We are pigeonholing the meaning of ‘life’ in the work-life balance argument


How I struggled with the need to justify having an outside passion to my full-time employers.

As many an entrepreneur, I started my e-commerce business part time back in 2014 with a friend, not financially secure enough in my early 20’s to take the plunge full time. In our first year of trading we managed to grow our initial personal investments by nearly 900 per cent, so it was safe to say we were onto a winner and carried on working day-job by day, start-up by night. I was working in the financial markets as a derivatives broker, and whilst I could bore you with the standard article lecturing young start-ups on how you should put away some time for yourself and friends and fun, this was not my struggle at all.

The thing is with jobs in the city, or any job in fact that employs you on a salary, is that the shift is changing from employees being made to feel uncomfortable about flexible work time to fit their children and family, to being made to feel uncomfortable about having an extracurricular passion on the side.

I read so many articles about the fight for the work-life balance, but I feel like we need to broaden the definition of this. Perhaps call it the ‘work-do whatever you the hell you want’ balance.

My job as a broker required me to be in my seat at 8am on the dot, to get the handover from our Singapore office, and carry on the day trading. Leaving the office, a second before 6pm was met with a lot of jeering and gags at your expense, so needless to say most avoided this. I was perfectly happy with this layout and my six years at the broker shop were ones I will remember for the rest of my life. I respected the work place and my boss and the fact that he paid me to work, and not pursue other passions. After all, as an employer and boss of my own company, I would not take someone working on their own projects during working hours lightly.

The trouble began when my start-up started getting in the press. ‘City workers who set up a celebrity-loved jewellery company on the side of their regular jobs get set to turn over a quarter of a million – and they STILL work on the trading floors’ – was one from Daily Mail (thanks DM- i loved it) that didn’t go down so well in the office. Despite me trying to shut down any comments at work, and yes, the broking world would probably evoke more gag-like comments than any other industry, I could not shut them down enough. As more press came out, the more I felt myself getting defensive.

At one point I had computer records pulled to find out exactly how long I spent on my start-ups website during working hours in the last three months. Turns out it was six visits from me, and Dave*, from a desk around the corner, hit three times more than that in the same time frame. Thanks for the traffic Dave – discount on me!

I am by no means knocking my old broking company, they acted like any company and myself would. I am just trying to highlight the injustice of the ‘work-life balance’ argument, and how it should apply to any activity you like, not just what society deems as ‘life’. I’m sure if Paddy’s* daughter won some elaborate prize, or got into Cambridge at the age of 13, HR wouldn’t be checking his computer to see if he was secretly quizzing her on differential equations.

About the author

Ania Kubow started her first e-commerce business (Whistle + Bango) part-time in 2014 with a friend, whilst working full-time as a derivatives broker in the financial markets, London. After growing their initial personal investment nearly 900 per cent in the start-ups first year of trading, she managed to leave the rat race to focus on growing the business full time, as well as starting her new venture with Insurtech Start-up Nimbla.

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