10 lessons for achieving balance in life and business

Earlier this year, International Women’s Day highlighted the theme of #BalanceforBetter. But as female entrepreneurs, how do you balance better for you and your life?

It’s tiring, it’s hard, you have to dig deep, especially when you may feel that you’re giving more and getting less in return than those with a Y chromosome.

Over time, I have built out several coping mechanisms which support me in consistently pushing through, bettering myself, giving myself permission to raise my voice and disagree with others where necessary. 

Over the years I have learnt some lessons which have kept me going – I hope they add value to you too!

1) Build a network of ‘you’ champions

These are super-qualified, super-inspirational people – could be friends and family, or in your trusted network of people who truly know and ‘get’ you – from whom you may aspire to learn and grow. These people cancel out the negativity. For example, if someone senior in your professional life makes you feel you’re worthless – take a moment to check in with your YOU champion and ask for their honest feedback. If they tell you you’re awesome but you need to work on xyz, then you’re back on balance. 

2) Make your ‘I’m awesome’ list and keep it handy

Write down a list of everything you believe you’re good at. I’ve got one on my iPhone notes. I’ve also encouraged my team members to do this. Everything you have done well – create an evidence-based approach to this. What have you led on, or worked on with your team (or even personally) that’s gone really well? Well then, YOU did that! Write it down. Note it. Remember it. You are good. Flick back at that list to remind yourself of the small wins when you’re getting knocked. It has happened before and it’ll happen again, so consider this list your talisman against any negativity.

3) Don’t always be cynical

Not everyone is out to get you – there is a difference between ignorance and malice, and while I am by no means condoning either, we should aim to empathise and forgive where possible. Where you are able to correct – do so. Pick your battles. Society is changing, and that means our male counterparts are learning to evolve too. Let’s encourage and empower them to balance for better too. IF they aren’t open to it – well then – go for it. Raise your voice (peacefully), campaign (through data, logic and by just being human), let them know change is going to happen, regardless of whether they can get with it or not. Sorry guys!

4) Speak up

Don’t ever feel that you aren’t eligible to put forward your opinions, suggestions, ideas, solutions, whatever your role is. Minute taking, but have something to contribute to the discussion that you think might make sense? Say it. You are valued. And yes, there may be attempts to shut you down, but if you get ten of those for one ‘what a great idea!” response, then you’re winning. Remember – it’s really just about probability. (This is not an encouragement for speaking for the sake of speaking – nobody should be doing that!)

5) Ask for help

It is okay to not know, it is okay to be unsure, it is very good to say, ‘I do not understand’. Short term, if you’re dealing with a judgemental person, they may question you – long term – it’ll add value to you, your work, your life, your understanding and betterment. Sacrifice temporary embarrassment for greater gain. The kind of people you want to learn from and work with won’t ever judge you for saying you don’t understand.

6) Dig deep

When people question you, and question your worthiness, ask yourself a few key questions: what are their motivations? Who’s had a go at them? Why did they feel the necessity to undermine you? This is where you show grace. And if you truly get to the point where you’ve had enough, just say “thanks for your feedback” and move on. Don’t let other people’s insecurities become your problem.

7) Check yourself

Be conscious of your everyday actions and how they impact others. How they make others feel. Don’t become that person that made you feel like X. Ever. Some conflict is unavoidable but staying conscious of and true to who you are at your core is something you should never forget. 

8) Know it’s okay to cry

Crying is actually alright. I do cry, and I find it to be quite cathartic. It doesn’t make me a loser, weak or incapable. Just as a human who’s had a long day, taken a few knocks. I cry – rationalise – move on. Start again. 

9) Support other women

Please. All too often, women talk a good game about the importance of this, but I know that in the past I have been pushed down by people of all genders. If you can motivate, support, encourage and empower other women, then do it – actually do it. Wish for them more success than you wish for yourself. Believe in them. And please don’t suppress to compete. We are all on our own journeys. There is genuinely room for everyone. 

10) Cold call a potential mentor

Don’t limit your options when it comes to advisors/life mentors. I’ve on-the-spot asked people I’ve met who I really admire if they would spare an hour every three months for a call or to meet. Of course, I work around their schedules, but when you show that you’re committed and you believe they can add real value to your journey, awesome people generally will always say yes. Map out a list of 50 or so ideal targets and reach out. You never know. As I said before —-most things are just probability. 

Keep trying to balance for better for yourself. We all have our voices, our space, our knowledge and intuition of who we are.

Ana Bakshi is Director of the Oxford Foundry, the University of Oxford’s entrepreneurship centre.