The woman entrepreneur is the busiest person during this Movement Control Order (MCO). We are running our business, taking care of our families, home schooling our children, doing housework in between Zoom meetings, getting the groceries; the line between work and home has blurred with constantly being at home. We are mother, daughter, aunty, sister, boss, nanny, teacher and wife - all at the same time.
COVID-19 has upended our entire lifestyle, both at the work place and at home. I actually miss wearing makeup and dressing up to go to work; for those who know me, this would be really funny since I am not the most fashionable woman out there. I even miss the traffic jams, having physical meetings and going to the office.
What is the new normal for women entrepreneurs?
I remember my first week of work from home (WFH). As Asian woman, we have been conditioned to look at house work as our main job at home. I could not stop myself from cleaning the house. It has become an obsession since I can no longer get my cleaners to come. I realised the first reality of the new norm; we not only work from home, all work at home is also ours to do.
My company builds mobile apps and as a technology-based company, we can move our office to the home though it took time for my team to find the rhythm of working from home. Thus the second reality of the new norm; the office is actually the place we socialise as human beings. This interaction is still needed for a young programmer who feels lost without having a mentor at hand.
Being a technopreneur, I wanted to live a disconnected life at home, thus I have no WiFi and no cable TV. I didn’t want my child to grow up on YouTube and playing games all the time. This is great on a normal day but not so cool when you are at home all the time. Truly appreciated the 1GB free data a day which I shared between my Zoom meetings and my son’s Roblox which also forced us to limit our time spent online. So the third reality I faced is that the Internet is now a necessity for the new norm.
Unexpectedly, my greatest challenge with WFH has been home-schooling my six-year-old child who would rather play Roblox than do homework. We had started the year by going to Standard 1 at 6.30 am and I would see him again at 7 pm. This new norm now puts us in 24-hour contact every day. We used to hang out at the mall on weekends, with me squeezing in some meetings in between. To my surprise, I found that he has picked up a tremendous amount of vocabulary, albeit those used in Roblox but it is still amazing. I also discovered that he is a funny little guy and he can quickly pick up new skills like making his own milk when I am too occupied with Zoom. This is the most rewarding reality of the new norm where families really “see” each other.
How to keep your sanity
Adjusting to any lifestyle change takes effort. Here are some steps I take to keep sane:
1. Take time for yourself
I found that without the activity of physically going to work and coming home, I end up working from 5.30 am to 9.30 pm, and I stop only because my son insists that it is time for bed. Often times, I continue working after he has gone to sleep.
I realised soon that this is not a healthy lifestyle but it still took me eight weeks before I actually took last weekend off. Give yourself permission to take time for yourself. Though it is only me and my son at home, we do spend time in separate rooms to detach from each other.
2. Find your support network
I have two main support groups – one consisting of my fellow women entrepreneurs at WENA (Women Entrepreneur Network Association) Malaysia and friends, the other a business networking group called BNI. These support networks are needed more than ever, these are the people who will listen to your problems, give you new ideas, and provide emotional and business support when needed. It can also be your group of friends; it can be your family members or colleagues. At WENA, we are a group of women entrepreneurs who provide networking and business opportunities to our fellow women (find us at www.wena.my and FB.)
3. Learn something new
Remember, all the time we tell ourselves, I would like to learn that but I don’t have time? More than ever, this is the time. I see my friends learning new cooking recipes, building things, going to online webinars, taking classes. If you get out of the MCO without learning at least one new skill, it is not the lack of time holding you back but the lack of discipline.
You are a diamond in the rough
In these challenging times, I am lucky that my business can still go on. I am lucky that if I need to go to the office, I can drop off my son at my mom’s place and have quiet time to myself.
Many women entrepreneurs out there face tremendous pressure in not being able to conduct their businesses, especially those in the women-dominated industry like child care, kindergarten, food, beauty and wellness. To those having a tough time, please hang in there and don’t give up, for this too will pass.
Women are well designed to face the many facets of managing their lives and businesses. I also believe that whatever that doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Remember that it takes a tremendous amount of pressure and heat to create diamonds. You are a diamond in the rough and these challenges will allow that diamond inside of us to shine. Stay safe, stay sane and stay strong.
Nuraizah Shamsul Baharin is the Managing Director of a startup called Madcat World focusing on mobile technology and lifestyle apps for communities. She is also the current president of WENA.
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