I was recently asked how I would define ‘personal success’. My answer was: “I get to walk my kids to school in the morning.”
With remote or flexible working firmly on the agenda, it got me thinking about how work/life balance and time spent being a parent has factored into my career journey so far and what it means for the business we have built today.
A caveat, as all self-indulgent posts start, I’m not trying to preach here, far from it. There is no correct parenthood, only the path you choose. This post is about the way my wife and I chose to bring up our kids and a description of how I did my part.
If your chosen route is different, all power to you, this was ours: we both wanted to be hands-on day to day. I wanted to change nappies (diapers for those over the pond), do night time stuff and as they grew, take them to school, see plays and watch sports days.
I’m a long-time software guy. After tripping and stumbling into a programming apprenticeship and several years learning my trade, I ended up a jobbing computer contractor, which meant chasing short pieces of work 3-6 months in length.
The plus side of this is the higher salary, the downside is you get no pension/sick pay and most relevant to a life with kids, no stability and lots of time spent far from home.
Whilst contracting, I worked in Finland, London, Aberdeen, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Yorkshire, where I live with my family. As I’m sure you can imagine, this sporadic, distant working doesn’t lend itself to being a day to day parent.
Over years of working like this, I’d seen lots of parents missing time with their children due to work commitments and I wanted my experience to be different.
Making the switch
My first target was to stop working so far away, to bring my life nearer to home. I found out there was a reasonable amount of home working available in my field, which usually paid a little less and I didn’t get the pick of exciting work, but at least it was at home.
So I made our conservatory an office (props to the wise, don’t. It’s too warm in the summer with highs of 40 and too cold in winter with lows of 5). This usually involved a day or two each week in an office somewhere but was miles better than driving to Aberdeen once a week and staying in a hotel.
By the time I had made this move, we’d had Jack and he was already around 9 months or so. Turns out, in the first couple of years it’s quite hard to tell a toddler when daddy is working but we persevered and it was still bloody hard; the little face appearing at the door to see daddy was pretty hard to say ‘no’ to.
At this stage, we had started to build the roots of what became Your Baby Club on the FanFinders’ platform.
I had the idea (that seemed pretty far-fetched at the time) of building a business that would allow me to enjoy the work I do, work with some ace people, stop chasing little bits of work and spend meaningful time with my kids. I’ve written more about that journey here, so won’t bore you again.
Within 3-4 years of building FanFinders, I was in roughly the place I am now. It’s not for everyone but my work-life balance is where I want it to be. It has big pluses and some negatives.
I can do plenty of parenting around work. My waking day normally starts around 5am (yup, I’m one of those awful early morning sods), I pop to the gym (when I can be bothered and COVID restrictions allow of course) and then work out of my conservatory.
My kids are also early risers and often up by the time I’m home, so we have breakfast together. I then try to go through my task list from the day before, catch up on messages and get to my emails.
I do the school run most days when I’m around, we walk the ½ mile to school and back come rain or shine. I really enjoy it and would suggest anyone fortunate enough to have the opportunity, does so as often as possible. My kids remember things they forget later in the day, stuff like what they did all day, what they ate, their favourite lessons.
In between the school runs and other tasks, I’m at my desk getting sh*t done, as they say.
The work/kids/work/kids/work thing isn’t for everyone but it allows me to spend decent quality time with my children where in other circumstances I couldn’t. As they get older, I also get to tell my them more about what I’m doing and they’re interested in the tech side of the business (even if it does all sound a bit Harry Potter-ish to them at times).
One of the best parts of the experiences I’ve had is that we now get to extend that flexibility to our team at FanFinders. I never wanted anyone in the team to have to choose between being a parent or their role – school plays only happen one time – and I’m proud of the flexible yet dedicated culture we’ve built.
My main concern now, like many parents out there, is that my kids simply won’t need me as much soon. I know it’s all part of growing up and to be celebrated, but I’ll certainly still miss my walks to school with them and hearing all about their lunch decisions.
Over the coming months, Alec will be blogging regularly about his experiences as CEO and co-founder at FanFinders.