How I Learned to Thrive as a College Entrepreneur

06/25/2015 06:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016
Christine Glade via Getty Images

Some say balance doesn't exist. Some say you can't have it all. Some say the complete opposite. All I know is balance is hard. Really hard.

I came to college armed and ready, with a tool belt filled with lessons and skillsets that my parents carefully crafted for me throughout my entire life. I also came with a hobby and its volume was steadily rising as I unpacked my boxes.

That hobby was a small digital magazine and community of passionate girls around my age called Smart Girls Group. When I started in high school, it was simply something fun to do but the more hours I put in, the more I fell in love. I started out in shallow waters but as my freshman year of college drew closer, I kept swimming deeper. By the time it was syllabus week, I was well into the deep end, completely obsessed with what I was building.

While everyone around me was navigating the formulating friend groups, courses much more challenging than AP classes, the bar scene, and just everything that came with freshman year, I could feel myself peeling away from all of it to focus on what was quickly becoming a business.

In a matter of three years, Smart Girls Group had grown exponentially. We were surpassing all of my impact goals. We had a substantial user base. We had paid employees. We were featured by some of the biggest names in media. What was once just a little idea was really becoming something. I was and am beyond grateful for that.

But the outsider's perspective--the Instagrams of the flashy events and the big press coverage--is far different than day to day life. The truth is, entrepreneurship is hard. It is incredibly lonely. And when that is paired with a college curriculum, swimming seems to no longer be an option. Treading water is the goal.

The problem is, that is expected of entrepreneurs. I had a meeting with someone I highly respected and they asked me how much I worked on Smart Girls Group, which at the time was about 60-70 hours per week during the school year. They responded, "You know, if you actually want to make something of this, you have to be working at least 90 hour weeks."

So that's what I did. I worked insane hours and gave up nearly everything else in my life. The last thing I wanted to do was let down the girls within Smart Girls Group just because I didn't put enough hours into it. But I was obsessed with what I was doing, so 90 hour work weeks seemed feasible, even easy.

I did a big analysis of how I was spending my days and trimmed the fat to the point all my life consisted of was my classes and Smart Girls Group. The truth was, I wasn't upset about it. I had a vision and was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.

But I was tired and I was in denial that I was burning out. I was in too deep to think of anything else other than Smart Girls Group and all of the girls who were a part of it. That is, until I started falling asleep. Everywhere. I became so disconnected with everyone and everything in my life. While the business was thriving, I was just trying to survive.

There was a turning point when I came home. My mom and I were talking about how burnt out I was, unsure of what to do to keep this up. Then I read Thrive and finally, I stopped treading water.

I have five new rules for myself based off the book:

  1. Start and end the day with a routine that is for myself, not my business.
  2. Seven to eight hours of sleep per night is not a luxury; it's a requirement for giving my all to my business.
  3. Prioritize the relationships that matter because a business can be like a bad boyfriend. It consumes all of your time and may never love you back.
  4. Be grateful and find purpose in everything, in business and in life. (Sidenote: Having a gratitude journal makes this much easier.)
  5. The M&Ms needed for everyday life: movement and meditation.

I am constantly reading, whether it is a book or a magazine, so I didn't go into Thrive thinking that it would drastically improve my wellbeing or my business. However, a few months later, I am no longer just treading water. In fact, I'm not even just swimming. I am diving. Diving deeper into the work that I love and even the things that matter outside of work.

What was the most surprising to me is that what Arianna Huffington says in Thrive is true: you are more successful when you work towards some form of balance. Personally, I am energized to a level I didn't know existed and more productive than I ever was even on my best days. As for Smart Girls Group, our business in the last few months is triple of last year's overall sales and we are about to host our second conference in New York City, called the Live Smart Series, for hundreds of young women.

What I am learning through my experience as a college entrepreneur is that there is a difference between being at your best and being at your most. And the only way to thrive is to skip your most to be your best.