Leaving Startup Land for SAHM Life

My decade-long adventure of leading finance at unicorn-status tech startups ended with becoming a suburban stay-at-home mom; it feels like being on the frontier in outer space and then falling back down to earth.
Written by
Kim Le
Published on
April 3, 2024

Coping With What Doesn’t Happen Next

A woman sits and waits for nothing to come

Recently I’ve been rewatching the Doctor Who revival as I’m going about doing house chores.

For those who don’t know, Doctor Who is a British Sci-Fi TV show about an alien called the Doctor. The Doctor is the last of his species, called the time lord, master of time and space. He has a TARDIS, which is an acronym for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It’s an odd name for a time traveling spaceship disguised as a police box.  The Doctor is depicted as a brilliant mad man with a box, traveling through time and space, picking up companions and altering the course of intergalactic history along the way. Doctor Who is an immensely quirky show with a cult following in the US amongst nerds and geeks. Star Trek has its Trekkies while Doctor Who has its Whovians.

In the midst of watching one episode called the “School Reunion,” the Doctor reunites with one of his former traveling companions, Sarah Jane. After traveling for some time with the Doctor, Sarah Jane gets plopped back down to earth, never to hear from the Doctor again. She confronts him some decades later with an emphatic speech that struck a chord with me:

Sarah Jane: You know what the most difficult thing was? Coping with what happens next. No, with what doesn’t happen next. You took me to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, you showed me supernovas, intergalactic battles and then you just dropped me back on Earth. How could anything compare to that?
The Doctor: All those things you saw, you want me to apologize for that?
Sarah Jane: No! But we get a taste of that splendor and then we have to go back.

A Start-up Feels Like a Constant Adventure

bustling startup office

I may not have gone to the ends of the universe. However, I did get to work during one of the greatest economic booms of our generation when software ate the world. Most of daily life pales in comparison.

When I was working, every day was a stressful and an unnerving adventure filled with ups and downs. Sometimes the world felt like it really was going to end, like when SVB froze all our cash transfers and then promptly went into the U.S. Government’s receivership. Some days it felt like a massive win when you see the millions of dollar of funding hit your company’s bank account.

The White Picket Fence that Was Not

idyllic american dream home with white picket fence

But sitting here, watching a bunch of 2 to 5 year olds doing straddle stretches and roll around on the floor of their gymnastics class, it feels as if none of those experiences ever happened. When I meet parents on my kid’s playdate or go to a neighborhood birthday party, I often get blank stares when I say I worked in start-ups.

Some days feel immensely blissful free from pressure and stress to resolve the next dumpster fire that comes along. There’s the chaos of morning drop-off and bedtime routine, but none are as anxiety inducing or guilt ridden as planning a layoff without being able to tell the colleagues you've known for years that one is coming. Other days feel awfully mundane and mind-numbing to sit in the parking line again for school pick-up, while your kid complains about how awful lunch was today.

It’s a dichotomy. The lives we live for our children and the ones we had before. I no longer watch giddily at my desk with colleagues waiting for the sales response from a new product launch or nationwide marketing campaign. There are no spontaneous trips abroad or weeklong trek in the Mongolian steppe because we have unlimited PTO. There are no year-end corporate parties or team-bonding company-sponsored offsites. There are just the day-to-day grind of morning and bedtime routines, house chores, after school activities, and kids’ playdates.

Most of daily conversations comprise of playground drama, what to eat for dinner, and my kid asking for more TV time, play time, or candy. I really wish OpenAI can create an LLM model that can automatically reply to my kid’s requests that happens every 2 to 5 minutes. Most parents would pay a pretty penny for that.

Thankful for Our Remote Start-up

Remote work has been a boon for my stay-at-home parenting journey. When I log on to have a client meeting or reconnect with an old colleague about work, it feels like I’m able to tap back into my old self. When I hop on weekly to plan the week with my co-founder, I’m grateful we’re working on something aside from my kid’s next playdate.

Even if on most days, we are not sure where this venture is going and if it’ll ever make money, the work adds fulfillment to our lives in immeasurable ways. We have the ability to stay relevant in our careers and with our peers: the challenge of thinking on our feet and scaling our own business and the chance to keep learning and growing our skills and experiences.

Since we got dropped back down to earth, I’ll guess we’ll just have to make our own rocket to launch back into space.

Being a stay-at-home mom in the suburbs is a far cry from leading the finance functions at a silicon valley-backed tech start-ups. After attending one of the most elite universities to working through some of the most beautiful chaos of the start-up world, it’s been a decade long adventure. Being a SAHM now feels like being dropped back down on earth after being out in outer space.

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