When my friend Ian graduated from high school he got a job working for a contractor. Over time he realized he loved framing -- turning a foundation into a skeleton of walls and ceilings and roofs seemingly overnight. He realized he loved finish work, and developed the level of skill and attention to detail that separates great carpenters from good ones.
So he started his own construction business, one that by every measure was extremely successful.
But he didn't love his construction business, because success has changed the nature of his work. And his life: "I hadn't swung a hammer in forever," he says. "I hadn't been dirty and sweaty and physically wrung out -- in a good way -- in forever."
Instead, he supervised people who supervised people. He wrote proposals. He reviewed estimates and contracts. He coordinated supply chains.
Business success led to a healthy bank balance and a seemingly enviable level of prestige and community standing.
But it also kept him from doing what he started a business to actually do: Work side by side with a small, tight group of people who built houses with their own hands.
His story is far from unusual. Plenty of chefs start their own restaurants, only to find that running a successful restaurant means they almost never get to spend time in the kitchen. Plenty of programmers start their own firms, only to find that running a successful business means they rarely get to spend time coding.
Entrepreneurs are usually told to work on, rather than in, their businesses. After all, every minute spent working on tasks that can be delegated is a minute not spent on strategy, planning, and growth.
Unfortunately, while that advice may help you build a successful business, it may not help you build a successful life.
If your goal is to enjoy what you do, to gain fulfillment and satisfaction and happiness from what you do... you might need a new definition of success.
Your own definition of success.
In Ian's case, that process took time. He didn't replace employees who left for other jobs or to start their own businesses. He carefully matched the number of new projects he took on with his company's slowly decreasing capacity.
Within a few years he was down to two crews and could "only" handle two concurrent builds. People assumed his business was failing.
But his business is thriving, because Ian is thriving.
Sometimes he gets to spend the entire day working on job sites. Some days he has to break away for a few hours to meet potential customers, write proposals, line up materials, and coordinate with other trades. (He enjoys that aspect of the job; he just doesn't want to do it all of the time.) He also gets to spend time personally training new employees and developing longer-term employees.
And -- and this is really important to him -- he gets to drive by certain houses and think, "I helped build that."
As you plan a business or embark on any career path, take the time to decide what "success" really means to you.
If your goal is to become a wealthy restaurateur, the economics of the industry mean you'll need to own multiple locations. You'll need to build not just a restaurant, but a restaurant business -- and you won't have time to work in the kitchen or front of the house.
Which is great if that's not your goal. But it will leave you unhappy and unfulfilled if your real definition of success is getting to spend every day cooking great food.
Make sure that what you really want reflects what you design your business to deliver.
If you want more freedom to organize your day, you'll need to build a business with relatively few employees. Leading people takes time. (It should take time; otherwise you're only pretending to be a leader.)
If you want to own a billion-dollar company, you'll need to build a business based not on one-on-one, relatively personal interactions, but on technology and automation that can scale to serve millions of people.
Embrace other people's definition of success and, with time and effort and persistence, you can certainly build a "successful" business or career. But the process -- and the daily experience -- may also leave you feeling hollow.
Instead of defining success by a finish line -- a number, a metric, a certain house or certain car or certain public profile -- define success by whether you get to do work you enjoy.
Work that leaves you feeling fulfilled, and satisfied, and happy. Work that allows you to control, as best possible, your own destiny.
The beauty of starting a business is that you are free to choose what kind business -- so design and build your business or professional life based on your own definition of success.
Because we all have to make a living.
But we also need to live.