Jon frequently reminds us that there are many ways to live a virtuous life, and working at Even — or, working at any startup — is really just one of many hundreds of ways you could choose to productively and virtuously spend your time. (If you haven’t heard Jon talk about this before, you should go read his post “Design doesn’t deserve a seat at the table”)
I want to extend his perspective by building up a framework for how we think about balance in our lives as we work on Even. The framework I propose here is deeply personal, and grounded in my experience working with all of you to build Even over the last few years. I’m sharing this with you all as I’ve personally been getting more questions on the topic of balance as the company grows and as our pace continues to accelerate.
My goal is to describe — explicitly — the framework that we have so far followed implicitly. Doing so requires being clear about what we make space for, and also what we do not intend to make space for.
First — above all else — I propose that we optimize for taking care of our relationships with our family, partner, or whoever is closest to us.
Those of you who know me closely know that this one is especially important to me. Since we started the company, my partner Libby and I have become caregivers for her Mom, Carol, who has early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s not uncommon for you to see me leaving the office in the middle of the day to go take her to a medical appointment, or to deal with one of the frequent mini-crises that happen with her disease.
I’m lucky that I feel comfortable doing so, thanks to the foundation that the early Even team built for me during a very different personal experience. In March of 2016, my youngest brother passed away after a drug overdose. His death came at the end of a chaotic and stressful period of several months — he was arrested, was kicked out of his apartment, overdosed once, and then finally overdosed a second and final time. Each new event brought fresh stress and chaos: a 5am phone call followed by a sprint to the airport, days spent sleeping in a hospital room or trying desperately to find inpatient rehab options. Despite the fact that we were a tiny company at the time, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would be able to take the time I needed with my family. I hope that none of you ever lives an experience quite like that — but if you do, it’s incredibly important to me that you feel as supported as I did during that time.
Taking care of our loved ones can take many forms. It can mean flying across the country to be with your family during a difficult illness, or it can simply mean taking an afternoon to turn off your phone and focus on quality time with your partner or closest friend. Whatever it is for you — I hope you will carefully safeguard that time while you work at Even. These key relationship are your support system and you will show up to Even stronger if you invest in them.
Second — we optimize for taking care of our physical and emotional health.
Building Even is a marathon, and not a sprint. That statement is a cliche, but still easy to forget — it’s why we implemented the health and wellness credit, and why I force myself to religiously schedule my time for therapy and for training at the gym. I know that this takes a different form for each of us. Some of you are taking advantage of the California weather to bike to work every day. Some choose weekly therapy or personal training. For others it’s as simple as a pedicure once a week. Whatever this looks like for you, I hope you will find it, focus on it, and ruthlessly prioritize time for it.
This is a bigger ask then it may seem. Knowing what you need to complete the marathon can be very difficult. It will often feel like what you need is to always work through lunch or to finish the project without taking a vacation. You owe it to yourself and to the team to know the point at which you are drawing beyond the point of replenishable energy.
Third — we optimize for building Even.
The challenge in front of us is significant: 70% of Americans are caught in the paycheck to paycheck cycle, a cycle that prevents them from making progress toward dreams as diverse as sending their kid to college or buying their first home.
Because of the scale of this problem, and our commitment to fixing it — we work remarkably hard. To some extent, this level of intensity is a fundamental aspect of building a successful startup, but we also come to work every day energized by the knowledge that our success will mean the success of our members.
It’s worth noting that this prioritization says nothing about the hours you spend in the office, or the number of hours you work in general. As a small team, we are ultimately measured by our output, not by our hours in the office.
I want to also talk explicitly about what this framework doesn’t leave time for. I’ll be very blunt: while working here, you will likely spend less time watching Netflix. You also likely will not have time to go out for drinks with your friends every Thursday or Friday night. You’ll get less time to ski, surf, backpack, or any of the other activities that can make the Bay Area a fantastic place to live. You’ll probably travel less than your friends who work at big companies. You’ll spend less time cultivating hobbies or building skills outside of work.
All of these are things that can plausibly fall under the “life” part of what people mean when they talk about work/life balance. Many of them are also objectively great things to do in isolation — I’d love to have more time to garden or work on my old motorcycles. But by opting into this very narrow and very specific way of choosing to spend my time — building a startup with the smartest people I can possible hope to work with — I am explicitly making a choice to sacrifice my ability to do those things over the next few years.
If you’re thinking about this topic of balance, and you aren’t sure how something that is important to you fits into this framework, I hope you’ll ask me to take a walk and talk through it. As I said, this topic — the question of how we balance high intensity work with the things that are most important in life — is incredibly important to me.
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