If you were to believe the movies and the glossy magazines, the myth of the ideal mother showcases motherhood as a blessed event where you push your sleeping baby in a designer stroller while sipping a latte and chatting with your BFF, who just happened to also have a baby at the exact same time. Homes are pristine and put together, and maternity leaves are long and luxurious.
The same goes with startups — according to popular shows like HBO’s Silicon Valley, Midas touch founders roll up to flashy headquarters with giddy, youthful employees collaborating seamlessly to ship a product that everyone loves. All is glamorous and angst-free.
The reality? Not exactly.
As a founder and a mother, I can say that it’s harder and messier than I ever imagined. I’m constantly filled with self-doubt and wonder what I’ve gotten myself into at least twice a day. But, beyond measure, both have been the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life (each in vastly different ways). I might be biased because I embarked on my journeys in motherhood and entrepreneurship simultaneously, but I’ve been constantly surprised at how what I’ve learned as a mother has paralleled my growth as a founder and vice versa.
If I could go back to before I became either, here are the five tips that I would tell my pre-motherhood, pre-founder self that seem to help in both situations:
1. You don’t need to have all the answers.
In fact, it’s better that you don’t. Because then you stay humble and curious, asking questions and asking for help. It’s when you think you have it down — bam! — you’re hit with a curveball, like a kid that won’t sleep through the night or facing the challenges of female entrepreneurship. Acknowledging early that you don’t have the answers makes you open to the world of possibilities and finding an even better solution that you could never have dreamed about originally.
Related: 4 Struggles of the Mompreneur
2. Celebrate the little moments and note the big ones.
In both parenthood and startup life I find the priorities are mixed — big splashy celebrations of milestones like birthdays or funding but little else for the mundane that make those possible. I prefer the opposite : Note those big milestones with a cake or a card or a dinner. But focus on the everyday moments. The toothy grin at bedtime or the easy camaraderie at daily standup. This is the real magic that makes the rest of it happen.
3. It takes a village.
I am a better mother and startup founder because I have an incredible village helping me. From my husband to our nanny to my parents to friends, my girls think it’s natural to have a team of people caring for them. And at work, our extended team of advisors and investors and friends help navigate the weekly ups and downs so that we know we have a safety net to depend on when we need it. It’s so critical because that’s what helps stave off burn-out on both the parental and startup front — sharing the load with others that I trust.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It’s exactly when you think that you’re failing that it’s most critical you reach out to others to help. When I had a colicky 6-week-old and thought I was losing my mind or when I was stuck at what felt like a dead end raising seed money for Poppy, what saved me was asking others around me for help, guidance and relief. Trying to be perfect on my own was making it harder for me to be any good at all. Being vulnerable is powerful, as shared by Dr. Brene Brown.
Asking for help didn’t make me weaker, as I had feared, but doubled down on my strength so that I could bend without breaking.
5. Persist and be present.
I’m convinced that the answer to both startups and parenthood is in deciding to show up each day and give it your best shot. I’m sure there are smarter or better prepared people out there. But, my willingness to show up each day means that I’ll be there when others have gotten tired or called it quits. Even though I might not put in the longest hours as either a parent or a founder, I take solace in the fact the hours I do devote are my best. And it’s not just in startups. Across the board from education to government we need the heart, the commitment and the will of women.
It’s funny how simple but difficult these truths are. The reality is far messier, grittier and hysterical than most would have you believe. But, both parenthood and entrepreneurship are experiences that have opened my life up in ways that are hard to quantify or qualify with words.