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My First Father’s Day: What I’ve Learned About being a Dad and CEO

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This article was originally posted on Fatherly.com

This past December, my wife and I had our first son, Max. Our road to Max was a long and tiring one, with many years of our lives spent chasing the right doctors so we could start a family.

In the midst of my struggle to find the right doctor, my company, BetterDoctor, was born because I realized I wasn’t alone in my frustration with the US health system – millions of other people needed help finding the right doctor too. Coming from backgrounds in tech and design, my co-founder and I realized we might have what it takes to build a really great doctor-finder. In 2011 we launched our company. Since then, we’ve helped millions of people find doctors – likely a lot of people in the same boat as my wife and I: people hoping to have children.

With my first father’s day around the corner, I’m realizing how fast life is moving. I’m trying to be around for as much of Max’s childhood as possible, but as CEO of a company, it’s sort of like having two children. These past six months have taught me a lot about what it means to be a dad and CEO at the same time.

For one, I’m learning my family always comes first. That said, it hasn’t been an easy transition. I think putting your family ahead of your work is especially difficult if you’re the leader of a company. Certainly it’s hard to balance for anyone, but with my team looking up to me at work, it’s been hard to drag myself away from key decisions I would normally be involved with. I’ve had to let go of making some major decisions and trust the incredible people I’ve hired over the years. Thankfully, they’ve been responsive, compassionate and totally up to the task.

I think it’s also hard to peel myself away from work is because I started the company for such personal reasons. I’m no longer working to design games and build entertainment for consumers – I’m helping people connect with care they actually need in order to live.

I’m also realizing just how lucky I am to have both my wife at home and my team at work. My wife is my partner in all things Max – without her, I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I can today. Every day when I come home from a long day at the office and see she’s more tired than I am, it gives me perspective. I have a deep appreciation for her and I know I’m constantly going to be battling for a better balance between family and work.

At work, my team recognizes I can’t always be the first in and last out of the office anymore. My priorities have changed and I’ve noticed people respect that and are understanding. Their support and excitement for my wife and I makes me realize just how lucky I am to have built a culture at work that cherishes and prioritizes family. Last year when we moved to our new office and wanted to throw a housewarming party – out of all the options, the team decided to have a kid-friendly dinner party. It’s been awesome to see the company culture embracing change at the same time I am.

Since becoming a dad, I’ve also learned to live with less sleep. It’s a necessity of parenthood. I’ve also become more calm, humble and grateful as I’ve realized how lucky I am to have everyone around me helping me transition to my new role as dad.

I see many parallels between my role as CEO and dad. Both positions concern tolerating a good deal uncertainty and doing a lot of fire-fighting. The situations I encounter in both roles are not that different – for example: my employee hasn’t shown up to work for five days and my baby hasn’t pooped in five days. Some things are simply beyond my control, but my approach to both situations can be very similar.

Something I’ve also noticed since becoming a dad is the lack of support outside my company. I’m originally from Finland – you know, the welfare, nanny-state where you pay high taxes and have snow for six months a year? There, when you become a parent, you get paid family leave. I love the opportunity here in Silicon Valley, but it’s hard to understand why the US is one of two countries in the world with no paid maternity leave – nevermind paternity leave. It’s crazy to me that we push moms and dads out of some of the most prosperous companies just because they happen to have a baby. Being a dad has given my work new meaning and renewed my motivation to make BetterDoctor even better. I don’t understand how a workforce with that new perspective could ever be a bad thing.

I also haven’t found people marketing to me as a father. There’s so much aimed at women being moms, and so much pressure for them to do everything for their families, but there’s no expectation for dads to carry the same weight. This is really unfair to women, and also sad for dads. I’d love to find networks and communities for dads who are business leaders, but there really isn’t anything out there. The one community I’ve found has been Fatherly, which is great, but not enough in and of itself.

Going into my first father’s day as a dad, I’m realizing how much I have to be thankful for. Topping the list are my incredible wife and amazing son, followed closely by my unbelievable team and company which are already changing so many lives for the better.

Ari Tulla is CEO and Co-founder of BetterDoctor, a health marketplace that helps consumers find the best doctor. He’s a new dad as of December 2014.

 

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