I read recently that a recent study claims the only human that comes close to the same level of strength and endurance levels akin to a multi-day, ultramarathon athlete is a pregnant woman. From calories burned each day to the endurance to handle daily, mundane tasks, apparently it’s the equivalent of a 6,000 calorie-a-day Tour de France cyclist.
My superwoman wife, Jen, and I are now expecting our second child. She is totally bossing it in a full-time role, a month before it all kicks off again. So, I thought I should sign up for a six-day, 250km ultramarathon through the Sahara in solidarity. Jen hit the roof.
She was trying to figure out why I wanted to take so much on at once; I’ll be leaving behind my wife and two young kids for a week, to take on a pretty massive challenge. I like to think endurance events like this give competitors something that day-to-day life often can’t – huge volumes of perspective.
I’m no stranger to taking on a challenge. Five years ago, I found out Jen and I were expecting our first child in my first week after starting my own business, on the same day we signed a major contract, and the same day my cofounder Gaby announced she was expecting. Years later, once again, I’m weeks away from my own family, my cofounder’s family, and our business all doubling in size.
I’ve realised that being a dad – especially a new dad – and giving it all in the workplace, are both like sitting in the front of a rollercoaster without a seatbelt. You’re still expected to look straight ahead, not show terror, and laugh about how easy the ride was afterwards so you don’t pass your worry onto anyone else.
So how do you ensure that panic subsides (somewhat) and keep everything afloat? Here’s four things I’ve learned:
Always ask for help. I’m so lucky that Gaby is a parent too – it made it easier for me to be open about how I was struggling to balance work and raising my family. Growing trends like coworking have shown this generation increasingly want to have a community around them to lean on. I learned to never underestimate the power of asking someone for help – synergies may appear where you didn’t expect.
Trust is key. Without people you trust and can rely on around you, everything falls apart. Parenthood has fundamentally made me a ‘better’, more equipped, more resilient worker, and showed me the importance of investing time and effort into having the right people around you, both personally and professionally.
Don’t be a martyr. They always end up dead! Some dads think that being first in and last to leave the office is something to be proud of, but it almost certainly means you’re just not being efficient with your time. You’ll regret it later, and your family will remember it forever.
Plans won’t save you. In my case, managing a business and having a family are both not easy or linear paths. Full of risk and uncertainty, there are elements we all think don’t work well with a family – but this isn’t necessarily true. The real differentiator between us is how we choose to deal with it when things go wrong.
As we find it increasingly hard to switch off, it creates unhealthy habits of expectation, especially heading into parenthood. I’d like to see paternity leave not only become legitimised and normalised amongst the business community, but something to be celebrated and talked about openly.
And so I’m taking a whole month off when my second daughter arrives next month. There, I said it. The world won’t fall apart, our business will survive while I’m off, and I’ll come back in a better place mentally, having spent the first 30 days of my child’s life focused fully on her and her mum. There won’t be a second first 30 days.
I know many parents who struggle with the concept of being the ‘breadwinner’ and live with the constant worry about potentially dropping any balls – both at home and at the office. I’ve found it’s not the perception of ‘doing it all’ that keeps me up at night as much as the strain of ‘holding it all together’ – financial responsibility, rent, fundraising.
There’s still a stigma that working fathers are always happy to – and indeed expected to – prioritise their career progress over their family. Sadly, there is much compromise, doubt and guilt. I help brush Edie’s teeth every morning and evening. If I need to work into the night after that (as is too often the case) so be it, but I won’t sacrifice that time with her.