I’m not perfect. At being a father or running a startup.
I’m 33 with two kids ages 7 and 5. I remember when they were younger. I would work until 3 a.m. on something I thought was extremely valuable at the time. My daughter would wake me up at 7 a.m., tugging on the sheets, “Daddy, get up.” Scrambling out the door, many times with their clothes on backwards, I’d throw some cereal in a red plastic cup with milk and a spoon for them to scarf down in the car.
Every morning was near chaos, only to arrive at school five minutes late, my two kids crying in the backseat, “Daddy, we can’t be late again!” Getting back in the car, I’d breathe, relieved to have survived the morning. But totally depressed and guilty for missing another moment in their lives. Rinse and repeat each morning and you have my children’s childhood.
We are all procreators. We strive to create things that outlive us and to scale ourselves. As parents and entrepreneurs, we have a double bottom line. How do we scale a business to make money? And how do we scale ourselves through our kids?
I remember one Christmas Santa brought our kids one of those building sets with a million small tiny pieces. Sometimes I think people like to torture us by giving gifts that stay embedded in every piece of furniture and tuft of carpet for eternity.
The kids fought over the pieces as they tried to create this replica elementary school building that was well beyond the age of difficulty. At every turn, my son would smash what my daughter built. Then my daughter would retaliate, stealing a piece from her brother. Tears ensued. Then timeout. And then the pieces would be packed up, only to be brought out days later, still half built with pieces missing.
Thinking back, this present was a perfect metaphor for our bottom line as fathers and entrepreneurs. We constantly switch our attention between the building blocks important to our children’s lives and to our livelihood — often leaving both half built.
Building a startup is hard. Building a startup and a family is even harder.
So, what’s my advice to you? Sadly, if there was an easy answer, we’d all have successful startups and families nestled in perfect houses with white picket fences.
If you’re a startup parent, go give your kids a hug today. If you know a startup dad or mom, go give him or her a hug. And give the advice a good friend once told me. You’re not perfect. You’ll never be. And it’s OK.
Stop building all the time, put the pieces down and enjoy the moment once in a while. Your kids and co-founders will remember that moment far more than the building you’re trying to erect.
Jon Kohrs works in user experience design in public policy and infrastructure sectors. Once a band geek, twice a father and forever a Wildcat, Kohrs was farm-raised in rural Kansas and is now rooted in Kansas City.