A Helpful Mantra For When Work Gets Stressful
When you’re an entrepreneur, your work is your life. You log insane hours. All you think about is work. And, for the most part, it’s fun.
Unfortunately, living like this sometimes results in suffocating stress that saps the enjoyment from what you do.
Last year, I went through just such a period. My company was going through the most critical period in its history. We were expanding from four graduate programs to 11. We topped 500 employees. We were undergoing transitions on our board of directors. I was working constantly and was under tremendous pressure to ensure our new business performed according to plan.
I needed a break.
My boat is my place of peace. (Note to reader: find yours.) One Saturday, I took the day off and went boating on the Chesapeake Bay with my family. As I docked, I noticed a man on a boat in front of me.
He was probably in his late 50s. We started talking and he had a strong Southern drawl. His name was Tom and it turned out that he was a business owner, too--a funeral director, no less. We had a pleasant chat, and I went about my day.
The next morning, as I was ordering breakfast, Tom the funeral director walked into the restaurant. We chatted. I found him so polite, engaging, and generally delightful that I said, “You might be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
“Every day’s a holiday, and every meal’s a feast,” he replied.
That phrase struck a chord. I asked what he meant.
He replied again, “Every day’s a holiday, and every meal’s a feast."
He elaborated. “For 25 years, I was a grade-A son of a bitch,” he said. “I ran my funeral shop like an angry drill sergeant. All work, no play. I was a total hardass. Well, I recently had a massive heart attack. I was in a hospital bed for three weeks, and all I could do was lean back and count ceiling tiles. “From that moment on, I knew I had to wake up and smell the roses. That doesn’t mean I don’t work. It means I’m not sweatin’ the small stuff. Every day is truly a holiday. And now, for me, every meal is truly a feast--even on a low-cholesterol diet.”
I think most people will agree that Tom’s epiphany isn’t exactly rocket science. But this encounter truly changed the way I run my business.
Sometimes, we founders work ourselves, and others, to the breaking point. Every so often, we need to step back, find balance, and reevaluate priorities--to focus on the simple stuff.
I’ve been working to channel Tom’s wisdom on a daily basis. When we bring on new hires, it’s the first thing we mention. His motto helped me, and it helps our team keep everything in perspective.
If you can channel this simple axiom every day, life becomes simply happier and less complicated. And the same thing will happen to your company, too.
CHIP PAUCEK | Columnist
Chip Paucek is the CEO and co-founder of 2U, an online education provider based in Landover, Maryland.