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What exactly does it mean to be a Start-up Girl? Here’s a profile:

Graduate college in the mid 90s just as the New Economy and dot.com bubble started to take shape.

Willing to work crazy hours in a chaotic start-up environment with no resources and,  often, little guidance to pave the way up the corporate ladder to gain additional responsibility and therefore additional experience which will, in turn, be more valuable than any Harvard MBA

Accept stock options in lieu of salary and/or title with the hopes that someday they will afford the opportunity to drop out of Corporate America and pursue a “true” passion by age 35 (good luck), or put a down payment on a house in San Francisco (yeah, right) or travel around the world for a year (maybe) or buy a new mountain bike (realistic).

Ravenous appetite for life—all of it, not just work. This is where being a Start-up Girl gets complicated and where the art of finding balance isn’t just some new-agey fad….it’s the key to survival in the New Economy.

See some of Keill’s favorite resources:

Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing. Carolyn Myss. (Random House, 1997)

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. Dali Lama. (Riverhead Books, 1998)

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Malcom Gladwell. (Little Brown, 2000)

The Missing Piece. Shel Silverstein. (Harpercollins, 1976)

 

 

 


My sparkly shoes drum a click-clack beat as I run up and down the stairs, through the maze of knowledge workers, sprinkling my special pixie dust around the office. “Here comes Amy,” I see in their eyes. “What irreverent comment or razor-sharp insight will she have for us today?” “What project is she plotting that requires my attention?” “What change is she hoping to effect and what does she want from me?” I read the thoughts as I approach… And of course, I will not disappoint. I’m up for the challenge. Playful banter and clever cajoling are the tricks of my trade. After all, I am Start-up Girl! Don’t expect anything less!

You may think that “Start-up Girl” is one of those clever (yet annoying) titles made up by some 24 year-old-founder of a “dot.gone,” but no. It’s not a title. It’s a way of life for me—a Gen-Xer trying to make my way in the New Economy, born and bred in the age of the start-up, where electric ambition, entrepreneurial spirit, and Olympic-like endurance are at the top of every successful employee’s competency model.

You have to go no farther than the front page of the business section to see the values driving the Start-up culture. They scream, “Create shareholder value or die.” But, to create shareholder value in this increasingly complex and competitive marketing place, companies must create more for less, and do it faster.

And who is responsible for making this happen? We, the Start-up workforce: the Human Capital of the New Economy. We are asked to be more creative with our ideas, our resources, and our time.

Return on the Balance Investment (ROBI)

Return on any investment is important in every economy, but particularly so today. We have learned through the dot.com revolution that business decisions based on metrics such as the “coolness quotient” or the “fun factor” don’t fly in the long run. Every dollar counts so it had better have a return or it shouldn’t be spent.

The following numbers might help motivate you to make a healthy change in your life or, at the very least, support work-life balance in your workplace.

The Institute for Employment Research and IFF Research (PDF), in a recent report on the value of work-life balance practices, found the following:

         72% of workplaces reported that work-life balance practices fostered good employee relations

         43% of respondents cited the main advantage of work-life balance is having happier staff

         58% of respondents said that work-life balance practices improved staff motivation and commitment

If those statistics are still too “soft” for you hard-core marketers, how about some data from the SAS Institute Inc., makers of the statistical analysis software— software for number crunchers. They touted in a recent Fast Company article Sanity Inc. that their work/life balance practices have a bottom line impact to the tune of  $67.5 million a year. These cost savings are attributed to saved recruiting costs. In their estimation, a company of their size typically loses 1000 employees with a cost of between 1 and 2.5 times the average annual salary incurred to replace them. Because the SAS Institute is a great place to work, they only lost 130 people last year—that saved them the cost of replacing 900 employees or $67.5 million! Ch-Ching $$$.

So now that I have your attention, where to begin?

Learn to Juggle

Bridget Jones put it best when she wrote in her diary: “It’s a known scientific fact that when one part of your life is going well another part falls famously apart.” If you buy into Bridget’s scientific belief then the way to avoid a total meltdown when something in your life falls apart is to have lots of stuff going on. (That way, if say, you are laid off or your stock crashes from a high of $210 to $1.50 the disappointment won’t leave you in a state of paralysis.) Here in Silicon Valley I’ve seen many people crash and burn in the last year because of the aforementioned scenario. The start-up work force made the conscious decision to put their life on hold and live their job in the hopes that in a few years the payoff would be so great that they may not have to work another day in their life. Well, guess what…they worked more for less, stopped going to the gym and meeting for happy hour and got….laid off.

I know that many of you have a family, multiple community service projects, and don’t need any more to juggle. But my experience tells me that you’re not the majority. At least once a week a friend or colleague comes to me with furrowed brow, depressed about the state of the economy, their company and their job. Not consequently, these are the same people who live their jobs. The advice I give them is the same that I will give you—integrate multiple activities and passions into your life—not just work. Here are some ideas:

Work the Perks

Like the SAS Institute, many companies go to great lengths to make sure they get as much out of their human capital as is humanly possible. Lunch is provided in the office so we don’t have to take time out of our day to go out to lunch. Learning is offered on-line so we can fit a little skill building in while we eat lunch at our desks or have an hour of “down-time” to spare. Even showers and on-site gyms are available so we can go for a quick run at 6:00 before it gets dark and then return to work. All these amenities are offered because good companies understand that employees who live a balanced life perform better, and more positively affect the bottom line which all adds up to….increased shareholder value.

