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The secret to happiness is integrating work and play

Power couple John and Elaine Kim share how they avoid the tightrope of a work-life balance altogether.

In a time when work-life balance is regarded as the key to happiness, John and Elaine Kim are offering a different perspective: Don’t try to balance the two, just integrate them. “We are working all the time, but we are also playing all the time,” says Elaine.

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The mother of three juggles multiple roles as a palliative care doctor, serial entrepreneur and CEO of social enterprise Crib which supports women entrepreneurs. And her latest project, Trehaus, certainly bears out that philosophy of integrating work with play. A whimsically beautiful venue that seamlessly blends a full-day preschool and play areas with a co-working space, it is designed to be conducive for both tiny tots and their parents. “Your work never stops as an entrepreneur or venture capitalist – it takes 100 per cent of you, all the time. So is the work of a mother,” she shares. “Yet one wouldn’t have to choose between the two if they could be integrated.”

Elaine Kim Trehaus

Elaine Kim.

On his end, venture capitalist John of Amasia ropes their sons aged eight, six and three into his self-scripted vlogs about topics spanning pitching strategies to, well, the CNY red packet revenue life cycle. In The John Kim Show, his kids narrate, rap and dance, while John – previously a professional musician who has played with Grammy award winner Brandy – sings, plays the violin, acts, and even cross-dresses.

The Wharton alumnus also draws his children closer into his world as an entrepreneur by helping his two eldest sons start their first company Sonical.ly. Together with renowned K-Pop producer Elmo Chong, his kids help to design an alternative music education curriculum for other children: one that uses story-telling and gamification to creatively impart the fundamentals of music making.

Their approach to life doesn’t just create more moments of joy for themselves, but for many others touched by what they do. While Elaine’s work has repercussive effect on families, Amasia’s investments – currently centred on businesses with a sustainability stance – has far-reaching impact on many levels, from the business owners that he invests in and the staff they hire, to the millions of users of their products.

(Related: How Crib co-founder Elaine Kim is empowering women’s dreams through entrepreneurship)

“We love offering new solutions to old problems – and being able to share that solution with others is a nice side benefit,” says Elaine, whose preschool at Trehaus upends industry norms with their 1:5 teacher-student ratio, and incorporates the best from different early education pedagogy to create programmes such as Little Entrepreneur, Little Philanthropist, Little CEO. “Challenging the status quo and solving problems give us satisfaction and fulfilment. Sharing what we have with others gives us joy.”

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Echoing her point, John shares an observation he made as a young man: “Those who are focused on themselves, celebrate by themselves, but also have only themselves to lean on in difficult times. But if you expand your circle of concern beyond the individual, you will find your individual trials and tribulations so small, relative to the bigger issues out there. Such people are the most steadfast and joyful as they have a purpose bigger than themselves.”

John Kim

John Kim.

And the driver behind this purpose has to be more than just a pursuit of “happiness”. John, an American-born Korean who minored in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, explains: “Happiness is, when explained in biological terms, a squirt of dopamine triggered by something satisfying. But the next time you get the same thing, the squirt of dopamine gets less, and you will find yourself doing more and more just to get what you felt the first time. That is not joy – it’s a rat race.”

For him, joy is a knowledge deep within that whatever happens, whether it’s failure, obstacles or an attack, everything will be ok. And this sense of joy comes from his Christian faith. “It is a peacefulness,” says Elaine, chiming in. “An appreciation of life and a thankfulness for – and awareness of – all our blessings big and small. This gives us a bigger purpose beyond ourselves, and makes us see that our personal ups and downs are not the be-all and end-all.”

(Related: [VIDEO] Crib CEO, co-founder Elaine Kim on women and leadership)