Be present during home time. You don’t always need to be working to have success in your career. Without time away, you will soon feel drained. Don’t be afraid to unplug while spending time with your family. You’ll end up feeling more recharged and focused.
As a part of my series about the strategies that extremely busy and successful leaders use to juggle, balance and integrate their personal lives and business lives, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Gulbrandsen.
Sarah has spent the last 15 years helping companies tell their story. As RingPartner’s President, she leads day-to-day business operations, develops company strategy and oversees RingPartner’s growth across departments. Sarah has worked in a variety of roles leading marketing communications strategy, including at digital marketing companies, a Fortune 500 retailer, and also a brief stint in television. Her uplifting and outgoing personality not only gets things done, but motivates others to do the same.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share with us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career?
My career has had many twists and turns, but the one thing that has stayed consistent is the ability to choose roles that cater to my strengths. When people work from a place of strength and passion, it makes everything that much easier & more rewarding. I first entered into the digital marketing space about 15 years ago when I was given the opportunity to be part of a start-up that was eventually sold to a public company. It was there that I also met my current business partners & realized that I loved marketing & helping brands connect with their potential customers. After the start-up was acquired, I spent some time working with some amazing teams in San Francisco. After a few years in the Bay Area, I realized that I wanted a change of pace and decided to move to the west coast of Canada. That’s when I started working with RingPartner and held a variety of different roles. Ultimately that’s what led me to my current role as President & leading the daily operations at RingPartner.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?
I once hit the dreaded “Reply All” to a large group of people at work (there were at least 300+ on that email). I replied with a very personal answer and didn’t hear the end of it from my team for months afterwards. Lesson learned the hard way. I triple check before I send anything out now.
What does leadership mean to you? As a leader, how do you best inspire others?
A leader sets the vision for where the company goes & supports the people on their team to make it happen. A leader needs to have the finesse to know when to dive into certain areas of the company and when to stay out and let their team do their thing.
I am personally an activator. I come in with ideas and help build momentum to give my team the initial push to propel our business forward. People are inspired by leaders who have a vision they can rally behind. They are also inspired by leaders who have their well-being in mind. Put your team first and a successful business will flow out of that.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Todd Dunlop, my current business partner, is a serial entrepreneur & investor. He has been a big part of my career trajectory. Todd provided opportunities early in my career at his first start-up and has been a huge support to this day. He likes to tell people that he stole me from the government. I had just accepted a government admin role when I first met him & he sold me on all the reasons why I should join a start-up instead. My life would look significantly different if Todd wasn’t willing to take a chance on me.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main core of our discussion. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your life into your business and career? Can you articulate what the struggle was?
Someone told me that there are four areas of a person’s life that require attention: family, health (both spiritual & physical), friends and work. Realistically, you can only do three of these four really well at one time. I think these priorities shift depending on the season of your life. I have had to learn to sacrifice things in order to get everything done that I want to accomplish. Sometimes it’s just sacrificing a spin class in order to spend time on a work deadline. One time it was not being home for my daughter’s birthday in order to meet a work obligation. After I missed her birthday, I realized that I was not ok with that compromise and have made life changes in order to ensure that does not happen again.
In order to give greater context to this discussion, can you share with our readers what your daily schedule looks like?
I generally like to start off my day with some form of exercise to clear my brain and get endorphins going. Then at 10:07 every day, my team has a brief company-wide video call to talk about numbers, good news & challenges. After that my work day generally consists of meetings with both people within the company, our clients and within the community. The best part about working from home (which I do more of since COVID) is being able to hang out with my kids at lunch and be a bigger part of their day. I tend to get a second wind in the evening around 8pm and will sometimes spend a couple of hours working on projects until I am ready for either a good book or a new show.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life? Can you explain?
As I began to take on my roles and responsibilities at the company, I had to learn to protect my time. I was flattered when invitations to different committees and outside engagements started to come in that I would overcommit myself. I’ve had to learn to say no to the good, and yes to only the best.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal/family life.
As I mentioned above, I do not ever want to have to choose between missing special life moments with my family and work. In order to make this true for everyone at my company, RingPartner offers a very flexible work environment. It does not matter if team members want to work from home, the office, a boat or a tent in a forest, as long as they have access to the internet and are achieving their targets. It’s about allowing for work/life integration. The first time I started working like this I was amazed by the freedom that comes with not being tied to certain hours or a location in order to get your work done.
Ok, so here is the main question of our interview. Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal/family life? Please share a story or example for each.
- Block out your calendar. This way your team knows when you’re available and when to respect your time away. When you designate time for work and home, it makes it easier for you to “switch off” when at home, or dive-in when it comes to work.
At RingPartner, flexibility is built into our structure. We implemented flexible hours to give people the freedom to structure their workdays as they see fit. This means a schedule that works for work, family, and other responsibilities that don’t always fit into a typical nine-to-five workday.
2. Be present during home time. You don’t always need to be working to have success in your career. Without time away, you will soon feel drained. Don’t be afraid to unplug while spending time with your family. You’ll end up feeling more recharged and focused.
When dinner needs to be made, kids bathed and the house is a mess, usually being an executive is the last thing on my mind. I tend to compartmentalize and can put aside the business portion of my life when I am home. This might mean checking work email after the kids are in bed or even taking a day off just to do something special with them.
3. Energize with exercise. In the midst of work and family time, health often gets neglected, but don’t forget your body needs to move. Not only is it better for your physical health, but it can help release stress.
Early morning spin sessions help me kick start my days off with a productive, endorphin-filled bang. I am hyper-vigilant about getting enough movement every day, so when I’m not tracking my steps or chasing after my kids, I make sure to carve out time for exercise.
4. Don’t neglect sleep. When there are a million things to get done in a day, it’s easy to stay up late working and overextend yourself, but don’t forget to get your rest in! Give yourself time to recharge, your mind and body will thank you.
If given the opportunity I would take a 10–15 minute nap every afternoon. Sleep impacts every other aspect of your performance and well-being. Even if I cannot carve out the time to exercise or read, I will still prioritize sleep. Whether it’s a power nap or simply trying to get an extra hour at night.
5. Dive into your other passions. Keep your mind thriving by indulging in passions other than work and family. Taking time to do the things you love can help lessen mental fatigue.
My passion? Interior design. I love to virtually design rooms in a home, or help a friend with the interior design of their homes. It is a great way for me to unwind, flex my creative muscles that don’t fit into the world of performance marketing, and satiates my desire to see and try new things.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” Jim Rohn.
I love this quote. If you want a big, full and interesting life you have to be willing to take calculated risk and take action when an opportunity presents itself. I have moved my family back and forth from Canada twice because of opportunities and I do not regret a single lesson learned along the way. Life is too short to settle for boring and mediocre.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I live in Canada, but I’m an American. I had the privilege of experiencing parental leave in both countries. The difference was staggering, and not in a good way. The expectations placed on new mothers in the US is atrocious and does not allow for enough time for healed bodies & bonded babies. The parental leave legislation needs a huge overhaul. I would inspire a movement that looks to other nations where they have figured out that balance of extended parental leave and still empowering women to move forward in their careers (without sacrificing precious time with their babies).
What is the best way for people to follow you online?
The RingPartner Instagram account (@RingPartner) is dedicated to the #RedShoeCrew, and showcases what it’s like to work in an organization that values a healthy blend of work and life. You’ll see our team enjoying food from local restaurants at our weekly Lunch & Learns, get involved in community events like Lawn Summer Nights or the annual VIATEC Foundation Food Bank Challenge. On the more personal side, you can pop over to Renovate Celebrate (@RenovateCelebrate) to check out my interior design projects that energize me!
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!