If money never sleeps, then those of us who spend our days chasing the filthy lucre should not expect the work life balance to redress itself any time soon, and the curse of it is, the more successful you are, the less downtime you have.
Some of us, however, are blessed with unusually plentiful reserves of energy, and more often than not these are the kind of people who find themselves climbing towards the top of both the social and work ladders.
When most of us are cursing our alarm clocks and mentally preparing for the daily grind that awaits us; the kid’s breakfast, the commute, the breakfast meeting, others are making their way home after pulling yet another all-nighter, either at the office, dealing with a fresh crisis, or because the twilight hours are the only time they have to pursue their social lives, hobbies, or dreams of escaping the rat race once and for all.
This takes a rare kind of dedication, or a rare kind of pressure. The desire to escape from the everyday comes upon all of us from time to time, but it is probably most keenly felt by those who work the longest hours, or who have the largest teams to support, the most weight on their shoulders, or perhaps chasing the greatest rewards. It’s a feeling shared by investment bankers, high flying lawyers, and of course, anyone who has taken the plunge and begun running their own business.
Past-times can range from the mundane, too much Candy Crush saga, to the energetic, the new trend is for pre-work raves where Red bull and glow sticks are swapped with smoothies and Lycra, to the ever more weird and wonderful. These activities increasingly form an essential part of an entrepreneur’s make-up, even giving them a competitive edge, as skills learned and perfected in one walk of life are often transferable into another.
Paulina Sygulska is the founder of Granttree, a Shoreditch based start-up that secures Government grants for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. With a staff of 14 and turnover of £1million, based on £11 million of grants won to date, the business has achieved 300% annual growth for the past 3 years and has worked with many high profile clients on London’s Tech scene, including Duedil.com, GoCardless, Stack Exchange and Kano, and some of Tech City’s most dynamic investors and VCs.
During the early stages of setting up Granttree, Paulina found herself working long hours, typically 5.30am to 7pm, and often attending networking events in the evenings, however she was not satisfied with simply being a successful businesswoman, and found time to pursue a relentlessly active social life.
One night at the Café de Paris in Soho, Paulina saw a burlesque show, and thought to herself, “how cool would it be to be a showgirl after hours”, and decided on the spot that she would give it a try. She is now a fully-fledged burlesque performer, appearing regularly at well-known venues across London. “It was a moment in my life when the business was early stage, I was working over-capacity, and I desperately needed something else to keep me going.”
Turning 30 in September, she has decided to celebrate by putting on a show featuring speeches and performances from five of the people she regards as her most inspiring friends, raising funds for the event via the Gofundme.com platform.
“Being able to do activities that you love gives running a business more meaning, and vice versa”, she says “these days I can no longer imagine developing in only one direction, it would be nowhere near as fun! Why live the life of a successful businesswoman or the life of a quirky and controversial performer when you can do both? At this point I’m convinced you really can have everything, it’s a question of prioritising.”
Interestingly, Paulina quickly discovered that she was not the only person in her business network who indulged in slightly left field extra-curricular activities.
“I think I gathered up many of my best burlesque promoting contacts while attending serious business events. I never expected to end up talking about my hobbies, but soon I discovered that the stern looking lawyer I was talking to was also a magician, and the powerful businessman across the room also owned a small theatre in the West End where they put on alternative shows, doing it purely for the love and not for the profits.”
“It reassured me that the most interesting and successful people lead fuller lives than you might expect, and are prepared to discuss them without embarrassment in any social setting. In these kind of circles the corporate mask isn’t needed because people are simply proud of who they are as a whole.”
Doing business is, above all else, a social endeavour, that tests and often stretches the limits of your personality. When you need to get a deal done, it tends to be the big personalities that come to the fore, those people who are quite prepared to try new things and risk embarrassment, in order to expand their horizons, and ultimately to connect with new and unexpected clients.
Paulina explains “You need plenty of self-belief, coupled with, paradoxically, plenty of humility, insane perseverance (I’m known as a saleswoman from hell!), dexterity, ability to get past disappointments quickly (not the same as having thick skin), and something legendary Tech investor Paul Graham terms naughtiness.
“Although my business follows a traditional model, I like to think of myself as a start-up punk; God Save the Queen, long live disruption, and all that!”
Entrepreneurship is a state of mind, a lifestyle choice based on the idea that you get out what you put in. There is no set path, and you never know what could be around the next corner. Paulina feels that the trick is to stay open minded and channel your energies into achieving your goals in the short term, rather than waiting for the stars to align in your favour.
“Priorities change, dreams and interests get easily put off or forgotten, but it is surprising how many of your goals can be easily achieved with a bit of entrepreneurial nous. I have this massive mood-board on my bedroom wall with a total mess of photos and images on it. I like keeping people, and things that inspire me close by.”
If your life is still a blank canvas waiting to be filled with a highlights reel of your lifetimes achievements, best not put off until tomorrow that which you can do today. If Paulina had thought that way, her life would have all the poorer for it.
this article was first published on Forbes online 21/07/2014