After watching Hillary Clinton's hourlong interview with Diane Sawyer promoting Clinton's new memoir, Hard Choices, I must make a decidedly apolitical declaration: She seems happy.
She spoke about expecting her first grandchild; about having material comforts, following years of financial struggle; about a platonically fulfilling marriage; about her gratitude for surviving two recent health scares; and about fond memories of her mother's final years.
Yes, I know I sound naive. You can spare me the lectures about how she's trying to sell a book or lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign. None of it's lost on me. Every politician's fine art is not seeming like a politician.
Regardless, I found in Clinton's TV appearance the kernels of a dilemma that's actually relevant to your lives as entrepreneurs: The challenge of finding happiness when your ambitions tend to come with nonstop stress.
Building a Happy Life
We have all seen the time-lapse photographs of how presidents age after four or eight years in office. Clinton herself even referred to them in the interview. Sawyer mentioned that if elected in 2016, Clinton would enter office at age 69--making her the second-oldest president ever to take office, after Ronald Reagan.
So I innocently wondered: Why would anyone with so much seeming happiness and comfort at that age opt to take on the stresses of the White House?
Early in the interview, Clinton declared, "I really like my life. I like what I'm doing. I'm thrilled about being a grandmother in the fall." About running for president, she said that "she'd take a deep breath and go through the pluses and minuses." What struck me about her answer was her admission that there were "minuses" to the job. Talk about something we all know, but rarely hear politicians admit before they (potentially) run.
Of course, there's a parallel here to the entrepreneurial life: The minuses probably aren't discussed as much as they should be. Instead, entrepreneurship is commonly fetishized as a path to freedom, wealth, and even celebrity.
But too few are the earnest warnings of just how all-consuming and enervating "the life" can be.
Entrepreneurial Stresses (and Successes)
More than a few studies have pointed out the advantages older entrepreneurs enjoy compared with their younger colleagues. One is an appreciation for work-life balance. For serial entrepreneurs, the learning curve tends to go like this: You start your first company. You figuratively kill yourself to make it viable. You succeed or fail. Either way, the next time around, you figure out a way to do it without compromising so much of your leisure time.
One of the best illustrations of this is Paul Eichen, whom Inc. profiled back in 2000. Eichen founded the Rokenbok Toy Company in 1995. Financially, he didn't really have to. His previous company, Proxima, which he'd founded in 1982, had grown to $130 million in sales and gone public. Eichen had enough money to retire. But what he didn't have was happiness. In the profile, Michael Hopkins wrote:
The man who'd once been a wiry young rock climber was now so fat he couldn't take an evening stroll without stopping. By each weekend he was "cooked," couch-bound, a troll. The man who'd abandoned college to build a family now had one, but he barely ever bumped into its members. "I was up at 5:30 and out before anyone was awake," he says. He lunched at his desk, getting someone to fetch him a sandwich. He sometimes got home so late that his children--he and Amy now also had a daughter, Rachel--were asleep when he returned. "They didn't know their father while he was at Proxima," Amy says. "Instead, they had this image of what a dad was"--Alan Spaulding on Guiding Light, a manipulative, workaholic family-business owner who rarely spent time with his kids.
As a result of Eichen's experience, when he built Rokenbok, he aimed to make it a lifestyle business. The whole story is worth your while. But the point is simple: His days of 24/7 toil were over. With money in the bank, he could afford to build a company around his pursuit of happiness. And that's what he did.
Taking the Easy Money
Politicians, of course, have their own version of the lifestyle business: They make speeches for a living.
During the Hillary Clinton interview, we learned that she has made about $5 million for giving speeches--while her husband has made more than $100 million. Hillary went on the defensive about earning it:
Well if you--you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead-broke but in debt.... We struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea's education. You know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard.... We had to pay off all our debts, which was, you know, he had to make double the money, because of, obviously, taxes.
Think what you will of how the Clintons made their money, and how much they've made, but this much is indisputable: If money and free time are Hillary's goals, then making speeches is a better bet than running the country.
Of course, there are some goals which--to some people--transcend the lure of cash and leisure. Whether the nation's highest office still has that hold over Hillary, we shall soon find out.