Success Without Sacrifice?

Much has been made about “work/life balance” over the past several years. This discussion is a somewhat backhanded slap at past generations where high achievers sometimes (maybe often) spent a great deal of time and effort clawing their way to the top. Today’s meme is that there is a better and smarter way to reach the pinnacle of success. And it involves much less of something we old-timers know as “sacrifice.” I submit that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about both these notions – work/life balance and sacrifice.

Entrepreneurship is more competitive than ever. Competition pushes us to innovate and find better ways of doing things that results in winning. Believe me when I say that the entrepreneurial environment doesn’t care about work/life balance. This is a full-throttle pull-out-all-the-stops world in which we compete. Then, does this mean that we can’t achieve work/life balance AND achieve high levels of success? The answer is . . . yes and no.

The yes and no answer is actually a sliding scale. On one end of the scale we have a healthy work/life balance and some level of success. On the other end of the scale we are making considerable sacrifices and achieving some other level of success. The wild card is the level of success we really want to attain. Some entrepreneurs can operate a business that is successful enough to provide for a very comfortable lifestyle. And they can do so without giving up much to do so. There are other entrepreneurs that are driven to the point that they become single-minded in their focus to the exclusion of all else – and achieve unimaginable success. The key to understanding what we must sacrifice is to understand exactly what level of success we want and what it will take to achieve it.

Many of us who entered business in the 1970s and 1980s know what it was like to “pay our dues.” We started at the bottom of the corporate ladder, learned our business and perfected our craft. While we were always chomping at the bit to get ahead, we also knew that we were going to have to prove that we were worthy. Sometimes that meant 100-hour weeks and toiling in the salt mines for what seemed like an eternity. There was much frustration, anguish and a healthy dose of fear. We ultimately prevailed through a formula that was one-part smart enough, one-part hard work, and a secret ingredient called pure passion.

While passion drove me when I was young and still drives me today, I was able to prioritize in such a way as to never miss an event involving my daughters; never miss taking a vacation with my wife, and never endangering my health. My work and my personal life became intertwined to the point of being inseparable. I’m not sure how a big vision can be reached without this sort of work/life relationship.

There are many young entrepreneurs brimming with confidence and vowing to do things differently than their parents and grandparents. That’s fine and I wish them well. What they will need to eventually determine is what level of success they want to achieve and what will be required to achieve it. It’s an extremely rare individual who can dream a big idea, implement it and create a moonshot while coasting on a cloud and exerting minimal effort. Most of the time, moonshots require incredible amounts of blood, sweat and tears. Entrepreneurs who are too impatient or are unwilling to make certain sacrifices are going to see their dream fizzle and fall into the sea. There’s no question that young entrepreneurs can and should learn from the mistakes made by previous generations. This will help smooth the path to success. But what can’t be ignored are the benefits of business experience, life experience and the notion of eating, sleeping and breathing the entrepreneurial vision. And there’s no way around it . . . there will be sacrifices.

We’ve all heard about some of the legends of enterprise. Steve Jobs worked non-stop, calling close associates late into the evening to bounce around ideas. Mark Cuban didn’t take a vacation for seven years during the time he was launching his initial business venture. Marissa Mayer worked 130-hour weeks when she was at Google and sometimes slept under her desk. Elon Musk said in an interview with Vator News, “You just have to put in 80-to-100 hour weeks every week. If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, then, even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”

Achieving extraordinary levels of success still requires sacrifice. Entrepreneurs need to decide for themselves what level of success they desire and understand what it will take to achieve it.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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