CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Cortina McCurry, CEO & Co-Founder of Caia

Cortina McCurry is the CEO & Co-Founder of Caia (co-founded with Rob Haggett), Australia’s first online on demand health and wellness clinic for women and their families in the workplace.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I am the CEO and co-founder of Caia, Australia’s first on demand life stage company focused on the health and wellness of women and families.

The idea for Caia has been a few years in the making. It really took off after I met my co-founder Rob Haggett and we connected around our shared values, the importance of a new model of holistic and integrative care and being able to move the needle on outcomes in the women’s health arena.

Prior to launching Caia, I was a partner at BCG, where I spent a decade advising organisations across healthcare and operations. My primary interest has always been health and science.

I started out with pre-med training in high school and this took me through college, at which point I became fascinated with the brain and decided to get my PhD in Systems Neuroscience from MIT.

After doing research for a few years, I became quite interested in opportunities for innovation and the ability to make an impact which led me to management consulting. I have now worked all around the world and across four continents which has led to some amazing experiences.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I love the mornings. A typical day for me begins quite early around dawn with a walk along the river to wake up. I will usually listen to a podcast during this time, followed by a bit of meditation or yoga back at home.

I then have about an hour to review my inbox, respond to emails and check off any to dos in Asana before I hear the footsteps of my daughter pitter pattering into my office and the morning whirlwind begins.

At this point work gets put to the side as she usually climbs into my lap for a cuddle, we catch up on how we slept and our plans for the day, and then eat breakfast together, get dressed and she is off to school with her Dad.

By 8:30 am I am usually in meetings or on calls with either the team, a potential investor, customer, or partner and it is full steam ahead into the work day and ensuring both our users and practitioners are happy and supported.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Absolutely. I am a huge proponent of flexible and remote working. For me the most important thing is that the work gets done, how and where are less critical factors. I’ve always found that my happiest teams are those where I let them work in the way and environment that is most comfortable with them.

I work from Melbourne most weeks of the month, and then try to spend at least a week in Sydney with the team there. My co-founder Rob, usually comes down for one week out of the month to Melbourne as well.

As a working mom, I find this flexibility of the utmost importance. It means that I am never too far away if my husband or daughter needs me (her school is at the end of our street) and at least a few days a week I am able to pick her up and walk home – if meetings allow.

It really is the little things, by being able to work remotely I am able to be present both at home and at work and I am able to tailor my schedule so neither party sees too little (or in some cases too much!) of me.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

Overcommunication. Specifically, voice communication. For me one of the biggest shortcuts is picking up the phone. Over my years in management consulting I’ve found that one of the best ways to cut down on the hours at work, is to cut down on the number of unnecessary emails.

It just saves on miscommunication, unnecessary back and forth and frankly – time. I’ve even started sending audio snips instead of texts for quick updates.

I also love a really good list. There is something satisfying about knowing you have captured all of the ‘to-dos’ required to accomplish a goal within a framework that is MECE.

There may be fleeting anxiety at times around working through that list but it is balanced by the recognition that there is nothing to do that is missing which I find incredibly satisfying.

5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

For me work-life balance is about meaning and purpose. Specifically, living life on purpose. The first rule to that is ensuring I am spending any time away from family on a worthwhile endeavor, one that gives me energy as opposed to taking it away.

On the flip side, when I am spending time with my family I put the phone away. I learned this lesson the hard way with my daughter when she was 2 years old. I sat down to “play” with her which usually meant me half attending to her and also glancing at my phone.

This time around she told me she wanted to be the mommy and I could be the baby. I agreed, and she said “Give me your phone”. Curious, I obliged. She then sat down and started to mirror my unconscious behavior.

She handed me a toy and when I started to play with her, she said “just a sec” turned away and pretended to fiddle with the phone. The kicker was when she got up with my phone and holding out her hand with five fingers extended, said “I’ll be right back. Just give me 5 minutes”. She then walked out of the room. That role play hit me right in the heart and I have changed my behavior since.

I am also diligent about making sure I spend time just for me on things I love or just good old fashioned self-care – whether that is reading a book, getting a massage or facial, spending time with friends one on one, getting out in the garden, or designing something new.

I got over this idea of mom guilt early on and I have found I’m a much better mother and wife, when I take a bit of time for me.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I don’t know if I would call it a habit or a mindset, but for me there are two mantras that are often playing in my head. The first being “win or learn” which is a great reminder to face my fears head on, giving each situation my all and taking risks.

The second being, “hold nothing too tightly” which is a great complement to the first mantra, and essentially reminds me that while I am making an impact through my work, I am not saving lives.

I try not to let my work define me, and when a crisis (or apparent crisis) arises I work through it methodically as opposed to letting anything related to work overwhelm me.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

An all time favorite is The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. While it is focused on neuroscience, it is relevant to the day to day infused with proof points around what we are all capable of and the incredible ability of the brain to change itself. It would convert the most pessimistic individual into an optimist.

I love Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. It helps me to catch myself and change course when I start to take on a fixed mindset or language as opposed to a learning and exploratory growth mindset.

The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary blew my mind and changed the way I parented.

A friend recommended one recently that I found inspiring just by the title alone, Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyways! by Susan Jeffers

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I carve out time every single morning for a bit of exercise and to reflect, meditate, or journal. I used to say I didn’t have time or that time was too scarce to be able to get these habits in but I have learned over the years that time is what you make it and I am always the better for taking a pause.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I think perspective is everything. So much of my training as a neuroscientist has found its way into how I live my life. Our brains like certainty, but it isn’t reality.

Over the years I’ve learned to get comfortable with the constancy and discomfort of uncertainty. I make the lists, I come up with a plan and a schedule and try to stick to it, but ultimately there is always something that may throw things off track.

I try to approach each day with a sense of adventure and curiosity recognizing that as much as I may try to plan or control, the unexpected and surprising will happen – sometimes in the most delightful ways.

If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.