I interviewed with Praetorian’s CEO while holding my baby on my lap. She was in her first few months of daycare – as parents know, that phase means dealing with an endless stream of nasty viruses. In this instance, she was sent home with a fever and I could not find anyone to watch her at the last minute. To be honest, I assumed having a baby on my lap would harm my chances of getting this position. The company might be willing to reschedule, but then I would be that mother who demonstrably prioritized my child over the CEO’s time. A tough predicament, right?
Imagine my surprise when, having notified the Vice President of People of the complication, her response was “Oh, poor baby. Do you want to reschedule or just bring her on the call with you? Nathan won’t mind; he has a child and understands.” I decided to keep the appointment, resisting the inner voice telling me that this would not end well. I logged onto Google Meet, cuddled my feverish baby while talking to this CEO, and to my surprise he did in fact understand. When my daughter began screaming 10 minutes into our interview, he immediately stopped to reassure me that family should come first, and we ended the call far earlier than scheduled, not out of frustration, but out of empathy. I knew at that moment that Praetorian was a special kind of company.
Balance is Unachievable
Work-life balance, as a concept, suggests eternally weighing one thing against another and alternating which side gets to take priority. In work-life balance, one thing must always take the back seat to the other. Achieving that balance rests entirely on the individual and needs to be an invisible effort. For parents, the end result is often a feeling of guilt for even acknowledging a family might need attention.
Rapidly growing companies often promote work-life balance, but then in practice expect the company to be put first. Even progressive, established companies typically have an expectation that the allowances the company makes for employees’ personal lives will be repaid. My favorite example of this is companies with generous parental leave policies (yay!), which then expect employees to balance their generosity with unswerving dedication to work after their return. It does not matter that you now are juggling an infant, the added complication of daycare, or the very real emotional storm that can accompany handing your baby to strangers for the day. When you return to work at these companies you owe it to them to leave all those personal complications at home.
As parents, though, we know that life simply does not work that way. We do not stop being parents when we start work for the day, and we do not stop being professionals when we log off. Both always exist, simultaneously. We can never put one aside entirely. Balancing is a losing proposition for parents because, eventually, we will slip off the tightrope. Therefore, no one at Praetorian talks about work-life balance. We simply do not think of it that way.
Harmony is Sustainable
When two things must exist in tandem, the most effective way to manage them both is to seek harmony between them. “It takes a village,” as the saying goes, and after working here I have realized that an essential part of that village is a corporate culture that allows you to do what you need to do for your family without penalties or judgment. A core value at Praetorian is that we struggle and celebrate together, and I’ve been surprised to find this value demonstrated not only in work situations, but also far beyond.
At Praetorian, family really does come first, just as our CEO told me in my interview. No one cares if you schedule your work hours around your child’s afterschool appointments as long as you keep your calendar current and complete your tasks. One of our top engineers just began an extended paternity leave, and when he returns his management and colleagues realize that his role as a parent has just begun. Our Executives practice the habit of blocking time on their calendars for family-related activity, and encourage all employees to do the same; those family-related blocks are given “do not disturb” priority. If an emergency crops up with someone’s child, their team will step in to cover the gap and then check in to see how things turned out.
Of course, the other side of the work-life harmony equation is effectively managing things on the personal side. I have found it useful to apply the same techniques Praetorian demonstrates in our workplace, to my home life: If I can communicate clearly at work about my family’s needs, then I should communicate clearly at home about my work needs. My spouse and I have a constant dialogue about whose turn it is to manage the children when daycare is closed. We cobbled together a schedule that harmonized both of our jobs and childcare during the pandemic. We prioritize the family things that are most important to us and have learned to be comfortable letting the lower priorities go unaddressed for a bit when necessary. At work, my inbox may have 28 unread emails, while at home we may go to sleep with dirty dishes in the sink. Both of those things are ok. It’s about harmony.
Grit is Essential
You may be wondering how this could even be possible at a startup company. And you are right. During the third quarter of 2021, our two-person recruiting team hired 38 new staff – talk about a busy work season!
During this hiring surge, Praetorian stood by its family-first policy. Throughout Q3 I took pre-planned PTO, as well as some unplanned leave to juggle sick kids and a few hospitalizations. My manager and I defaulted to open with each other throughout the hiring push. I received direct feedback about my performance along with encouragement to work around my family’s needs; in turn, I kept the team informed of familial complications and my progress toward my professional goals. This clear communication is what gave me the space and freedom to meet the needs of my family while also excelling at work.
That is where grit came into play. Ultimately, people who succeed here seize the freedom that management provides for work-life harmony and push themselves toward achieving their individual best performance. During Q3 I worked hard between all the demands from my family and the goals I had set with Praetorian. The hours were crazy, as I knew they would be when I said yes to a recruiting position with a company embarking on a rapid expansion plan. Succeeding at work and caring for my family became a matter of finding the harmony that worked for me, then channeling my determination into doing the best I could in both areas.
What’s my Point?
Parenting is hard. You cannot schedule teething, colds, and ear infections. You just have to go with it. Similarly, working at a scaling start-up is hard. Sometimes product deadlines get pushed, you pivot, priorities shift, and leadership changes. Now couple these things with a pandemic and things get really interesting. But hard doesn’t mean impossible and it doesn’t mean that I am not having fun. Praetorian gives me the space and freedom to prioritize my life outside of work and trusts me to get the work done to help move us forward. It is an environment where mutual success is guaranteed if you are willing to do the work.