Phil and Cheryl Vrkljan are slowly becoming recognized as one of Milton’s most successful power couples. As a united front, they have taken on the challenges of building a family, and running a businesses together, all while making it look easy! The two of them run two successful business, are raising three well-rounded, active children, and are heavily involved our community. Although they make it all look effortless, the work-life balance they have come to achieve has not always come easily.
The couple met in 1997, on a bus while studying at Queen’s University, where they both played basketball. After university, Cheryl went on to complete her teaching degree in London, Ontario, and became an elementary school teacher. Phil was working towards his four year optometry degree in the US. Upon completing his studies and board exams, Phil began practicing as an Associate Optometrist in Ancaster, and Cheryl started work for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Hamilton. After the birth of their first child, Marcus, the couple started to look at the bigger picture in business and life. They were intrigued with the thought of moving their home and business to Milton, due to its growth and influx of young families. They played with the idea of renting versus buying a location for a new optometry practice for several years, but decided to purchase a building when they were introduced to the innovative Live/ Work units that were planned for the corner of Derry and Thompson in Milton.
The thought of having their home-life and work-life separated by two flights of stairs seemed appealing. The couple was already expecting their second child, and the convenience sounded like a dream! Cheryl gave birth to their son Carson during the same week as the planned grand-opening of Milton Optometry. Life got extremely busy, and during this time, it was nice to have Phil “home”, otherwise known as downstairs at the office. However, before long, the close proximity of the office and their space started to weigh on the family. The many things that were once considered to be convenient, now were just a nuisance. Cheryl remembers the shared entryway for her home and the office staff: “sometimes you just want to come home with your groceries, and not run into anyone in your doorway”. There were many nights when Dr. Vrkljan felt the need to just go downstairs and tackle loose ends at the office after dinner, because there was so much work to get done, and it was so conveniently located. He admits, “had my office been further from our residence, I would not have been so inclined, and would have spent the evening with my family instead. The fact that I wasn’t even leaving the building made it justifiable”.
The most challenging days were the ones when the family would decide to take time off together, but chose to stay with the family at home, rather than go away. These days were particularly tough for Dr. Vrkljan. Although, he had advised the staff that he would be “on holidays” and would not be in the office, it became very difficult for him to make the separation. Knowing patients were coming in and needing to speak with him created guilt and anxiety for Dr. Vrkljan. Afterall, he was just upstairs and could easily come down to answer questions or concerns the staff or patients would have. Eventually, the family stopped taking days off at home, and felt the need to physically leave the property all together, to ease the guilt. After the first couple of stress-filled years of starting a new business, Cheryl and Phil also began to feel the heaviness of the things they were missing as a couple. “Looking back, I think we were working so hard trying to build the business and raise our children, that we forgot about us! We are a great team, and always have been, but we were forgetting to stop and enjoy the small things in life, and each other”.
It was during a visit to Grandma’s house when the Vrkljans knew they needed change. Grandma’s place had a backyard and grass, with squirrels running about. There was a sense of peace and calmness, and freedom from the pull of the office. It also made the couple stop and remember what it was like to spend time with each other as a family, unimpeded by work pressures. By this time, the couple had three children, including a new daughter Ellianna, who were all now thriving in this environment. They mentioned how much they loved playing in the backyard, and wished they had one, too. “We were still active all the time. We took regular trips to the community parks, and went for daily walks, of course, but it wasn’t the same thing” says Cheryl. There was something missing, and it was affecting our family. It was during this trip that the family decided it was time to sell their beloved Live/Work property at Thompson Square.
Milton Optometry then moved to Kennedy Circle in the Metro Plaza. “It’s a great space,” said Dr. Vrkljan. “We are just in the process of finishing a renovation that will better reflect the personality of the practice, and allow us to better serve our patients – and they are definitely happier with the ample parking,” he adds with relief. The family has moved into a rural home with a backyard just like the kids had hoped for. Having the two spaces separated is exactly what the family needed. “We have a much needed structure now, and a space to be us,” says Cheryl. Phil admits, “when I’m off, I’m off. That’s it. I now set my schedule to suit what our kids need, and what our family needs”.
After the move, Cheryl decided to pursue her dreams, and has ventured into business, herself. She is the hard-working owner of Beyond the Classroom Milton. This in-home tutoring service is dedicated to helping children thrive academically, but also focuses on the “whole child”. Beyond the Classroom Milton works with experienced, certified teachers that come into your home and work one-on-one with your child. The teaching is always custom, according to your child’s learning needs, and personality. “I am so passionate about supporting children, and believe that each and every child is special and capable of learning. My goal for every child in Milton is to foster a love of learning, and offer a fun and positive learning experience.” Cheryl’s genuine enthusiasm is contagious!
The couple’s days are filled with business related responsibilities as well as trying to balance a family of five. Marcus, is now eight, and loves soccer and hockey. Five year-old Carson is very creative, and is a ball of energy; Ellianna is only three, but is very independent, and very proud of being able to dress herself. Phil and Cheryl work well as a team. With a giant calendar on the wall to keep them organized, Phil takes the time to be at all the kids’ games and practices he can. “I’m just happy to be there to round up the pucks, or do whatever I can to help. I just want all my kids to know that I love them, and am there for them along the way. Both Phil and Cheryl, like all parents, are always striving for the work/ life balance their family needs. They both agree that despite the craziness of being busy entrepreneurs, “it’s crucial to be there to make memories with your kids while they are young. And that will never change for the rest of our lives. They come first. They both admit that the Live/Work units they once owned are an extremely appealing concept that works for many families and entrepreneurs. They have many friends who wouldn’t have it any other way. For the Vrkljans though, having that balance meant they had to physically separate the two. Even with two businesses and three young kids, life is much simpler now. The commute to work is still close, but removed from their home. Their new rule is no business talk on the upper level of their home. Best of all, when it’s family time, they can just be home.