that we would otherwise but we did better than if we did nothing. We were able to float the costs of owning the properties and other stuff and eventually things will open back up; we are open, now we're busier than ever, but there is a word on the street that Newsom was going to come out next week and maybe take a few steps back. I think we're heading back into purple and they’re making us step back, but these things that are out of our control."

Laurel Headshot Jan 2020.jpgLaurel Anne Stark, business and marketing consultant:

“From my perspective, as a startup founder of a tech organization, as a minority, work/life balance has never really been a thing to begin with anyway. A lot of what's been shared about controlling what you can and what you can't: when the pandemic came out, the first thing I did was I bought a new day timer because I was like, ‘Alright, everything's going to hell, but I can control my 24 hours.’ But what ended up happening was that inevitable slide into workaholism, which is a super comfortable place for me. Of course, hitting my milestones is something that's fantastic and good, but what I found is that it actually created a situation of some pretty extreme isolation. It’s something I didn't really notice for too long, because I was busy. But, in that, what I've learned is that balance between acceptance and control is reaching out and making sure that I'm not isolated and asking for help. So, maybe I can't control something, or I can't change something, but possibly interacting with another human being would enable them to help me to change something. So, those are the two takeaways that I've learned from my journey with the lockdown and things like that.

I'm in Canada, so it is slightly different, but of course, a very, very serious situation. Asking for help, becoming a part of the community, and just checking in with each other. What I really like is with entrepreneurialism is there's typically this notion of you fail quietly and privately, and you succeed publicly. And, with a pandemic, there's a reduction of stigma around mental health concerns, the fact that basically everyone is struggling to some degree, it's actually quite a relief to be able to be a lot more transparent. Frankly, I think it's healthier than pretending everything's okay when it isn't. 

Another thing that came to mind, just listening to everybody speak as well, is the notion of creating infrastructure and creating an environment. Congratulations, Alex, on getting a puppy. That's what I did when I was living in a very cold city, working from home, I've been working from home since 2006, and it was -23 outside, so why would I leave? And that's, of course, bad for mental health, so I got a puppy for that reason to make me go outside, to make me exercise. So, I find I’m doing things in community, as well as creating an infrastructure in those habits for myself to force me to do things. I went to this seminar, I think it was the coach of the CEO of Lululemon, and he basically said, ‘If you can't clean your desk every Friday afternoon, hire someone to come in and set fire to all the paper on it.’ I've never forgotten that; it's such a dramatic example but it is an effective way to ensure that the infrastructure you’ve created for yourself is going to ensure that you perform in a particular way.

So, my takeaways are essentially: don't work that much, try not to sleep with your laptop in your bed, just small things like that go a long way to the work/life balance, but ultimately, I don't think it's where I'm at right now, anyway. I'm a startup tech founder, a woman, a minority, there's almost nothing that we can do, so the emphasis has to be on the work right now. And that's okay. It's reasons and seasons, right? Once we're finished our crowdfunding campaign, I'm going to sleep for about a week, but that's the important thing to build in as well and also acknowledge that, from a startup life, there's such an emphasis on production and hitting those milestones is a much higher priority than wellbeing, and I'm seeking to change that in the industry. Also, I'm a woman in long-term recovery, which means I've been sober from all mind-altering substances since 2011. And that's a real difference maker as well, because Nootropics and performance enhancers are such a norm and I'm trying to shed light on the fact that that's actually not healthy. We're seeing way too many entrepreneurs killing themselves and it's not worth it. It's just not worth it."

Later, Stark talked about how the pandemic had actually helped create better relationships with her team.

"It sounds maybe counterintuitive but I'm sharing a lot of what I'm finding difficult with my peers and my colleagues and my team. The project that I'm working on right now, I actually really, really care about it. It's my heart project and I'm working on it for years and years and I've been finding myself getting teary in business meetings and things like that. Instead of trying to shove it down and pretend it's not happening, I'm just being super real with people, like, ‘you know I'm just kind of tired or this happened or whatever.’ Not going to the place of like super private information, but just being a little bit more human. As a result, what's happening is, as I go first and be vulnerable, it gives people permission to be vulnerable with me as well and then what happens is we establish a better connection. They have the freedom to be able to express anything that might be going on for them that's perhaps not ideal as well. We're able to function better as a team, my relationships are improving as well, even though it feels really uncomfortable to go first.

What I've been hearing from basically everyone that I've been talking to for the last two or three weeks is that everyone feels alone in their own struggles until we have a conversation where we can basically say, ‘well, yeah, me too.’ And then, all of the sudden, no one feels lonely, we feel connected. Instead of us all having to face this all alone, we’re facing it together and so that's that's a practice that I'm leaning into recently, especially because it does feel extremely uncomfortable. I can feel my heart warm up when people are like, ‘my dog died’ or whatever, and then to be able to show up and support people and hold space for them and let them know that we care and we want them to be well humans as well as do well, has been quite transformational in a very unexpected way."

