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.

A Boomer’s Advice to Millennials

Baby Boomers and Millennials. Two massive generations – 74.9 million Boomers and 75.4 million Millennials, and as different as night and day. But then, most generations are quite different. And I’m sure that every older generation shakes its collective head about the younger generation. The music, the attire, the idioms and the social mores are all puzzling to both. There’s no doubt from a work perspective that Boomers and Millennials aren’t always on the same page. For the sake of generational harmony I want to offer some ideas that hopefully will be helpful in bridging the gap.

  1. Use the phone. As a Boomer I’m a telephone guy. I use e-mail extensively but have learned that it’s not always the right communications tool for every situation. Why? Because it’s one-dimensional. E-mail – and I include text messages, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn messaging and Snapchat in this category – is dangerous for complex subjects that requires interpretation, and for situations where there is the potential for conflict. I’ve seen too many instances of hurt feelings stemming from what someone read (and misinterpreted) in an e-mail. Many of my Millennial friends and colleagues aren’t as inclined to use the telephone. I urge them to do so when the subject needs more than just a factual recitation.
  2. See people in person. No, this advice does not contradict what I previously said about using the phone. The personal touch is all about building relationships and culture. It’s much harder to do sitting behind a desk or a computer screen. I really enjoy getting out of my office multiple times during the day and going to see someone else in person – inside and outside our office. This gives me a chance to “read” the feelings of another person with whom I’m interacting. And I can clarify anything about my communications when I notice puzzlement or discomfort emanating from the other party. By the way – if I can’t meet someone in person, I’d much rather connect via a videoconference than just an audio phone call for all of the same reasons.
  3. Build relationships. Meeting people in the flesh is all part of the relationship building process. And relationships are the lifeblood of success in entrepreneurship. I subscribe to the philosophy that I want to avoid trying to “sell” anything to someone else. Instead, I want to be in a position to help them “buy.” I strongly believe that this is much easier to accomplish through relationships. Ultimately the foundation for my relationships is service. I want to serve other people in whatever way I can without the thought of quid pro quo. I’ve seen firsthand how the world embraces this. When I do good for others without any expectation from them in return – great and wonderful things happen to me. It’s that simple.
  4. Develop resilience. Millennials, guess what? We Boomers may have been too protective of our offspring when they were young. Life isn’t fair and the same goes for business. When we avoid all thoughts of victimization and concentrate on perseverance we eventually succeed. Quitting is not an option but being smarter than the problem is. Get up off the ground, dust yourself off and figure out a different way to get the result you are seeking.
  5. Differentiate. Speaking of a different way, the world keeps becoming more competitive. It’s more important than ever to find a way to differentiate our products, services and even ourselves. This means becoming more creative, more innovative and more customer-centric. Believe me when I say that understanding true differentiation requires a lot of heavy lifting. Those who think this is a relatively easy task are missing the fact that there’s a great deal of nuance in differentiation. This means that the customer must really perceive the value of differentiation – it doesn’t matter that’s how we see it.
  6. Be prepared to sacrifice. We all want work/life balance. But I’m sorry to say that it’s not always possible. As Boomers, it was ingrained in us that hard work was necessary to get ahead. That meant “paying our dues” and making many sacrifices early in our career. As Millennials, you may not have to be as obsessed as were we. However you will have to make sacrifices at some level to achieve great things. We worked hard and a lot. You will need to work hard, but you can also work smart. The key today is to replace working a lot with working smart.

Baby Boomers and Millennials have much to learn from each other. I believe that the advice I’m offering as a Boomer transcends generations. Hopefully you will find it helpful in your life.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 68 – Danger Will Robinson; Danger!

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.