The unfortunate reality is that many people don’t take advantage of these amenities. Often, overworked employees don’t view these perks as an opportunity to integrate balance into their work environment but rather as shackles to the desk, ways of keeping them at work longer. Well show them you’re no fool—work the perks. My company pays for a gym membership, which I use religiously. Some days I’ll even take off a lunch and go for a swim. I come back refreshed and ready for battle. In fact, I end up organizing my time better and being more productive at work in my effort to fit in a mid-day workout. Work the perks and turn them it into a win-win situation. Companies can provide the foundation but we, the workforce, have to take advantage of the resources and shape our lives in a way where we find our own balance. Just do it!

Learn About Something That Has Nothing to Do with Your Job

LiNE Zine is a magazine about learning in the New Economy, so if you are reading this article, I can almost bet that you have a passion for learning. So, don’t limit learning to your professional endeavors; put away the latest Harvard Business Journal book and pick up something that has NOTHING to do with your job (at least directly).

Since I too love to learn, I recently set out to “work a perk” and take a class using my education reimbursement allotment. At first, I planned to take a class in advanced project management but then I decided that I wanted to exercise the creative side of my brain. I convinced my boss that a class in design was in fact directly related to my job because the design process is the art world’s answer to project management. He, an insatiable learner himself, supported the proposition and approved it. Let me tell you, it was SO great! I went to class once a week and worked on art projects for grown-ups. I played with colored pencils, foam core and clay, and for three hours each week I entered a dimension of my brain that I don’t always use at work. Much to my delight, I found that awakening that side of my brain has helped me in my job as well. I can now look at problem solving from a design perspective—this new outlook has made my job more fun and my PowerPoint presentations more visually pleasing.

Who knows, by taking a class in an outside interest you may not only improve a skill important to your personal growth, but you may find a new passion you can integrate into your business life. It’s all good.

Take Up Yoga (or Other “Zen” Sports)

To achieve balance, one needs to be in touch with reality, one’s own thought patterns, and internal rhythms. The start-up culture can be so intense, so physiologically and physically consuming that we don’t have time to be quiet and check in with our inner workings. No I’m not getting new-agey here, I’m making an important observation. Think about it; can you identify a time in the last week when you were able to sit still and reflect on what’s going on with YOU. Not with the executive council, the angry shareholders or the nightmare client but YOU. I didn’t think so.

I didn’t fully understand the benefits of internal balance until I started to practice yoga. In yoga, the teacher is there to help you focus on YOU. “Come into your body and allow the breath to nurture every muscle, every bone, every organ of your body. Allow your thoughts to pass like clouds in the sky…observe them and let them go.” The first time my yoga instructor said this, my first thought was…CHEEZY. The hardest thing for me to learn has been to STOP THINKING and relax. The more I practice, the better I get and the easier it becomes to call up this altered state of consciousness on the fly in tense moments. For example, in a meeting where everyone around me is getting worked up about some issue that, when put in perspective, is really insignificant, I can go into myself and check in with my reality. Then, to their surprise, I may say something like; “Hey guys, at the end of the day, is it really worth our time and energy to worry about this?” Then they stop, look at me with blank stares, think for a minute and then chuckle and say; “Well, maybe it’s not THAT important….” This type of balance is key in the start-up workplace because Type-A, over achievers have a tendency to get stuck in the wrong reality which causes a lot of unneeded stress in our work world.

For those of you who don’t buy into Yoga or have an aversion to it, all is not lost. There are many other “Zen” sports and activities that help one to achieve the same benefits. They include: swimming, running, bicycling, gardening, golf, arts and crafts, and many more. Try to find some activity that forces you to focus on you in a way that you can’t in other parts of your life, especially your job.

Diversify Your Social Portfolio

As social beings, we have an innate need to be connected to people. It is key to our emotional survival. We extroverts need more social connections than you introverts but I or E, we all need a community we feel connected to. I am sure that those of you married to your job will argue that you have plenty of social connectivity at the workplace…well that’s all fine and good, but do you really enjoy the people you work with? Do they make you laugh? Do they expose you to new things, do they make you feel good? If you can answer yes to many of these questions, then you are lucky…but you still need to diversify.

Relationships take time and an investment in your precious social capital. Think of your social time in terms of money. If you spend all of your social dollars with the people at work, your social investment portfolio will be high risk. If key people quit, get transferred or, heaven forbid, turn on you for political reasons, you are at risk to lose big. Therefore, a more balanced investment strategy is to spend your social dollars in multiple sectors: work colleagues, family, life-long-friends and the ever-important “pal” sector. Pals are the best and you can have as many or as few as you want—just have some!

I have several pals that I spend my social dollars on—and boy, are they worth the investment! My pals and I typically have activities in common that keep us connected. I have a yoga pal, a career planning pal, several travel pals, triathlon pals and many more. I don’t spend a ton of time with any one of them but over time my investment has compounded….they open doors to experiences that I would never have if I didn’t have them in my life. And they keep me connected to the world outside of work….they give me balance.

Get Started

Psychologist say that you have to repeat something 42 times until it becomes a habit. Get to it! Get out of the office NOW. Think about the words of Start-Up Girl and find your balance! If you don’t, you’ll hear my click-clack beat coming around the corner of your cube and find me at your desk cajoling you to get on it!!! Don’t worry, have fun; life is great on this side of balance!

Amy Keill is Manager of Customer Quality and Learning at Saba. When she’s not working to create a customer focused and balanced organization, she is training for triathlons, traveling to distant lands to study culture, cooking for her pals or learning about something new. She will be returning to school this fall to pursue a Masters in Organizational Psychology and hopes to study further the Return on Balance Investment. Write her at akeill@saba.com.

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