Profile photo of Wanona SatcherWanona Satcher, CEO and founder at Mākhers Studio:

“I was recently on a panel with a female speaker and we were talking about this issue, this notion, of a balance, especially during these times. I like the way she put it: basically she said she lives by three things. One, things she can control; two, things she can influence; and then, three, things she can’t control. As a startup entrepreneur, the things I can control and the things I can influence are critical. The work that we do with our modular real estate products and structures, affordable housing and that kind of thing, I had to quickly determine if I wanted to be somebody that was seen as the typical startup disrupter to how a built environment gets developed, or if I wanted to be seen as an influencer of how things should be developed. Before COVID, disruption and influencing were synonymous and I disagree with that. And what I mean by that is, I've worked in both the public sector and, course, now as an entrepreneur. Things became a little bit easier when I start to approach our challenges through permitting and planning and zoning if I was seen as an influencer of how we communicate and how we educated and collaborated, versus how we could be combative. There's so many social challenges that really put us in the combative space, we have to be mindful and meditative on how we get to the next level while being collaborative in that process.

From a balance standpoint, for me personally, what has really kept me going, especially in an industry that doesn't have a lot of women, especially women of color, is to focus on optimism and gratitude versus the problem. Usually it's about 11 hours you spend worrying about how you're going to control your business and control how people see your business, but those five minutes before bed, for me, when I am completely immersed in gratitude and mindfulness and optimism really just cuts all the other junk and noise out. I was asked recently in an article that we just did for an Inc Magazine interview, ‘With all this going on, and pandemics and social political issues, and racism and all these things, how do you keep going?’ And I said, ‘Really focusing on being optimistic, because I think when you're optimistic, you're very creative, and you can solve problems versus being the problem.’ Also, as an entrepreneur, if you can focus on being a problem solver and not being part of the problem, you tend to get more traction, your impact tends to be greater and you tend to leave a footprint. And so, with that being said, it's all about identifying what is your role? Are you an influencer? Are you someone that only focuses on what you can control? Are you focusing on being an influencer? Or are you solely focused on what you can’t? 

 

And, I will say that I've what physically made me ill, gain weight, grow some gray hairs, was when I worked for local government. I actually resigned from city government. Government is probably one of the places that’s least innovative, by far, and I found that out the hard way. What was difficult back in 2016, when I resigned, was I thought it was a system that I could change because I grew up being taught to be a change agent. I grew up being taught to make a difference, to be creative. It was working to a point, it was working to where I was doing so much stuff that other people didn't like it. So, my aunt told me something that really made me angry until it didn’t. She said, ‘You’ve done all you can do, you're not going to change the system, you need to leave. You can't control it.’ For about five minutes I was really angry at that and then I realized she's right. That wasn't my role to change it, my role was to influence it and because I couldn't change it. I resigned and came home to Atlanta to start a business out of the notion that I couldn't change that system, but I can definitely create a new one and influence that. So, that's what we're doing now. 

It takes practice to know that you can't control everything. It takes practice to let go. It takes practice to practice knowing something new. So, we know now the changes that we needed to make from this pandemic: either you decided to do better or go backwards and I’m not for going backwards. But it does take time, it does take patience and it does take practice, and we have to give ourselves that practice and latitude as well. You have to practice gratitude, you have to practice optimism. And, at some point, you start believing it. For me, that saves my life, I can't function any other way but that.”

Satcher also talked about some of the ways she is maintaing control, one of which is starting a community garden, which has helped her in unexpected ways.

"I tell you, talk about not being in control. You try to grow and harvest your own food and sometimes things work out and sometimes you get things to grow that you didn't even realize you have planting, but you start to see really beautiful things happen when you focus on, again, growth, literally and philosophically. We always wanted to do it but life and and work and all that got away and we said, ‘okay, we've got to get more sun and get outside and we started building more community around our front yard, and no other house on the street has the yard that we have created.

People will walk by, elderly individuals, people who are sick, who would say, ‘just walking by your yard has helped my mental health today.’ I had one older guy ask me for a cigarette, but I don't smoke. I said, ‘I don’t have one,’ and then he goes, ‘Okay, well, since you don't smoke, let me tell you this: you need to mix baking soda and vinegar to kill those weeds so you can grow your vegetables.’ And then he just left. So, you start meeting very interesting people who you just never know how you influence or impact by just saying, ‘hello’ and giving away free food to people who actually need food. You actually just never know what people are going. So, that practice of growing and seeding and watching things grow didn’t require us to really leave our home or change our lifestyle.

It allowed us to focus on getting back to the basics of living and working with your hands, and working with your hands in a way that created neighbors and community. We had young people come up asking how to grow stuff. ‘How I can do it?’ That meant a lot to us, just by letting go and watching things grow. And then when you have some silly caterpillar that will eat your vegetables, you can’t really get mad at him because if you didn’t have that caterpillar then you weren’t growing your garden right. So, the pests were welcome friends. I just admire farmers. Their whole life is about trying to let go and figuring out what works and what doesn't. You have a deer eat all your food, you gotta start all over and talk about resilience. I really commend them for the work. That was just one outcome in this pandemic, that has really helped us and brought us closer as a family was to focus solely on growth and not anything else."

(Image source: nextgov.com)

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Laurel Anne Stark

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Laurel Anne Stark is a business and marketing consultant, experienced mental health advocate, and founder of resurgo.co
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Amanda Smith

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I've worked in Mental Health for over a decade providing services in the home, school, and community settings. I recently transitioned into working for myself providing virtual mental health counseling services and related resources.
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Wanona Satcher

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Alex Roizen

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Vator Investment Club; Internet/tech advisor at ADVSR, Ackrell Capital; eDrinkit - Co-Founder, SFiNX - Co-Founder; M&A banker/advisor at Ackrell Capital; Vator Delegate