In the past, I have written articles on the role of athletics in my journey as an entrepreneur (find it here) and on the value of loyalty to entrepreneurial leaders (find it here). In contemplating other key success factors of entrepreneurship, lately I have been drawing inspiration from a different source than athletics and loyalty: my toddler.
There are several themes that frequently arise when sharing experiences with other women executives and entrepreneurs about life as a working parent of infant(s) and toddler(s): what is your childcare model, how much coverage/until what point in your child/children's evolution, how many classes/day/week/month is too much/how much is just enough, when is it best to start potty training, when and where to start preschool, to name a few. In the sea of these questions, I recently decided to pause and ask myself: if I were to view the world from my toddler's eyes, what lessons might I be able to gleam for my life as an entrepreneur? My five answers from this brief meditation are below.
1) It's Healthy to Anthropomorphize Fictional Characters
When saying "Night, night" and "I love you" to her family and friends at bedtime, in a moment of total exhaustion, I've heard my two-and-a-half year old daughter slip "Big Bird" and "Cookie Monster" into the goodnight line-up.
Maybe we entrepreneurial adults could also stand to think about our fictional character heroes more often to inspire our daily lives- drawing on their values, travails, and triumphs, in the context of our own. (If I could meet anyone in person, it would undoubtedly be Dagny Taggart and John Galt of Atlas Shrugged...)
2) Repetition of Good Habits Instills Good Habits
As obvious as it sounds, there is no question that when trying to form a new, positive life habit- whether a toddler or a toddler times 20, repetition is your friend. Interested in having your child go to bed at the same time every night? Start by creating a schedule and trying your darnedest to stick to it. Interested in working out regularly as an adult in spite of an overwhelmingly consuming life as an entrepreneur? The same rule of thumb applies.
3) "Dance as If No One's Watching, Sing as if No One is Listening"
Hollywood does a great job of portraying adult characters that sing and dance with reckless abandon in everyday life settings, from Footloose to Reality Bites. And goodness knows that singing off-key is the last thing that a toddler cares about when smiling wide as he/she masters the ABCs.
During a stressful time (often a daily occurrence as an entrepreneur), perhaps we should take a page out of a toddler's unselfconsciousness. Is there really anything more liberating or mood-uplifting than singing in one's car at the top of one's lungs to one's favorite song to or from work, or dancing with reckless abandon in the office kitchen, as if no one were looking? (Hopefully they won't be....)
4) Transitions Aren't Easy
Leaving a playdate, saying bon voyage to Elmo for a ballet class, turning off the lights to go to sleep- none of these transitions are particularly easy for two year olds (particularly not ours). In anticipation of some of the transitional drama with my daughter, I often attempt the art of distraction as a mechanism to work through these difficult moments.
Major and minor transitions are not necessarily easier for us entrepreneurs -- and blind distraction isn't always an available coping mechanism. Taking a page out of my parenting book, I approach transitions (of team members, and more) by acknowledging that the period of transition will include a bit of discomfort and require a seemingly untenable amount of patience. Once a transition is complete, we entrepreneurs are almost universally best served to transition as swiftly, and with as much focus and purposefulness, and a child under three...
5) Stop and Smell the Roses
On our weekly weekend walks or hikes, I always smile when my toddler becomes temporarily enamored by a "pink flower," or "brown acorn," or anything in between. As cliché as it sounds, her temporary pauses on our purposeful trajectory often remind me that the world will not stop turning- and instead, my productivity and presence might be even increase- should I stop more frequently to smell the literal or proverbial roses on a daily basis versus being constantly consumed by the static hum of email and entrepreneurial action items.
Given that start-ups are without question our "babies," perhaps it is not that surprising that life-lessons from parenting are applicable to entrepreneurial life. In sum, the most important lesson of all from a toddler to an entrepreneur might be, to quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the reminder that "magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen."