About a month ago, I was approached by a young Chicago woman who has devoted her life to helping others--sometimes at the expense of her own happiness. Finally she has realized that it's her turn to ask for support and to find greater happiness in life. But the challenge would be far greater than she had anticipated.
Last week she learned that she has Stage 2 breast cancer. She is a health-conscious athlete who makes her own organic peanut butter, bread, and juices. Cancer was the last thing she or anyone who knows her would have expected. "I haven't lived my life big enough," she said. "I'm not ready to die."
Immediately after learning this news, I spoke to a healthy, 58-year-old client who has decided against taking a few days off to celebrate his mother's 91st birthday with the rest of his family.
"Things are hectic at work," he said. "I'll make it up to her another time." Another time?
These experiences prompted me to think back on the entrepreneurs I have worked with over the years. How many times have I heard someone say he or she hasn't been on a vacation for years? Or that the kids were disappointed that they couldn't go to the zoo as planned? How many times has one parent needed to take the kids camping without the other because something came up at work? And how often has the overwhelmed entrepreneur taken just one more day to wrap things up before getting on a plane to be with a dying relative, sometimes arriving too late? Many, many times, I assure you. And the guilt and regret only add to the burden, making life much more difficult.
Business owners make many sacrifices; it goes with the territory. But many entrepreneurs fall into a pattern of sacrifice that isn't necessary. As the demands of business take over their lives, fear sets in. Fear of losing control, of the unknown, fear of change. And being forced to choose between personal sacrifice and facing fear pushes us out of our comfort zone.
The fear place is simply a more familiar territory, so it feels easier to stay with the fear and sacrifice a personal opportunity once again.
You're probably wondering how you can work less when your business needs you more. I hope that one or more of these suggestions will help you figure it out.
1. Redefine your life balance.
Is there such a thing as life balance for an entrepreneur? I believe there is, but it may be different than what you imagine. Sometimes balancing your personal and professional life is nearly impossible. Say, during a launch, when your product is in beta mode, you are on deadline for your publisher, or when you're preparing for the most important pitch of your career. But if you are in what you consider "high gear" most of the time, there is something seriously wrong with your business model. It's time to bring on an advisory board, mentor, or coach. Get expert advice on how you can revise your business model so it doesn't rely solely on you.
2. Adjust your perspective.
When you launched your business, you had a vision. Did it include a fabulous lifestyle that now seems out of reach? Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of thinking that the ideal lifestyle is based solely on money. Sure, it takes money to have pricey possessions, take luxurious vacations, and drive the car of your dreams. But it doesn't take money to be home in time to enjoy dinner with the family, to work out, or spend an evening with friends. Downtime is crucial to your emotional and physical health. Your business will be more successful when you are in good health and have some level of balance in your life, even if it's not exactly perfectly consistent.
3. Imagine letting go--but not losing control.
Let's say that you decide to shorten your work hours or take a few days off. How bad can it really get? Ask yourself what the worst possible scenario might be. Are you being honest with yourself? Is it really that bad? Dig deeply. Look for the real reason that you don't want to be away from your work. Are you avoiding something in your personal life? Do you believe that you will lose control of your business if you step away or that you'll miss an important opportunity? Most often, people who resist time off simply need to be needed and to remain in control. Let go a little. Things may not run smoothly while you're gone, but you will learn a lot about your business model, yourself, and the need for change. That's not all bad.
4. Nothing's working? Give your personal life a little business treatment.
Make a list of the people and experiences closest to your heart. Then consider how much time you intend to carve out of your weekly schedule to enjoy them. What must you have in place to allow for some personal time? Creating systems and documenting procedures will help. Letting go of the tasks that someone else should be doing is critical. Take it step by step and enjoy the journey by celebrating each moment of the precious freedom that you deserve.