We’ve all heard the constant drumbeat over the last several years about work-life balance. It’s the notion that we must find a healthy equilibrium between our work and everything else that is occurring outside of work. It’s an admirable and noble goal and certainly achievable . . . to a point. I don’t mean to burst the proverbial bubble, but there are situations where it just isn’t going to happen. Let me explain.
When I joined my company in 1975, we were a fledgling organization founded just five years earlier by an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. We were scrapping and clawing our way to success. The competition was fierce, and we were in a “take no prisoners” industry. Back then you did whatever it took to win and keep business. I worked 100+ hours a week. I remember arriving at the office at 3:00 AM to get a head start on the day and would routinely see one of my partners leaving at the same time to go home and get a few hours of sleep before tackling it again later that morning. I still recall being at the office on New Year’s Eve at 11:30 PM working on an important proposal that had to be in the hands of a prospective client at 8:00 AM on January 2. We didn’t complain; we didn’t whine; we weren’t even aware of the term “work-life balance.” When our children were born, the juggling act became even more acute. I’m proud to say that I never missed any of my daughters’ school or sporting events though I know there were mad dashes at times to be present.
What would have happened if we had not worked the crazy hours and made the sacrifices along the way? There’s no way to know for sure, but I suspect that we would have missed opportunities and our company would not have grown and succeeded the way it has. Early on, I skipped vacations. I loved what I was doing, and my wife was immersed in her career. Did I feel like we were deprived of a more satisfying life at that point? No. I had a long-term view that if we invested heavily at the beginning of our lives, we eventually would be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor later in life. And this was not about “paying my dues” as a young whippersnapper. I never saw it as a climb up the corporate ladder. It was 100% about building a profitable business that was sustainable for the long haul.
Which brings us to the environment today. I’m thrilled that members of our team do not have to work 100+ hours a week. I’m ecstatic that members of our team can spend more time with their families and friends and have healthy interests outside of the business. But I can guarantee that if we were starting from scratch, someone would find it necessary to do exactly what we were doing in the 1970s and 1980s, and that is work long hours with a singular focus on long-term success.
The bottom line is that in start-up situations, it’s going to be very difficult to experience today’s definition of “work-life balance.” If you are an entrepreneur and thinking about starting a business, I encourage you to not do so if you are unwilling or unable to make significant sacrifices to establish your enterprise successfully in the marketplace. You would be better off working for a company where someone else has already made those sacrifices that have led to a high level of achievement. Fortunately, my story is a happy one. I have been able to integrate multiple facets of work and personal interests into a wonderful and fulfilling life. I don’t compartmentalize work, philanthropy, family, friends, civic, etc. Everything blends together. But it would not have been possible had I (and others in the organization) not invested my time and talent in an extremely focused manner many years ago.
Work-life balance is possible in the right situation. For an entrepreneur desiring to launch a new endeavor there must be a recognition that there will be large sacrifices regardless of how smart one is able to function.
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.