How One Entrepreneur Mom Won the Work-Life Balance Game

By Sheena Lindahl, special to Overdrive

It was 2008 when Sarah Schupp’s dream was crushed.

She had commitments (but not yet checks) for a $2 million round of funding  her company was raising to scale. She had everything in place for when the  checks arrived, including commitments signed for a three-year lease on a new  office, hires and even a new CEO on board.

Then, the stock market crashed and everything fell apart. One by one each  investor pulled out.

In the slump that followed, Schupp found herself overwhelmed and ready to  quit. She questioned whether it was possible to continue without the  funding.

It was. Putting one foot in front of the other, she secured a bank loan and  picked up the pieces of her company, eventually growing University Parent Media into the No. 1 college resource  guide for millions of parents at more than 200 institutions.

The experience’s impact on Schupp went beyond business. She had come  face-to-face with what it would look like to lose four years of hard work if her  company ceased to exist. Now that it was going well, she knew she didn’t want to  find herself exiting from her company — either through a lucrative sale or  another unexpected change of events — and be alone with no identity outside of  her role at University Parent Media. While Schupp’s unwavering commitment to her  startup may be viewed by some as honorable, having a person’s entire existence  defined by one life component can put a lot of pressure on someone. She needed  balance.

This resolve only strengthened when her daughter was born. Adding mother to the stack of titles already on her resume —  entrepreneur, founder and CEO — Schupp became overwhelmed.

Work-life balance is something every entrepreneur struggles  with and being a parent makes the battle that much harder. Yet, Schupp has  managed to have a happy and successful life balancing personal needs and a  family alongside a multimillion-dollar company. For those struggling to maintain  the difficult balance between work and life, here are some tips:

Prepare for your exit. To maintain balance in her life,  Schupp thinks ahead to keep perspective.

“Whether you’re successful or not, after you exit your company, you’re going  to want to have the things you valued before you started: family, friends,  health and interests, says Schupp. “If you are so intertwined in your company  that you lose everything else, even if you sell the business and are  ‘successful,’ you’ll have to start your life from scratch.”

Compete with yourself. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to  have a perception that others are growing faster than you, especially when you  compare yourself to different industries. To remain balanced and avoid guilt,  Schupp knows she has to define success. Instead of comparing herself to others,  she channels her competitive nature inwards.

“I just want to beat myself — improve from my last year and last quarter,”  she says.

Build a family-friendly culture. At University Parent  Media, Schupp surrounds herself with people who value time the same way she  does. “I’ve got to respect other people’s families the way I want them to  respect mine,” Schupp says. This leads to an understanding culture and no  pushback when sporadic events arise, like the occasional case of having to leave  early or bring the baby to the office for 15 minutes.

Be open to business insights, which can pop up anywhere. One of the biggest assets an entrepreneur brings to the table is creativity and  vision, two traits that don’t work in a linear fashion and won’t show up simply  because you’re sitting at the computer. Insights often come when you’re not in  the office.

Schupp knows the most important value she adds may come in the shower or when  pushing her daughter in the swing, because her business is always “on” in the  back of her head. So, she doesn’t feel guilt not putting in 80 hours at the  office, because she knows she wouldn’t add as much incremental value.

Realize no one is perfect. Since becoming an  entrepreneur, Schupp’s greatest insight is understanding everyone is human.  “When I was first getting started, I thought people had it together more than  they do and that can seem intimidating as a young entrepreneur,” she says. “In  reality, everyone is just trying to do their best.”

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