Balancing the Grind with Sean Stuart, Investor at Aura Ventures

Sean Stuart is an Investor at Aura Ventures, an early stage venture capital team backing the creators of category defining technology companies.

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

When I was seven I wrote a note to my future self saying that I would be a failure if I didn’t become an actor. I can confirm I am a failure. 

But my seven-year-old self did have some other wisdom in the letter. It essentially said to follow the path less travelled and take risks with life. 

For a long time, I wanted to be a screenwriter + actor. I wrote a few screenplays (none when anywhere) and also published a book. I realised there were too many gatekeepers for creation in the film industry.

There was a lot of similarity in company building and the arts. This led me to the world of startups. I started with an internship at Blackbird Ventures. Then went full time with Aura Ventures in the investment team. 

My life’s mission is to start a company that has a net positive effect on the world. 

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

The average of all my days in the last 2-3 years probably looks something like this: 

  • 7:30AM Wake up (It would be 1PM if I didn’t have an alarm) 
  • 8:00AM Walk 
  • 8:30AM Work 
  • 6:00PM Exercise (either long run or gym) 
  • 8:00PM Light Work (I try to avoid anything too mentally difficult at this time of night)  
  • 10:30PM Read 
  • 11:30PM Sleep 

I wish that I was some 4 hours of sleep type operator who flips out of bed and jumps into the ocean for a 20 km swim, but sadly I am not. Mornings are not my thing, ask my friends & family. 

Being on the investment team at a venture capital firm is like being a distracted child who instead of Pokemon cards is looking at investment decks of crazy new technology. It’s a lot of fun but definitely not the realm of deep work. 

My role can be reduced to one thing: backing the best startups. 

To do this, there are a few key subcomponents, sourcing, selecting and supporting. 

In terms of each:

  • Sourcing: Reaching out to hundreds of founders each year + reviewing ‘inbound’ deals
  • Selecting: Applying our investment framework + researching + consulting experts + number crunching 
  • Supporting: Consulting + board meetings (as an observer) + any other task our portfolio would find useful 

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

I view work-life balance in terms of decades & stages of life. For the period between 20-30 years, this is the most productive 10 years of our working lives and I personally want to over index for work. Hopefully, this means the next decade 30-40 can be more indexed for life – and raising a family. 

It’s the type of theory that lots of naive 20-30 years old would have and many further along the journey would laugh. To quote Mike Tyson, ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ 

I also believe the concepts are not discrete, but ideally, a union. Work to live and live to work.  The best proxy to see whether this is the case for me is:

  1. Would I keep doing this job if I had a billion dollars? 

If the answer is no, then the two are not a union and they are discrete. It doesn’t mean I should quit my job, it just is a compass bearing showing me what I should move towards over time. 

I think one last non-obvious point worth raising is that merging these two concepts into one – requires 2x as much work as treating them discrete. If you are happy with work being work and life being life – it’s pretty easy to follow the guidelines. 9-5 = work, the rest = life. It’s hard when you start trying to merge them as everything = work (but this is also the good part if it truly is how you want to spend your life). 

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

Calling my Nana once a week has been a habit that I have picked up in the last 12 months. 

She is such a big part of my life but when we move and life gets busy, it’s easy to forget to make an effort, which I did a bad job at doing. 

So I scheduled it in my calendar for every Sunday to find the time and it has been a habit that has been the most worthwhile. 

Call me robotic for scheduling this type of thing but: 

Robotic consistency > human forgetfulness 

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

Curating this answer was weirdly satisfying.

Newsletters: Lenny’s Newsletter, Technically, Paul Graham’s Essays, Emerging Brew 

Books: The Sheltering Desert, Zero to One, How to Change your Mind, Sapiens, Bad Blood, 1984 

Podcasts: How I Built This, Business Breakdowns, Hardcore History, Andrew Huberman, Lex Friedman, Invest Like The Best 

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

I would love to read an interview with David Goggins, followed by one with Hunter Thompson. It would be good to know the boundaries of both extremes! 

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

I used to be really ambitious about my life goals. Quickly, I realised this was a terrible approach to life. It creates a constant pain from your expectations of the future not matching your current reality. The lesson I learnt was to be really ambitious with how you use your time – I aim to use every hour in an effective & efficient way.

The benefits are twofold:

  • You are more likely to achieve those ambitious goals because you are focusing on the actual lever that gets you there
  • There is no pain from external factors in reality as you are only holding yourself to factors you can control.  

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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.