It’s Friday and I’m feeling a bit reflective…
I was thinking about a conversation I had a while back. It involved a family member of a famous business guru, who shall remain nameless, and one other person.
This person was talking to the family member, talking about how much they looked up to and wanted to be like the guru.
The family member was quick to say that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
From the outside, the hero guru looked like they had it all made.
But there were significant periods of their life where business had taken priority over family and even health, with two very opposite effects:
— On one hand, their business life flourished, because it got all their time, energy, and attention.
— On the other hand, their family and personal life was rife with stress and struggle, because they were leaving it untended and uncared-for.
The number of top business gurus who’ve been through divorce and other major personal struggles is incredibly high.
Now, I know a lot of marriages and relationships fail — whether you’re a business guru or not. And I don’t know any exact stats that tell me whether wildly-successful people experience marriage failures at a higher rate than any other population.
But I can go down the list of people who I consider to be business heroes in terms of what they can teach you about marketing and selling, and for those whose personal life I know of, a very large number have one or more failed marriages in their background, often at their points of maximum devotion to business success.
Is this imbalance to the point of failure required for business success?
Let me flip to the other side of this.
I’ve also met a lot of people who are very successful in business, who have great family lives. Sure, they struggle with all the normal relationship and family issues that the rest of us deal with, but they are generally happy in the long run.
They put a lot of focus and attention on their business — and they also put a lot of focus and attention on their family life and personal relationships.
Do they ever get out of balance? Absolutely.
Their success in multiple areas of their life doesn’t come because they never get out of balance. But rather because they know to get back into balance, when things start to go out of whack.
I equate it to ice skating. When I was learning to ice skate, I fell just about every time I got out of balance. Later, as I got better, I was able to recover balance when I previously would have fallen. Which is a skill that actually led to me being a much better hockey player, because I could put myself in play-making situations that required temporary imbalance, knowing I could regain my balance quickly after making the play.
You can find your own metaphor in biking, surfing, and many other skills I don’t even have the context to think of.
The question isn’t whether you’re able to maintain balance, the question is whether you’re willing and able to regain balance…
There will be times where you need to make the play. Where you know the only way to reach that short-term goal is to get temporarily out of balance.
The natural next step, once you’re out of balance, is to go with it. And this takes you down the path of becoming a workaholic, and letting your family life suffer.
Or you can make it a priority to come back to balance, knowing that’s the route to health and happiness in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong. I love financial and business success as much as the next entrepreneur. But there’s more to life than that. And in fact, the happiest people, in the long run, have prioritized relationships over money. And often people who prioritized money over relationships later regret that decision, and the impact it had on their lives.
Good news when you run your own business…
I’ve heard some people who’ve started their own business then complain about customer demands on their time, their need to be always-on, and their inability to shut it all off.
Let’s be clear: you made that choice, and created the situation where that is the requirement.
You can also make the other choice. You can make the choice where you seldom if ever work on weekends, where you have ample family time, and where you’re in control of when you pick up the phone and when you don’t.
There will be business trade-offs, sure. But they’re seldom as big as you assume, and sometimes you’ll get extra respect for making the choices that lead to a balanced life.
When I went freelance in 2010, I had one child who was less than a year old, and I made the decision with my wife that I would be available for my family.
Since then, we’ve had two more kids, and the youngest won’t be in school full-time for another couple years.
Most weeks, I drop the kids off at school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and pick them up on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
I only have about 30 hours per week overlap with the normal work week, though I add 5 to 10 hours per week by getting up very early.
This is a choice that leads to more involvement with my kids, more family time, and has created a situation that my kids’ peers crave.
It also means I’ve made some choices about not building the same kind of business I could if I worked 40, 50, or 60 hours every week.
When I’m in work mode, I’m often completely off-balance into my work life. I get frustrated when I have to deal with things besides work during work time. But when I’m in family mode, I try to shut off work as much as possible, to be present for that. And usually I’m pretty dang good about that.
Important questions: What are your priorities? What are you willing to commit to, even when it’s hard?
I’m far from perfect. And none of this comes easy. Balance is hard. Staying in perfect balance is impossible. Coming back it it is often very difficult.
But by establishing priorities, I have a better sense of when things are in that precarious dance of near-balance, and when they’re falling out of it.
Here are the major focus areas that are important for me, based in part on the observations of Ken Wilber in his AQAL/Integral model:
— Individual internal: This is everything going on inside my head. My sense of self. My mental health. My spirituality. My focus. My learning. My personal development. Also, my creative expression. Three big areas that help with individual internal development are being a lifelong learner, having a meditative practice, and having creative and artistic outlets.
— Individual external: This is the health of my physical body. I’ve learned what a difference diet and exercise make when applied over the long run, and I’ve rededicated myself to feeding myself nutritious foods and making healthy diet choices. Plus, I set and meet regular exercise goals that keep me physically strong. Other choices including meditation have positive physical benefits as well.
— Collective internal: These are my relationships with the people around me. My marriage. My relationships with my kids. My broader family. My friends. My work colleagues and associates. The key element to developing these relationships is kindness, caring, compassion, and being generally grateful and giving.
— Collective external: This is the systems of one or more people around us, including our businesses, our communities, our economy and other similar structures. This is the realm of business, career, and financial success, although some business pursuits bleed into other areas as well. The key to success here is found in the old Ziglar quote, that you get what you want in life by helping others get what they want.
These are the things that guide me. I’m far from perfect in all areas. I’m not a saint. But I seek constant improvement in all these areas through the habits I practice and the decisions I make. And when I choose to be an imperfect human, I’m usually aware of that decision (though often not until the mistakes are made and I’m kicking myself for it!).
Here’s how this applies in the little moments…
Let’s say for a moment you have a big deadline coming up. You’re launching a product, and you have the marketing campaign that just has to get done.
Well, that might eat into family time, and it might eat into sleep. While you’re head-down in the project, it might even impact your diet and exercise choices.
You will get out of balance.
These principles are like the little angel on your shoulder, reminding you that once that campaign is out the door, you need to schedule a little something extra with your family, and you need to really make sure you make health food, exercise, and sleep choices for a few days as you get back to balance.
And then maybe next month, you have a family vacation that will require you to neglect your business for a few days. You put a few things in place to make sure that can work and things won’t go too far off course, and then go have fun and focus on family. Knowing that before and after that vacation, you’re going to have to put in a little more focus and effort to account for the time away.
It’s not easy, but if you want to live a life of minimal regret, it’s a smart way to live.
And the good news: There are plenty of people who’ve built incredible businesses, careers, and fortunes with this approach. Even though you need to look a little harder, they are there.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,