Balancing the Grind with Shea McBrearty, Head of People at Darwin Homes

Shea McBrearty is the Head of People at Darwin Homes, a vertically-integrated real estate investment management platform.

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

Buckle up. My trajectory to the People Ops world has been unpredictable, non-traditional and meant-to-be—all at the same time. I’ve always had a thing for the “people” part of business. Even outside of work, I find myself gravitating toward conversations with strangers—hearing their stories, understanding their perspectives, and learning from their experiences.

As a tunnel-visioned college athlete, I found myself sticking around sports after graduation. When I realised I was less interested in the sports themselves, and more interested in the people, I took a gigantic leap over to mortgage and real estate.

While working with clients gave me the right kind of buzz, I still missed being part of a larger team. That’s when I made my strategic dive into the tech industry’s people and culture game, and haven’t looked back since. I’m currently the Head of People at Darwin Homes where I lead our culture, talent and recruiting efforts across the organisation.

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

Well, how granular do you wanna get? And more importantly, how much time do you have? I’m an annoying morning person, so I tend to start my day between 5am – 7am depending on the day’s or week’s priorities. I try to get as much heads down work completed in that timeframe while the rest of my world is asleep. If I can, I take 7-8am to walk my dog, and get a workout in before morning meetings.  

If you’ve ever worked at a startup, or in people ops, you know there’s no such thing as a typical day. Your day can derail at a moment’s notice with just one small Slack message. So I’ll just give you a quick glimpse into last Wednesday. AM check-ins, recruiting meeting, people ops review with leadership, Q3 planning, new hire welcome lunch, 1:1’s with my team, and a bi-weekly departmental check in.

I try to end the work day at a reasonable hour and take time to cook dinner and enjoy the evening catching up with my husband, friends or family. If there’s something on fire at work, I might hop back online after dinner, but have been really trying to balance the grind and shut it down while it’s still daylight out.

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

It does! We are a remote-first company and have employees distributed across the United States. I’m based in Austin, which is our HQ, so I’m in a hybrid situation at the moment. I’m a big team person and vibe off energy, so a few days in the office is a good balance for me.

I tend to book-end my weeks with WFH days, which means on a typical week you can find me in business casual from the waist up on Mondays and Fridays. Later this summer my husband and I are going to work for a month in San Diego, which will make that 8:45a CT standing meeting pretty brutal, but worth it. Darwin is great at allowing flex work—another coworker just got back from remote working in Mexico City! 

Transitioning into hybrid work has been a game-changer for a lot of reasons, but most importantly has allowed for more time with family during periods where I would have been commuting or just lingering at the office.

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

Such a good question, and you’ve asked at the right time, because just now, at almost 33 years old, I might finally be getting close to defining its meaning. I’ve realised these two things are interconnected, hence the ‘balance’. I can’t be fulfilled in one area and not the other, the scale tips and all of a sudden I’m up for a promotion and missing my own birthday all at the same time. 

What it looks like is comfort mixed with a little excitement. I don’t have anxiety creeping around any corner and I am equally satisfied with the outcomes of both my work and my life. I feel fulfilled emotionally with my relationships and with myself, and at the same time have the impact and results I expect to have at my job.

I certainly can’t achieve this alone, and have to give credit to my husband. I’m super lucky to have someone so supportive and who knows me so well. If the scale starts to tip, he’s able to shine some light on what I might be missing at the moment and bring me back to neutral. 

I’ve learned to give myself permission in both work and my life, without the guilt, whatever that permission looks like, can be anything. And to communicate my needs, with my team, my bosses, and my personal relationships. It’s amazing what can happen when you’re open and honest with yourself and others.

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

I’ve started journaling again. Life is ever changing and moves at lightning speed, so going back to journaling—organising my thoughts, looking at them on paper and feeling like they’re not so big, scary or confusing after all—is incredibly empowering. 

Something I’ve started in the last 12 months is ending my day at the same time my husband ends his so we can walk our dog together. This helps us reconnect, unplug from work and create that work day separation that became hard to find at some points in the last few years. 

I’ve (sort of) stopped defining myself by my work, something I’m still working on. I’ve taken strides to reframe my mindset and not judge myself if I’m not the last one with my Slack light on or the first one in the office in the morning. 

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

Podcasts: I listen to Founders Journal and This Week in Startups as well as Smartless and Armchair Expert. And if I wasn’t trying to impress anyone reading this interview, I’d also say I listen to We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle and Just B with Bethenny Frankel.

Newsletters: I love a newsletter, and love a newsletter sitting in my inbox, weeks or months old, refusing to delete it because I will get to it eventually. The pile is high but the quality is so, so good! theSkimm, Morning Brew and HR Brew for news and professionals. For personal enjoyment, Condé Nast Traveller, NYT Cooking and local real estate groups.

Books: Non-Fiction Kim Scott, Radical Candor and The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. Fiction: Donna Tartt, The Nightingale and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.

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

Apps: For work purposes, there would be no life without the entire Google Suite, Slack or Notion for me. 

Personally, I’m weirdly obsessed with the weather, so I could never be without my DarkSky App. Fitness and health are also a priority, so my Fitbit app, and of course my Fitbit, is essential for day to day. I love analysing my sleep.

We’re big tv and movie people, so all the streaming apps, just all of them.

Products: I feel like my phone and airpods are a given, but will show them some love anyway. And a quick shoutout to Peloton, kudos to that platform for keeping millions connected and moving over the last few years.

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

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Kelly Ripa and Jenn Farris

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

Work: It’s just work. It doesn’t define you and certainly doesn’t determine your worth. You’re allowed to be excited about it. And you’re really winning if you’re proud of what you do and the company you work for, but try not to let it determine how you live your life.

There will be weeks, months or years where this looks differently, where you’re grinding and loving every hour of work you put in, especially anything over 40+. Just make sure you take time to enjoy life and loved ones along the way, give yourself permission to live.

Life: It’s short. Do what feels right. There’s so much life to live, big and small. Take time to enjoy the small things, but also find space to take chances and make big moves. It’s ok to be selfish. And it’s even more ok to start over.

Balance: No one has the perfect recipe. The goalposts are always moving, life is ever changing so finding the balance will look different during each phase of our lives. Be easy on yourself and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

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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.