CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Yolanda Lee, Founder & CEO at Uncommon

Yolanda Lee is the founder & CEO at Uncommon, a platform where the world’s top female talent come to connect and level up.

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

My career journey is squiggly and unconventional, something I now love but it used to stress me out because it made me different. 

I have had a job of some sort since I was 11 or 12 – from babysitting to lifeguarding and working at a summer camp. At 18, I moved out and threw electronic music parties through booking artists off Myspace while working a retail job at the now defunct American Apparel – my first people management role. 

Before starting university, I went on a world tour working as a production assistant for the Belgian electronic act Soulwax/2ManyDJs which helped me to see that there were so many different paths to success.

After university and grad school, I wanted to work at the UN or World Bank but was jaded by how slow they moved and how little impact they actually had. I fell in love with technology when I saw how tech could transform lives, particularly in developing countries (at the time I was fascinated by the mobile payments system M-pesa in Kenya).

I then joined Rocket Internet to build their first e-commerce/on-demand businesses across West Africa. I then built a career in high-growth tech companies like Uber and Deliveroo across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

The more senior I got, the more lonely it was as there were so few women and other underrepresented groups in decision making positions. It was hard to connect with other women who understand the challenges of walking into a room where no one looks like you, or has your experience but still feel a sense of belonging, and like your voice matters.

I started Uncommon as an experiment in connecting and changing the face of leadership. We have now grown to a private network of 250+ senior industry leaders that enables female leaders to connect, learn and grow. 

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

At the moment, it can be quite varied. I generally compartmentalise my week between spending time with my team to unblock anything and ensure they can do their jobs to the best of their abilities and time I need out of the weeds to work on fundraising/strategy and the big picture. 

I like slow mornings – sometimes it includes a workout- but then I love mediating, daydreaming and making a healthy breakfast. It definitely doesn’t always happen but I find my day is more grounded if this happens. 

I start work at 9:30am and depending on the day I may work on my own or have meetings with my team or investors. I almost always eat lunch away from my desk and try to go for a 10 min walk after. I can finish anytime between 6:30-late but I take breaks when I need it and generally will rest when I feel tired. I love to spend time with close friends a few days a week and get my head out of the tunnel vision of work – where some of my greatest ideas come from, 

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

Yes it does. Most of my team is based in Singapore but we are hiring remotely and have a team member based in Bali at the moment. Those of us in the same city come together twice/week and work from home the other days. Flexibility is so much deeper than working remotely.

At Uncommon, we are really inspired to create a better future of work – for everyone. This means exploring how to make our own workplace one that is inclusive and where we are thriving. I think of flexibility as the ability to complete the work you do when/where you want with the collaboration you need while achieving the goals set for your role. 

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

It means having the space to do what is most important to me. Right now my startup Uncommon gives me a lot of energy and I want to work on it – I am inspired by our mission of creating the most inclusive future of work.

Yet, I know that there are important pillars in my life that serve as a foundation for me: I make time to exercise, take care of my mental health and travel and just do nothing.  

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

The past 12 months have been the toughest as my life went through a painful but transformative upheaval on the personal and professional fronts. I definitely seeded some new habits in the process!

A friend got me into breath work which helped me with grounding me in a different way than meditation does. I love the combo of intense workouts, yoga, meditation, self-reflection, therapy, breath work and ensuring time for stillness/doing nothing. 

I quit coffee which really helped me to listen to my body when I am tired. I sleep a lot better. I also started a practice of radical acceptance – particularly with respect to things I cannot control. It really made me realise how much suffering is caused by not accepting things as they are and making plans and boundaries accordingly. 

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

I love Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being  because I read it when I was 18 and it articulated two contrary forces in life that I have always reflected on since.

Lightness, that free-spirited sense of not being tied down to anything, the ability to move with the flow of life at ease, and Heaviness, the meaningful things that ground us, keep us rooted and give our life deeper meaning.

Both in excess destroy us – lightness makes us non-committal and flaky, moving aimlessly through life and heaviness crushes us with the weight of the world. I guess this inspires my 


  • Oprah Supersoul 
  • Mediative Story 
  • Techish 
  • Code Switch 


  • The School of Life 
  • Writer Otegha Uwagba’s newsletter 

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

I love my Fitbit app for staying motivated and tracking my progress. Othership is incredible for breath work and I love Insight Timer for meditation. 

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

Growing up with hard working immigrant parents in Canada, I always thought of work-life balance as a luxury. I would love to hear from someone like my mother, who worked to ensure a life of her dreams for her children but for whom the concept is less familiar. 

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

I do not think that balance always evokes an accurate image of how we make space in our lives for ourselves, loved ones, work and communities. I think there are very real trade-offs that are not always balanced but they do fulfil us in a given moment in our lives. What matters is knowing your values and priorities and staying aligned to them to the best of our abilities. 

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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.