Balancing the Grind with Richard Jeremiah, Product Director at Airwallex

Richard Jeremiah is the product director for small-to-medium enterprises at Airwallex, a global payments fintech company based in Melbourne.

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

I’m the Product Director for small to medium enterprise (SME) Banking at Airwallex, which means I’m responsible for leading the development of our website and mobile app banking products.

Prior to joining Airwallex, I spent five years working in various strategy and product roles at Seek in both its core business and one of their early stage ventures (Jora). Pre-Seek, I spent over five years in strategy consulting and economics research. 

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

Every workday starts the same and ensures I’m ready to go for the day. My morning routine is: 6am rise, 3min cold shower, 10-20mins of meditation, 90min gymnastics strength workout, 30mins for shower, journaling and eating breakfast. 

 I then start the day at 8:30am typically with a 1:1 walk-and-talk with one of my team members. The rest of the workday entails a series of conversations in meetings, Slack and email where I’m either:

  • Aligning with other leaders on direction and priorities (product and people)
  • Providing strategic context to my team
  • Understanding team progress and determining where I can help
  • Working with individual team members on their development
  • Recruiting (because we’re growing so quickly).

Typically I stop responding to messages at about 7pm and focus on winding down with my wife.

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

My role is suitable for some flexibility in both where I work (place) and when I work (hours), but not totally.

Ultimately, I need some face-to-face time with team members (place) and to be available when they need me (hours) if I’m to maximise the team’s effectiveness in executing our strategy and realising our objectives. 

Face-to-face contact is critical to building trusting relationships and therefore effective teams, while impactful leadership is about enabling those that do the work (not the other way around).

So I structure my day and week around the needs of the team and then can be flexible with whatever unallocated time remains. This gives me sufficient flexibility to make the best use of my time toward either professional or personal goals.

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

The work-life balance frame doesn’t work for me because work is a subcategory of life; i.e. work is part of life; they aren’t hierarchically equivalent. So for me it is about life balance.

What does that mean? Life balance is about ensuring I have the right set of priorities and I’m spending the right amount of time on each. 

The right life priorities are those that are:

Individually directed at my life aspirations and provide me with a sense of mission, mastery and belonging (the three higher order needs all people have) 

Mutually reinforcing, meaning that spending time on one priority enables me to be more effective on another. For example, gymnastics strength training helps me detach from work (and keeps me humble).

That detachment makes me more effective at work by ensuring I don’t get too outcome-orientated and not enough journey-orientated.

I find that when people are excessively outcome orientated, they are more likely to drive their teams too hard, fray relationships and burn people out and thereby put the outcome in jeopardy. There is a point at which the harder you chase the outcome, the further it moves away from you.

Essentially, the right amount of time is reflective of the importance of the priority and the extent to which it helps me maintain an even keel or a balance between outcome and journey, eudaimonia and hedonia, pursuit and relaxation, detachment and investment, discipline and flexibility etc.

Important to note the composition of life balance is not only different for different people but also changes over our lifetime (i.e. the target is moving). Furthermore, being in balance is an impossible unstable place. This means life balance isn’t something one actually attains but is instead something we gradually circle around with increasing precision.

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

I used to get a lot of incidental exercise prior to the COVID-forced 100% remote work (e.g. cycling to work and walking meetings) so I didn’t track my steps.

Once I moved to permanent work from home, I moved very little post the morning workout and noticed a subsequent hit to my health markers (resting heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep quality).

So I started tracking my steps and set a goal of hitting >10k every day. This has prompted me to move more and my health markers have returned to pre-COVID levels.

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

Favourite podcasts: Jocko podcast (lessons in leadership), The Drive (high performance), The Portal (exploring ideas), Dear Therapists (connecting with our common humanity). 

Favourite newsletter: The Daily Stoic. 

Some favourite books: In Over Our Heads by Robert Kegan, The Village Effect by Susan Pinker, Tribe by Sebastian Junger, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My Oura ring, Garmin watch, phone and food scales. The ring and watch help me better manage my wellbeing (sleep, movement, physical recovery, hydration, stress, etc.) and therefore maximise my effectiveness.

My driven nature means I have a tendency to run my body a bit hard so the data from these devices help slow me down and ensure I’m investing enough in recovery. 

I then use my phone primarily for listening to podcasts and audiobooks and accessing my wearables data. I use the food scales to weigh my food intake to ensure I’m consuming sufficient macro and micro nutrients throughout the day and week.

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

One of the Stoics, probably Marcus Aurelius. He was an Emperor of Rome and therefore occupied the most powerful position in the world at that time. Typically absolute power corrupts absolutely, but Marcus ruled with wisdom and virtue and became one of history’s most admired and loved leaders.

To wield such power but to rule with such wisdom and virtue would have required extraordinary life balance. Henceforth, I would love to read an interview about such balance with Marcus but unfortunately he is long gone. Thankfully, I can just read Meditations.

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

Everything in life is a trade-off. It is the defining quality of our existence. Our time, attention and talents are finite but the world presents us with infinite possibilities.

So living a purely balanced life is about truly appreciating, fully accepting and effectively navigating a life of trade-offs. Again, this is an unachievable end; it is a destination we can only approach but never arrive at. We are forever a work in progress.

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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.