Startup:Life — Owning your choices in love, work and life

Illustration by graffiti artist Dran. Captured by Dr. Case | Flickr via Creative Commons

In her mid-20s, Amye Scavarda decided to place her dating life on hiatus while working for a startup:

“No one wants to hear that they’re not your first priority, and in startup-land, to make it work, your priorities have to be on your business. To the outside world, this makes you look like a very passionate, fun person to be around who’s completely on fire about a billion projects. Inside, you’re not really in a space to be able to let anyone else into that world. That’s what’s called ‘being unavailable.’”

The conflict Amye was feeling—that she simply didn’t have enough “availability” to go around—is nothing new. Ever since ancient man left his cave to hunt down dinner, the concept of “work life balance” has plagued society.

Life, it seems, has always been divided into two categories: Survival activities (work) and everything else (dubbed, generically, life).

The demands of the startup world can often create a tug of war between the two as each side fights for its fair share of time, energy and attention.

The struggle itself isn’t really the problem. After all, we’re only human. We have limited resources with which to work and play. We have to distribute them somehow.

The problem is that, unlike Amye, too many people are unwilling to take an active role in the fight. They simply stand by, watching work and life duke it out, letting the chips fall where they may.

Amye’s brilliance isn’t necessarily in the decision she made. It’s that she got in the ring at all.

She wasn’t willing to play the victim. She made a conscious choice about where to dedicate her resources. She looked at her priorities—in that moment—and took ownership of her life.

She made the choice and that’s what makes her story unique.

It’s much easier to bend to the expectations of others, to let “decisions” about where your resources are distributed simply happen as a consequence.

But here’s the thing: We’re not powerless. We all make choices, each and every day, whether consciously or unconsciously. We prioritize one thing above another. We make ourselves available for this, unavailable for that. But instead of taking ownership of our choices, we pretend like they’re happening to us, and that fundamentally changes the way we feel about them.

There’s a great lesson in Amye’s story: Take responsibility for your life. It’s empowering to be the decision-maker. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. When it comes to work life balance, these aren’t black and white issues. Amye could have taken a dozen other paths. Regardless of which one she chose, she put herself in the driver’s seat.

The hard part in all of this is that accepting responsibility for the decision also means accepting responsibility for the outcome. When you work an 80-hour week, you’re choosing not to use those hours in other ways—at the gym, with the family, etc. You can’t then turn around and wonder why you’re 30 pounds overweight and your wife is threatening divorce.

I’m not sure how Amye Scavarda deals with this “outcome” side of the coin. I wonder if she ever has moments of regret—lonely Friday nights, for example—when she’s tempted to shift the blame away from herself. And, instead of taking proud ownership of her no-dating decision finds herself cursing the unrealistic demands of her job.

I tried to ask her in an email but am still waiting to hear back. Surprising? Not one bit.