Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Surbhi Sarna: I have a three year old who, as soon as he opens his eyes, yells for me to come get him from his crib. This is usually around 6 a.m. I go get him and then bring him back to my bed for a cuddle.

TG: What gives you energy?

SS: Spending time with family and friends, a good book, reflecting on the day’s events and trying to have gratitude, no matter how the day went.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?

SS: I don’t have one, I think because every phase of life is so different. As soon as I figure out a hack for one phase, another one is upon me. For example, you’re only in college for four years. Your kids are only toddlers once.  Maybe that means my secret life hack is to be adaptable to every phase of life (even if I’m still working on my flexibility on a day-to day basis.)

TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?

I put my kids to bed by reading to them and singing them nursery rhymes until about 8:30 pm. After that, I do about an hour of work, which includes both finishing up tasks from the day but also planning the next day, which reduces my stress. I spend time with my husband from 9:30 pm to about 10:30 pm, and then read for a bit before falling asleep.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.

SS: Thrive, The Course of Love, 10% Happier

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

SS: My friends complain that sometimes it takes me too long to reply to texts. That’s because my phone isn’t always on me. I try to be as focused on the current moment as possible and for me, that means putting my phone away. Before kids, I used to charge  phone overnight somewhere in the living room. Now with kids, I need my phone somewhat near me to check their babycams when and if I need to. So now I keep it out of reach of bed, but close enough that I can hear a notification. 

TG: How do you deal with email?

SS: I don’t think anyone wants my advice on this. I am terrible about email. Creating labels for different emails in terms of what activities they relate to, or where they should be on my priority list, is helpful, but still I haven’t been able to dig out of my inbox and stay on top of it. 

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

SS: I can easily spend 15 minutes staring out of a window and enjoying a view. But usually, I try to catch up with my neverending inbox. I want to change this habit and just relax if I can find 15 minutes to do so.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

SS: With a demanding job and two small children, my burn out is sort of always there in the background. It comes in waves. The last time I felt especially burnt out was because I wasn’t sleeping well; specifically, I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I was working a lot, late into the evening, so my husband and I were watching TV together a little later into the night than usual to unwind. But it was counterproductive, because the less we slept, the less relaxed we felt during the day. We revamped our schedules so that we could start to unwind earlier, and it helped enormously. I switched to working earlier in the morning.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?

SS: I failed to recognize that my son had more than a stomach flu, or rather, that his stomach flu had progressed enough that he needed to go to the ER. We got there eventually, but I wish I had taken him there sooner. Now he is fine. Mother’s guilt is powerful but this time I managed to keep it at bay. My kids are a top priority and anyone who knows me at all, knows that. I overcame my inclination to beat myself up  by reflecting on the situation and making notes about what I would do differently next time, but not being as hard on myself as I would have been in the past. 

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

SS: “A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote gave me strength when I was running my start up. I knew how frustrated I was about the state of women’s health. So whenever I read this quote, it gave me the strength to overcome challenges. It gives me peace now, knowing that I am working in and investing in space (healthcare) that I care about so deeply.

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

SS: I go back to the basics and remember what my larger priorities are, starting with my kids and family. I ask myself if everything is going well with them. If it’s a yes, I take a deep breath, realize that what is most important to me is going okay, and then start to prioritize the rest of my life. I am old school, so this practice usually starts  with a pen and paper. 

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?

SS: Don’t work so much that you don’t find a hobby! Find a hobby that is quickly accessible, that you can do even if you have fifteen minutes available. It’ll help snap you out of your current reality and maybe even do something more worthwhile than taming your inbox! 

TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?

SS: Most people I know, love and respect are other moms of young kids (my friends) and at this stage, we’re all just trying to stay afloat. And maybe that’s what it means to thrive at this stage in life! 

TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?

SS: I start drifting off mid sentence. Another thing I do is “lose” items that I am holding almost constantly. “Have you seen my keys?” “Have you seen my phone?” 

TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?

SS: I take a physical calendar and write out all of the major, unmissable events that I have coming up. It helps me organize my thoughts and priorities. Then, in the evening, I turn off completely and play with my kids. Maybe we throw diapers at each other while listening to “Anti-Hero.”

TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?

SS: I pause everyday before putting on my socks and meditate. I’ve been doing this since college, so my husband is no longer surprised when he walks into the room and sees me holding one sock with a dazed look on my face. 

TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?

SS: First I try to embrace whatever negative thought I am thinking, and try to name the negative emotions it is causing me. I try to understand why, or what, is causing that thought. Then I try to let it go, or see the silver lining in the situation. 

TG: What was the last photo you took?

SS:  Sheep eating grass in my vineyard.

TG: What brings you optimism?

SS: Founders working on something important that will really help people. The smile on my kids’ faces. The breeze on a warm day. I am an optimistic person.

TG: Fill in the blanks: People think I/I’m SS: calm and collected, but really I/I’m happy but mostly just staying afloat.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your sleep. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how do you sustain this habit?

SS: First, I started to pay attention to how I felt when I didn’t sleep. The oura ring helped me do this. It would tell me when I didn’t sleep well, and I would match it to my previous day’s activity. Two things I changed. I started sticking to one or no glasses of wine. The other is I tried to keep the time I went to bed consistent. It took months of having the habit and then relapsing for a few days, but the times I could stick with it the difference was enormous. So I still slip up for a day or two, but not for an extended period of time. 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?

SS: I started putting my phone down more. I realized that a person’s most valuable asset, regardless of who they are on this earth, is their time. So I take people’s time very seriously. It’s helped me connect with people deeply, and truly appreciate them. I find this to be so much fun that it is no longer something I have to actively work on. 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?

SS: Working on one thing at a time. Not taking pride in multitasking, which is something I did until I read Thrive. I can feel the brain damage it was causing. If I don’t have time to do everything when tackling tasks one at a time, it means that I have taken on too much and need to reduce my workload. Sometimes that means disappointing people, but I’ve realized that sometimes it is worth  people down if it means saving your mental health. It’s okay to say no.

TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?

SS: Probably meeting my husband in 2003 when I was just a freshman in college. He’s been so supportive through every phase of our lives, and was basically my defacto co-founder when I was running my company. He’s given me two beautiful children. I adore him.

TG: What’s your secret time-saver in the morning?

SS: I don’t always shower. Insisting that I shower no matter what would sometimes make me late and set off a frenzied pace to the day. I am now okay with evening showers. 


  • Surbhi Sarna is a partner at Y-Combinator and the author of Without A Doubt. Previously, she was the founder and former CEO of nVision Medical, which sold to Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) for $275M. nVision developed a first-in-kind microcatheter for the detection of ovarian cancer. After raising $17M in venture funding, completing three clinical trials, and obtaining two first-in-class FDA approvals, nVision was acquired by Boston Scientific for more than 15X money-in. Surbhi then stayed at Boston Scientific for two years, running the 150+ person commercial organization in preparation for launch. She is now Y-Combinator's only and first partner focused exclusively on healthtech, medical devices, and therapeutics and sits on both private and public company boards.