The Millennial Dream: The Truth About Becoming A CEO

23rd August 2018

It’s 01:29 in the morning.

I can't sleep. I’m alone in a dark basement room in an unremarkable hotel in Amsterdam. I’m 32. I’m 8 months a CEO. I’m allegedly the youngest female in the UK running a £100,000,000 company. I’m a goddam media dream. I just ate chips for dinner out of a paper cone. 

People always ask me “how did you get to where you are against the odds?”

“The odds” I assume are, 1. having a vagina and 2. not being old enough to have taken O-Levels. Not exactly X-Factor worthy struggles, but I’ll take it nonetheless.

I always worry about how to answer this question. I feel the pressure to say something helpful. Something encouraging. And modern. Something that gives hope - about balancing work and family and friends and hobbies and wellbeing. Something that makes it easier to believe. Something that fits the millennial dream.

You know that feeling you have that you are an imposter in your own life? That you’ve got to where you are by sheer fluke? That at any moment you will be found out? The fear that keeps you awake at night, wondering when someone is finally going to sweep in, thank you for your time and acting skills, and unceremoniously tell you it’s time to f**k off…..

I’d love to tell you you’re wrong. But you’re not. You are an imposter. And so am I. The truth is, I sleep six hours a night if I’m lucky. In the last 90 days, I’ve spent 59 nights away from home. This is perhaps made even more prominent by the fact that this is also the first 90 days of my married life… I start every day with good intentions and then often end up eating a Snickers for breakfast from the vending machine, because I know I won’t leave the office. I wake up thinking about work. I work in bed in the evening until my husband wrestles my phone off me. I work harder than most people. It’s really as old fashioned as that I’m afraid. And I absolutely love it.

I would be lying if I told you I hadn't dreamt of being successful. I never imagined a CEO title - those were for men. More specifically, American men. But I always knew I wanted to be someone. I watched Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl” on repeat growing up. I’m a youngest child. A Cambridge graduate, an ex-Big Four employee and a Founder. Whether I ever dared to say it out loud or not, this is what I always wanted.

I’m your classic over-achiever and I work far too hard. And what’s probably worse, I don’t care. The Millennial dream of work life balance, the “you can have it all”, the “it’s about output not input”, the “it’s not about the hours you work anymore… it’s about how productive you are.” ….unfortunately it’s bulls**t. In my opinion.

Sure there are lottery winners, and people who start out with money they can invest to make more. But I can’t imagine there are many CEOs or self-made millionaires out there, who started with nothing, and managed to get to where they are working 3 days a week. The fact is, it’s both. Because as productive as I am, as “smart” as I try and work - I’ll wager I can still get more shit done in 15 productive hours than anyone can in 6. The sun still rises at the same time. There is still the same number of hours in the day. And I will spend more of them working than most people will.

Don’t get me wrong, work life balance is important. And it’s important to get this balance right for you. And that’s different for every single person. And even for the same person at different points in their life. It definitely doesn’t mean that everyone’s life is a see-saw, perfectly suspended in mid-air at 180 degrees – never tipping one way of the other. I’m deaf in one ear – so my balance is completely trashed anyway… but my work-life seesaw is exactly where I need it to be at this precise stage in my life – with 3 metaphorical fat-kids sitting on the work side, wondering why the damn thing won’t move.  

We want to convince ourselves the world has changed. That we want to work from home 2 days a week because it makes us more productive… not so we can set the alarm 40 minutes later, let the plumber in, get some life admin done, check our emails intermittently and have Love Island on in the background while we eat our lunch.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we should be looking after ourselves. I love meditation. It keeps me sane. I have the upgrade on the upgrade on the upgrade of Headspace. I once took three months off work entirely to escape to Asia and do a yoga course. I have a vegan food box delivered to my door (intermittently between burgers). I’m not an idiot. I know that not being dead is important to my long-term success. But unfortunately, so is having dates with my husband on facetime, and sleeping in strange basement hotels in strange cities as often as I stay in my own bed.

Unless you invented facebook. (I didn’t). Or you’re Emily Ratajkowski (I’m not. I can’t even spell it), taking photos of your brunch and talking about how you actually came up with the idea for Uber 3 years before Uber, is not going to make you a millionaire. 

The problem solving, the office politics, the sacrifices, the weird hours, the birthday parties you missed, the tears, the migraines, the coffee binges, the 3am panic attacks, the euphoria when it works, the big decisions and the constant fear that sits in the pit of your stomach when you know you’re responsible for the livelihood of hundreds of other people. I’m afraid that’s still the top job in the company you work at. And you either want it, or you don’t.

The important thing to remember, is that you have 50 years of career to stumble through. And so much can change in just one year. It’s ok to see your life in chapters – and not all of the chapters have to be about work. So how did I get here, “against the odds”? Unfortunately the truth is boring, I just frontloaded the work chapters.

We all want to have it all. And we can have it all. I believe that. I hope it’s true! But you must never, never feel guilty about not being able to have it all at once. It’s too hard. Let’s work as a team. Let’s share the burden like a village. You do more next year, so I can have some kids… 

It’s 02:14 in the morning

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