I remember when I was growing up, my dad would read the local newspaper in the morning with his cup of tea, and a plate of runny eggs and toast. In the evenings, he came home by 6pm and would watch the CBS evening news and help us with our math homework. On some nights when he had dinner meetings, he would come home with leftovers for the next day. But then he started traveling more globally as we grew up, and he would only be back home in a handful of days.
And when my dad was home, he was completely disconnected. There was no way for work to get in touch with him. Apart from the occasional moments when the landline would ring with his boss on the other end.
As an immigrant, my father struggled to build a great life for my mom, my brother and I. And yet at the same time, he had one enormous luxury I am not sure I will ever truly have. The luxury of disconnecting from work when at home.
Because once my first shift ends, my second shift begins. I happily threw work life balance out the window, and readily accepted work life integration. Believing this was the more modern, progressive solution. Except that work continues to slowly seep into my home life, long after Ihave shut off my laptop.
"I hate to bother you so let me just text you. Or do you want to FaceTime? How about Blue Jeans or Zoom or Skype? Just make sure you select both audio and video."
"I can call you if that's easier- is that your work cell or personal cell? And then I'll email you to recap what we discussed."
And as I try to sneak in the video chat, text, or call, or that one last email… one more, and then one more… my husband is screaming, we are out of wipes! And where is my son's gym shirt? Still in the washer. (Why does the school only provide one for the whole year?) My daughter has a meltdown because she can't find the rock she picked on her way from school. My son somehow finds the Ipad and is watching Captain Underpants… again…as I hear farting sounds mixed with laughter, all while I also try to examine if this bread is really expired? I think I can still use this for school lunches.
Then it starts all over again, with the 5am wake up from my daughter who has made it into our bed and kicks me in the face. I am exhausted just from typing it all for you to read. But when did being exhausted become a badge of honor?
Because if you are not exhausted then you really aren't working hard. And somehow "working smart" and "not working hard" sound like you have gamed the system and taken short cuts to climb that corporate ladder. Surviving not thriving is my way of signaling that I am 'Super Woman'. I am pushing through it all, and I am too cool, too busy, to do yoga or meditate or take a lunch break. Or do a walking meeting. And no, I don't own a fit bit.
And when someone says "I am thriving, not surviving" my brain short circuits for a second. There are people who are thriving? While living in a dual career household with children?
And so on this World Mental Health Day, I am on my own journey to disconnect. I am trying hard. I am trying hard to recharge my brain. I am trying hard to just have moments of just being. And doing nothing.
I don't pick up my phone anymore at 3am to start reading, responding to emails, or watching Netflix. I don't book myself in meetings solid from morning, noon and night. I don't apologize for watching '90 Day Fiance', 'The Other Way', 'Married at First Sight' or other reality shows hidden on my DVR. I don't skip lunch anymore. I don't drag myself into work or log on when I am sick- I take a sick day. Technically you are not supposed to work when you are sick, I think.
I still say yes to being available during my second shift. I still check my phone too often- mostly for my work email. I still worry about not responding to people fast enough- and what they might think of me. I still email on the weekends- I try hard not to on Sunday nights. I still think about that email I forgot to send in the shower. I still dislike yoga. And I fall asleep when I meditate. Sometimes my mind is too full of "to-Do" lists to practice "mindfulness."
But I am still on my journey to disconnect. It's a work in progress, that's why it's called a 'journey'.
So as you think of your own mental health journey, please don't treat yourself like an Uber app. Please don't treat others like an Uber app. Stop acting like you are an Uber app. Because guess what? You are not.
Our obsession with being always on, always available, always responsive has consequences. If my Uber App crashes, I just turn my phone off and then back on and Voila! My Uber app is back up and running. Magically reset. Ready to connect me with 8 nearby drivers, ready to take me anywhere I need to go, any time, day or night.
But when I crash. When WE crash. It's usually not as easy as hitting that one reset button.
I am still chasing that luxury of disconnection. Maybe I should start by adding a plate of runny eggs and toast to my morning routine or at the very least a cup of tea. Hmm. Do we even have a local newspaper? Maybe Apple News will suffice.
