Nicole Dawes on working with her husband; and on why: kids should be raised at the office, anxiety is an indulgent emotion, and work/life balance is a sham.
Q: Your life is a crazy Venn diagram of overlapping work and life spheres: Your father was an entrepreneur, you work with your husband, and you are raising two children. Which aspect of this overlap is toughest to manage?
A: Leaving the kids just doesn’t get easier. I’ve been traveling a lot. It’s heartbreaking every time. I keep waiting for that to end. Skype helps.
Q: When do you feel most stretched?
A: When we have more than one problem—which is very often. From the outside, we look like a well-oiled machine of magic work-life balance. We can handle one setback pretty well. But if someone gets sick, and a new product launch gets pushed up or pushed back, and I suddenly find I have to leave town on business—that’s when we run into difficulty. Oddly, though, when Peter and I are in those situations, we’re not that tense. We just do it. We triage. Tension and anxiety are indulgent emotions. We can’t afford them. We get externally focused on how to solve our problems. We don’t stop and wonder, How is this affecting us?
Q: What’s it like working with your husband?
A: A lot of people are scared to work with their spouse. They hear the horror stories. But for us, sharing in the whole experience together is what makes it work. So much happens in a small business on a daily basis. If Peter had a different experience all day, we wouldn’t have the deep understanding that we share.
There are practical benefits, too. I just found out I have a last minute trip. Because Peter and I are partners in work and in life, he can accommodate my trip and work from home. There are certainly days we could kill each other. We are passionate about our opinions, and sometimes we don’t agree. We know we shouldn’t hold back on things simply because we’re married. But just because we don’t agree on a work issue doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. The fact is, I can’t imagine doing my life’s work with another person.
Q: You once said that “It takes an office to raise a child.” How so?
A: Being an entrepreneur is all-encompassing. Excluding my children from it was not an option. I want them to understand the business, to be part of it, and proud of it. I grew up in an office. My dad taught me about gross margins when I was twelve. I was fascinated. Kids raised in an office learn what their parents do. They develop a vested interest in it. They become able to picture themselves working in a business someday. When Stephen was entering kindergarten, he asked me why he was the only worker who had to go to school.
Raising kids in the office is not for everyone. You have to be a person who can work with distractions. If you’re going to have kids in the workplace, they really need to start coming in as newborns. You can’t introduce a 3-year-old into an office setting for the first time—that’s a recipe for disaster. If they’ve been there from the beginning, they get it that they can’t disturb you when you’re on the phone. They learn to do their own thing.
Q: Are there ways you alter your work patterns to accommodate your kids?
A: I get in to the office early so I can leave early to pick the kids up at 5 pm. When we get home, I help my older son with his homework, while my youngest helps me make dinner. He loves to cook. We eat together as a family every night. When I was a kid, we did that too. Sometimes we’d go to the factory to have dinner with my dad. After my kids are asleep I go back on the laptop to answer the emails that I missed. People at work know not to call me during that dinner hour unless it’s critical. Our family gets a lot of together-time on our annual road trips, too.
Q: You believe that the concept of work-life balance is a sham. What do you mean by that?
A: Peter and I have no separation between our work and our life. Every facet of our lives is wrapped up with all the others. We don’t try to compartmentalize. We discuss work at home with our kids. When I ask my oldest what he did at school today, he’s more interested in hearing an explanation of why Late July can’t spend more on advertising.
You have to figure out what is essential for each part of your life—what is “mission critical” in all areas. If the kids need me during work hours, I tend to them. If the business needs me when I’m at home, I tend to it. I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to be the working mom who does everything perfectly. But it’s just not realistic.
Being an entrepreneur is all-encompassing, and you have to acknowledge that. There is no balance because there is no true separation. I love my children with all my heart and I love my company with all my heart. The notion of “work-life balance” doesn’t accurately represent that. It’s just one big life.