How would my startup fare during my mat leave? Surprisingly well, it turned out

Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2016 5:00AM EST
Last updatedFriday, Jan. 08, 2016 9:15AM EST

Five years ago, I co-founded a mental health clinic in downtown Toronto, and I feel like it’s been a whirlwind ever since.

Being in a startup is an intense experience – and to make it even more intense – I started this business with my mom and my best friend. Like most entrepreneurs, our new company was our baby.

Growing up, I never saw myself as an entrepreneur, or as someone who would end up focusing to such a degree on my career. Now, I can’t imagine what it would feel like not to have done this, not to see the world through the eyes of a business founder.

I would wake up at night obsessing about the next step, and about the solution I needed to find. It was often all encompassing – my work felt like an intoxicating drug. Sometimes, I even felt trapped, dare I say desperate to make it work.

I remember looking at my co-founder Lauren one day, when we were trying to get through a challenging HR situation, and together realizing that we were almost an entire staff of women who were, or soon would become, women who would want to have children and need to take maternity leaves.

We felt stuck. We were consumed by the challenge of it.

I was afraid we wouldn’t make it – we wouldn’t be able to pay our staff – we wouldn’t be able to do what we set out to do. I didn’t want to fail. We wanted to have control of the situation and feel secure in the future of our business.

What we didn’t know was that maternity leaves would make our business better, and bring back the perspective we needed. When I took my leave, we hired an incredible team to take over. When Lauren took her leave, I saw so many members shine and grow their passion for the Springboard Clinic.

We learned to replace ourselves. We stepped aside and began to see the beauty in what Springboard had become. It had its own pulse. It lived and breathed and survived. It only did that because we learned to trust, to make ourselves replaceable, and free to enjoy space and time with our little ones. When I was on maternity leave, Lauren would call me, and suddenly I could say with a calm voice: “It’s okay. The big picture is all good.” I could pull her out of the fog. And now, she can do the same for me.

Being in a startup shouldn’t be about “fighting for your life.” It’s only like that if you let it be. And if it is, maybe it’s time to ask yourself: How do I step away, how do I take a breather, and how do I learn to share the load?

And maybe if you let it, your business can begin to live on its own. By sharing the load, you can develop the necessary outside view to make it all worthwhile.

Laura MacNiven is the director of health education at Springboard Clinic, a mental health resource focusing on ADHD and learning challenges.

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