No, I don't run a 'lifestyle' business. But I've finally figured out what's important in life. I encourage you to do the same.
Everybody knows the old saying – on your deathbed, you never wish you had worked more. But as an entrepreneur, however, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of literally working yourself to death, or at least working hard right up until your death. But along with the increased demands and responsibilities of owning a business come flexibilities you won’t typically find in other lines of work. Why not take advantage of them?
Start by thinking about what’s really important to you – what you want out of life. If it’s money, then working hard and working a lot may fit perfectly. For my business partner, Rolf, and I, it was family. Several years ago, as my wife and I were thinking about starting a family, we spent some time wondering about what having kids might look like for us. My wife and I made a personal decision to spend as much time as possible with our kids before they entered kindergarten, while still giving us both the opportunity to continue our careers. If one of us could work three days a week and the other work two days a week, wouldn’t that be great? How could we make that happen?
We knew this wasn’t just going to happen by itself. We needed a deliberate, thoughtful process, and it would take a while to get it going. The first thing Rolf and I needed to come to accept was that the business could not be about us. If we needed to be physically present for the business to run, this wasn’t going to work.
In some sense, it was a bitter pill to swallow. We had to accept that a) we may not be needed for the business to grow, and b) there are people that could do our jobs better than we were doing it. We already had great people who could step up and fill our shoes, but we still needed to develop the good systems to keep things running smoothly when we left. We didn’t have any of the things you take for granted at a big company, so we needed to come up with them: the employee handbook, the emergency evacuation plan, the up-to-date safety manual, facility improvements, a standardized performance review protocol, making our computer network more robust, remote access to our network, and establishing performance metrics that could be updated on a daily basis. Preparing all this wasn’t exactly fun work, but it got done. And in the process, we found ourselves with a much better company.
It’s been more than a year now. Rolf and I have removed ourselves from daily operations. Our current team handles everything expertly in our absence. When we are in the office – each three days a week – we are able to concentrate on the more strategic activities that will hopefully grow the business even more. Rolf even took a year off to live in the Czech Republic so that his young children could get to know his wife’s family better. I spend my Tuesdays and Thursdays driving my six-year-old’s carpool, taking her to violin lessons, and playing Barbie and going swimming with my three-year-old. I am very lucky, I know, and try not to take it for granted.
There are certainly risks involved. We have been careful, and successful (I hope) in preventing a sense a resentment from our co-workers, who continue to work five days a week while we work three. Thankfully, they have risen to the challenge and have viewed our departure from the day-to-day activities as opportunities for them to learn and take on more responsibility. Of course, we have been mindful to continue to compensate them fairly, as well.
And we are always cognizant that tough times could set in, and we may be required to return to the 80-hour-plus work week just to survive. But that’s part of the point, too – you never know when that might happen. You can never be sure when anything might happen. You might as well do the things you want in life now. Otherwise, you’ll blink and wonder where all the time has gone. So don’t put off exercising, learning to play the guitar, traveling, spending time with family, or whatever it is you truly value in life, until retirement. Start making it happen today.
HANS STEEGE is a co-owner and the CEO of Dero, a Minneapolis-based business that builds bicycle-friendly communities worldwide. Before landing at Dero, Hans worked as an engineer in the machine design and product development industries.