For me, work is my life

Now, I'm sure you're thinking about how that's unhealthy. But in the simplest way, work and entrepreneurship have become my identity--no different than how an athlete identifies their life with their sport, or a musician identifies with his or her instrument. When you're in love with an activity, it becomes part of who you are. For me, that's building businesses.

I remember when I first tried my hand at retirement. The morning after I resigned from Wilmar/Interline, I woke up and sat up in bed. It was January 1, 2002--the first day of a new year, and the first morning of the rest of my life. I had no alarm clock buzzing in my ear, no voicemails to check, no inbox full of emails; I had no customers calling, no employee issues, and no meetings to attend.

What was I going to do with myself?

I had thought I could stay away from the game and live out my days basking on the beach or shooting the breeze on the golf course. But who was I kidding? On the one hand, I had won the life lottery and could live the rest of my life without ever having to work again. But as the days began to tick by, I was also extremely bored. Am I a bad person for admitting that? I hope not; it's the truth.

Living a so-called "perfect life" can be boring. No one ever tells you that. But in the conversation of work-life balance, the "perfect life" people tend to imagine is one where work is no longer part of the equation--it's just vacations and empty inboxes. But the truth is, if you want to build a successful business, you are going to have to give up a lot of moments of "play" in order to make it happen. Even in those moments of relaxation or weekends with the family, you are still going to have to be somewhat "plugged in" to your business.

Which means the goal shouldn't be for you to separate these two things--but figuring out how you can integrate them in a way that allows you to accomplish both.

For example, throughout my career was, unless I was traveling, I always made a point to be home in time for dinner. It sounds like such a simple thing, but in the long run, making this a priority made all the difference. I'd work hard during the day, come home and see my wife and kids, and then work the rest of the night in our home office.

Second, with today's technology you have the ability (for good and bad) to be plugged into your business 24/7. Which means, even on vacation, I always feel better about being able to check in on things as they happened, instead of coming back to hundreds of unread emails. I do this by waking up early and taking care of any "must do's" before spending the rest of the day relaxing and taking part in any vacation activities I've planned.

Lastly, I've always worked hard to be present, wherever I am. If I was working, I was working. If I was at my kid's sports game, I was paying attention to the game. I knew that I was always going to be pulled in different directions, so I really made it a point to give my full attention to whatever I was doing at the time. And that way, even if I was working a lot, my family knew that when I was there, I was really "there."

It was ironic for me to miss working when I retired, considering the "dream" I'd thought I'd wanted was to reach a point where I would no longer have to work. Today, I'm the founder of a company called LendingOne, and I'm right back to doing what I love...except now I have a bit more perspective on why building businesses means so much to me. If you're doing what you love, then your goal should never be to "separate" it from who you are and the rest of your life. The goal should be to enjoy, really enjoy, the journey of what it is you're building, while also having healthy personal relationships, time with your family, etc.

So, stop thinking about work-life balance.

Instead, start thinking about whether or not your work is something you feel is important enough to you to keep in your life. If it is, then you're already living the dream. And if it's not, then you should be using all that "work-life balance" headspace to figure out how to get out of what you're currently doing--and on to something more fulfilling. 

Published on: Apr 23, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.