Balancing the Grind with Christie Jenkins, Investor at Blackbird

Christie Jenkins is an Investor at Blackbird Ventures, and a retired professional athlete having represented Australia in 3 different sports – trampolining, CrossFit and beach volleyball.

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

Sure thing! Right now I work in the investment team at Blackbird Ventures. Working at Blackbird was my dream job. And 1 year into the role the reality is living up to the dream. How many people get to say that? I’m also an advisor at Athletic Ventures which marries my love of sport and my love of venture investing. 

I’ve recently retired from professional sport. Over the last 30 years I’ve played 3 different sports for Australia – trampolining, CrossFit and beach volleyball. In all of them I’ve been ranked #1 in Australia and top 10 in the world.

Before I got into venture capital I spent a decade in management consulting and strategy roles for companies like ANZ, CBA, Virgin and Bupa. 

And lastly I do keynote speaking on athlete mindset – how leaders and teams can embed the elite thinking from elite sport into their company. 

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

I spend about 60% of my time looking for new investments – that means reviewing pitch decks, meeting with founders, and doing the deep thinking needed to decide on whether this could be a generational investment.

The rest of my time I either support portfolio companies, or I do what I can to help grow the startup ecosystem. Two projects I’m involved in on that front are Giants which helps 500 idea stage founders a year validate their idea and build their MVP, and the (coming soon!) Athlete Fellowship hosted by Startmate to help athletes enter the startup ecosystem.

I deeply believe that startups are an industry and skillset that can be learnt, so I love working on projects to help more talented people take their first steps into this world. 

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

Ok settle in for some unpopular opinions here (especially given the topic of this interview!) In my view:

1) Balance is not the goal you should aim for. Energy is a better target because it unlocks all of your other goals.

2) You should deliberately unbalance your life if you want to achieve great things

3) It’s a good idea to periodically overwhelm yourself to unlock new levels of performance

On 1) Balance on its own doesn’t give you anything except variety. 

Most people, when they say ‘balance’ are actually looking for more energy. Energy can absolutely come from resting. It can come from time to yourself. It can come from a weekend away or a massage. All of the things we classically associate with balance.

But energy can also come from making progress. For extroverts it can come from hosting a big social gathering. It can come from winning. It can come from deep work. It can be from a flash of insight.

You don’t need more balance. You need more energy. Make a list of what gives your energy, and what drains your energy. Then do more of the former and less of the latter. 

On 2) It would have been impossible to achieve the things I did in sport if I didn’t say ‘no’ to most social invitations (and even when I said yes, I left by 9pm so I could get a full night’s sleep).

Even in high school my friends used to joke that they knew the answer before they extended the invite: ‘I’m sorry I can’t go, I’ve got training.’

Was my life balanced as an athlete? No way. But for me, feeling balanced doesn’t even come close to the feeling of standing on top of the podium while the Australian anthem is played. A more active social life couldn’t compare to the rare feeling of being in the zone, playing at the top of my ability, and beating a team that I shouldn’t be able to. I would never trade the experiences I had for more balance. 

I think the important question to ask yourself is what are you trying to optimise for in this phase of your life? It’s fine if it’s balanced. But it’s also fine if it’s progress, or impact, or deep relationships or something else. In that case, balance may take a backseat for a while. 

On 3) Athletic training uses periodisation – intense training loads for weeks, followed by de-load weeks. That forces your body to adapt to new levels of output. 

When it comes to work, we try to just hold the same levels of output every single week of the year. We try to keep our work load balanced.

But it’s when we push our limits that we force ourselves to find new ways of working. For instance, when I joined Blackbird the goal I was given was to take 5 new founder meetings a week.

At one point, I pushed this all the way up to 15 in a single week. It was completely unsustainable, but doing that forced me to come up with new systems to manage my work more efficiently – I never would have done that if I’d stayed balanced. 

Burnout happens when we work beyond our limits for a long time. But breakthroughs happen when we work beyond our limits temporarily.

4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I’ve stopped playing professional sport which is a huge change. I feel a bit lost without that routine and structure, but I’m taking the time to figure out what new activities I now get the chance to add to my life.

I know that I don’t really enjoy exercise for the sake of exercise (I hate just going for a run). Instead I thrive when I feel like I’m making progress. I also know that I love the experience of working with a coach and teammates. So finding a new sport where I can learn different skills and play for fun is my focus right now. So far I’ve tried skiing, fencing, indoor skydiving, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and circus!

5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Newsletters: James Clear, Wait But Why, Julian Shapiro

Podcasts: Work:Life by Adam Grant, Tim Ferriss, Lenny’s Podcast, Deep Questions by Cal Newport, hardcore History by Dan Carlin

Books: 10% Happier, The Art of Learning, The Obstacle is the Way, Atomic Habits, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Never Split the Difference.

6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I feel like ‘balance’ is a relatively recent obsession. So I’d love to go back in history and ask what people thought about the concept through different ages –  both ordinary people and the leaders we think of as having shaped history.

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

Ultimately I think about balance over a much longer period than a day. My life will be balanced, because even though I spent the first 30 years prioritising sport, now I’ve entered a chapter where I prioritise career, and perhaps later family will come first.

Each year, I have periods where I sprint flat out at work and come close to overwhelm, but I also have weeks at a time where I do nothing but hike to the top of mountains far removed from all cell service.

Each month, I have weeks where I train my body to the limit and everything hurts, but then I’ll have days where I do nothing but go for relaxing walks and lay on the couch.

You don’t have to balance a single day, or week, or year or even decade. Find the time frame and the activities that work for you. 

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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.