If you’re at all familiar with my backstory, my opinion about work-life balance will not be a surprise to you. I started my first business in 2005, took on a partner, hired a bunch of people and managed to become really successful while the rest of the economy was in the tank.
While it looked great from the outside, though, I was working most nights until 1 or 2am. I wasn’t seeing my husband or my baby boy as much as I wanted. I was sick all the time, and I was generally unhappy and unfulfilled. A few years later in 2009, all in the span of about six months, the stress was taking its toll – I miscarried, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and then we discovered that our two year old son needed surgery for a brain tumor. I completely lacked balance and I was falling apart.
I finally learned just how important balance is, which is why I get frustrated when I read irresponsible business advice like this from Jason Saltzman for Entrepreneur:
“The reality is that if you are building your business, you are spending 99 percent of your time working on it or thinking about it. The reality is that your business has become your life. Screw this balance crap; you need to be obsessed.”
Screw this balance crap? Really?
At one time, I was defined by my business, it had become my life. So when things went well, I was happy with myself, but when things were outside of my control (which happens a lot when you own a business), I experienced a lot of self-loathing. My priorities were totally screwed up, but because I lacked balance I couldn’t see the problem, let alone figure out how to fix it.
I agree that building a business takes obsession, but it also takes recharging and gaining new perspectives. A healthy person knows that she is not the business, she runs the business, she has the kind of obsession that makes her resilient, and keeps her coming back day after day. She is not some crazy wackadoo one dimensional Super-Preneur.
“Surround yourself with smart people. Look, this is a simple and logical statement. If you are around dumbasses, they are going to distract you and make you feel crazy for working so hard. Screw that. You are trying to take over the world.”
“Smart”, experienced business people will tell you that it’s not crazy to work hard, but they will tell you that non-stop work will have you creatively tapped in no time. When you don’t take breaks, you lose your ability to see the forest for the trees. You become tired, inflexible and miss opportunities.
“This is when your true loved ones will shine through. If you are getting bitched at from every angle about why you are coming home late and working too hard, you need to drop that person like a bad habit.”
This one takes care of itself, because guess what? You’re a selfish shithead, and you’ll be all alone.
Let’s keep the self-importance to a minimum. Growing a business does not mean that your family should have to do without you. Your partner should not feel they’re responsible for holding down the fort alone, while you’re off pursuing your own thing.
In fact, many of us entrepreneurs are building businesses for the freedom to spend more time with our families, or to go on more vacations, or pursue other passions. You’re going to need support, and you’re going to need love. Because while entrepreneurialism is exhilarating, it’s also soul-crushing some days.
The reality is, we human beings needs balance in our lives. Most extremes are unsustainable for long periods of time. Something will give. Your health. Your marriage. Your children. Your sanity.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, try to be realistic about timelines and what you want to accomplish, and then commit. Prioritize, and realize that every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you are saying ‘no’ to something else.
Balance doesn’t have to happen on a day to day basis, don’t make yourself crazy. For me, balance happens over the course of a week, a month, or even a year. I might have to be out 2 or 3 nights a week for work, but my kids each get a date night with me about one night a week, too. My husband and I buckle down for the busy seasons in our businesses, and then take a week off a few times a year. Our kids are busy with school, while we’re busy with work, and then we take half days off with them all summer.
One last bit of advice, don’t sell your soul. The world is full of business advice to ignore, people like Mr. Saltzman will have you believe that you have to give everything all the time to be successful… but I suppose that depends on your definition of success. You may grow a great big business, but if you don’t have time off to enjoy your accomplishments, and the people you love aren’t around to celebrate with, it won’t be a fulfilling experience anyway.