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Organic growth has made all the difference for my company. Since its start in 2010, Fresh n' Lean has delivered more than 7.2 million organic meals that are free of pesticides, hormones, GMOs, and other additives. The business itself has grown organically, too, without the help of any outside capital. Over the past decade, Fresh n' Lean's bootstrapped operation has grown into a 220-employee company with nine-figure revenue.
Here's how I've been able to successfully build my business without taking on a penny of outside funding.
1. A Hard Decision
The decision of whether or not to take on outside capital is a difficult one.
I was lucky— I relied on personal savings to fund Fresh n' Lean at the company's onset. I thought Fresh n' Lean was a meaningful endeavor, and I believed in myself and my vision.
Not every business owner would be financially able to make the same decision I did. Either way, it's important that your company's growth happens gradually and naturally.
2. Start Small
I was an 18-year-old college student when I launched Fresh n' Lean.
I would regularly work upwards of 20 hours a day— cooking dishes, arranging the meals in tupperware containers, handwriting the labels, and personally delivering them to some of our earliest customers.
Pretty soon we were shipping meals nationally, and I began renting a commercial kitchen space.
We generated a ton of enthusiasm from our customers, and that support prooved that we were on to something. But the early days featured lots of trial and error. We made mistakes and learned from them before scaling the business.
3. Rely On Your Network
Fresh n' Lean started with a team of five people. My friends and relatives chipped in, and my brother Thomas joined Fresh n' Lean as co-CEO.
Relying on those close colleagues was so meaningful in helping me get the company off the ground. I often look at Fresh n' Lean's employees as a family, and that mentality was especially true in those early days.
As I ramped up the hiring, my experiences with every aspect of our operation made me sharp at understanding the company's needs— and helped me to hire employees with the right skill set and mentality to drive the company forward.
4. Hold Firm
Fresh n' Lean embodies a lifestyle choice, a chance for everyone in the United States to have access to nourishing meals amid their busy lives.
We probably could have driven more sales by offering non-organic meal options, but I wanted the company to remain true to my mission.
A decade later, I'm so proud to see the impact Fresh n' Lean has made in redefining fast food.
5. Capitalize On Industry Trends
We live in a society of instant gratification— we want everything now, and our world is completely focused on convenience.
When Fresh n' Lean was launched, the idea of receiving ready-to-eat meals on your doorstep was a strange concept. But a decade later, we're used to having everything delivered to our homes. Recognizing and capitalizing on those changing consumer habits was a big part of our growth.
6. Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
For years, I wanted to open our own kitchen facility— it was a top priority.
But building the space was a difficult and extensive process that could have financially devastated us if we attempted it too soon. In those early years, the project would have left the company too vulnerable.
Instead of moving forward with the project, we waited. In the meantime, we continued renting commercial kitchen space. One day a week turned into two, and then three and four, and eventually we were renting the space five days a week.
In time, we had no other options but to build our own kitchen facility— and our restraint before moving forward with that project was crucial, even if it was frustrating for the short-term.
7. Focus On You
As you build your company, it's easy to try to compare it to the growth other companies experience.
But headlines and press releases don't reveal the full story, and outside funding can mask structural and foundational problems. One example is the online ordering and meal delivery service Munchery, which secured more than $125 million from lenders before closing in early 2019.
Every company's story is unique! You can't judge your company's success based on the ups and downs of others. Focus on making your company the best you can.
8. One Thing At A Time
Our meal offerings have expanded through deliberate, strategic planning and extensive customer feedback.
Building the recipes takes time— we want to be sure to get it right. And our customer feedback ensures that there's built-in interest before rolling out new meal options.
9. Be Resourceful
Building the company without outside capital forced me to be more resourceful. I couldn't throw money at everything I wanted to change— I had to be patient and find alternative solutions.
It's similar, in a way, to cooking a dish without having every ingredient listed in the recipe. You must have the key ingredients! Our executive chef was one of our earliest hires.
But you can adjust and improvise on some of the secondary ingredients, using whatever alternatives you have available and relying on tried-and-true methods to fill in the gaps.
Who knows? Through experimentation, you just might find a better way to cook your dish or guide your company forward.