Right around 1986 the hot thing to talk about was “Work, Life, Balance” (WLB). For Baby Boomers and Gen X, the next decade was about how to achieve this euphoric “WLB”. I’m here to say that Work, Life, Balance is a pile of crap. Firstly, the premise of WLB is that work is in opposition to life. For those of us that live our life in reality, work is a fundamental part of life. You can’t have one without the other… it’s like money without labor, loyalty without trust, success without sacrifice. It’s like being at odds with yourself all the time, where your core values and beliefs do not align.
What does Work Life Balance mean for an entrepreneur?
When you’re in the startup and growth stages of a company the entrepreneur is putting everything on the line to start this company. I don’t know any smart startups where they aren’t pouring everything they have into trying to make the company successful. An attitude of “I’ve put in my 40 hours in this week is enough” is never prevalent. When you describe characteristics of an entrepreneur you see words like: driven, ambitious, pioneering, strong-willed, aggressive, competitive, and responsible. You would never hear an entrepreneur say “wow, I worked 10 hours of over-time this week, I’m working too hard”. Dr. Bell, of the Bell Leadership Academy said “Entrepreneurs have a special gift, they are continuous learners and achievers”. I’ll come back to the “continuous learner” part later as this certainly has an impact on whether you can achieve “WLB”. I’m not going to even get into the success versus failure rate for a startup other than to state that with the odds stacked completely against you. The entrepreneur is going to do what ever it takes to survive the first few years in business.
When you get your company past the “valley of death” stage there are a number of things that you can do to allow yourself to reclaim some of time and spend it on things that you care about most — like being able to attend your kids soccer games. You have to hire people that have the same drive and motivation for success. You need to have your #2 in your company that can be there and move the business forward even when you’re not there.
If you’re in the growth stage of the company, you’re going to be pushing hard and forced to learn new things. This is where the continuous learner part comes into play. You’ve got to be able to delegate and hand off parts of your job so that you can put the time into the new areas where you don’t have the expertise yet. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to do all that work and still have to learn the new stuff so that your business can grow. Most entrepreneurs that can’t figure out how to hand things off will ultimately fail and burnout.
“Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life”. I don’t know who coined that phrase but it certainly is stuck in my mind. I don’t think that you have to separate work and life, there seems to be work in life and plenty of life in work. So figure out what it is that you love doing and focus in on that.
I’ve always been impressed with Ali Spain and Kim Johnson, cofounders of the AK Group, as they seem to have built a company that allows them to have a growing company, challenging and rewarding work, and the time to spend with their family. I asked Ali if she felt like she was choosing between spending time with family and earning an income and here’s what she had to say:
Ali Spain, Cofounder of The AK Group, says “Yes, one makes that choice every day. When I was a corporate employee, I personally felt I could not move the dial toward family; and therefore I made the choice to not start my family until after I left the corporation. Today in my consulting business, I’ve found that balance, but it was and continues to be a choice. There are tradeoffs & compromises with any choice. It’s up to every individual to determine what their personal work-life-balance is and which employment situation allows for that balance. For example, some of our AK Group consultants prefer to work full-time throughout the school year and then take the summer off to be with their children – they find their balance of family & work on an annual scale.
I also asked the same question to Jeff Hill, GM of FrogBox Seattle, he says “Sometimes circumstances force you to choose. The key it to be aware, communicate the “why” and take advantage of the opportunities to tip the scale the other directions whenever possible (e.g. take your child on your work-out, pull the all-nighter for work but take a long weekend with the family after the big deadline). The key to living a happy and balanced lifestyle is understanding your values and living them in miniature. Every decision you make (small or large) should be a reflection of the person you want to be, the company / culture you are trying to create and the example you are trying to set.
Julie Jumonville, CEO of UpSpring Baby, says “I do not feel that I have to choose between kids versus earning an income and here is an example for you. My first business I started while pregnant with my first child Grace. It was an engineering consulting firm called Avery Environmental Services, that provided environmental, health and safety consulting to large companies. I recognized that if I cut out the middle man (i.e. large consulting firm) and worked directly with the companies I contracted with that I could work half the time and make more of money. Basically, this enabled me to work smarter not harder and most importantly enjoy all the important parenting moments that every mother wants to experience.”
Can Employees Have Life, Life, Balance?
Absolutely. However, in a early stage startup and depending on your role, probably not. But as the company matures surely you can. If you’re a clock watcher in a startup or in the growth stage you probably won’t make it far. You’ll either get fired or the company that you’re draining is probably not going to survive and you’ll be out of a job. I think the way that a person can get to the euphoric state is to become so damn effective at your job that you don’t have to work overtime. It’s about mastery in what you do. When you’re just learning a job you’ve got two choices 1) put in the time to learn and become an expert; 2) don’t put in the effort and get replaced by someone that can and will.
How did that guy/gal get work-life balance? Michelle enjoys life–even at work! Dave likes his job too. And he doesn’t work as hard as I do. Doesn’t put in as many hours. And gets favorable treatment from management and his coworkers.
In different ways, Michelle and Dave just add value to their co-workers and company. It makes them enjoyable to be around, and more productive. Michelle found ways to appreciate the value she adds in various tasks/interactions of her job (sure not all, but plenty of them). Dave got so good at what he likes doing best, that most of the rest of his job is now done by others. What if you’re an entrepreneur? Have you tried to empower your team to do essentially all that you do? After you got past the trials and tribulations stage, did you see the smiles come to their faces? Did you look in the mirror and see the relief and smile on your face?! Now you’re living. Maybe even thriving.
That work-life balance can be so good, and your job has become such an enjoyable part of your life, that you have attained life-life balance.
The key thing to do as an employee is to be sure to understand what your primary goals are. If you have quarterly or monthly goals then make sure you’re reaching and exceeding them. Get so good at what you do that it doesn’t take as much time to complete it. You’ve all seen those people that don’t have to put in as many hours as others but they are still the “Linchpin’s” or A Players. They are the ones that create so much value when they work. They are the “rain makers”. Become that.