The phrase "work-life balance" is ubiquitous in any dialogue about entrepreneurship. The implication is both clear and inaccurate: One side is positive (life) and one is negative (work), thus one should strive for equilibrium.
In the U.S., over 70 percent of city workers don't like their jobs, according to a 2017 Gallup poll--so having a fulfilling lifestyle that offsets one's unhappiness during the day makes sense. Fortunately, that's not the case for most entrepreneurs.
We're natural-born businesspeople who thrive on starting, building, learning, testing, risking and failing. Our brains are tuned differently. For us, work isn't a negative at all. Your entrepreneurial journey might be difficult and painful, but it should never feel like work.
Most people would describe their life goals as freedom, happiness, love, or success--which are the exact reasons we start businesses and choose this crazy lifestyle. There's no balance to be found--there isn't even a differentiation. For us, work is life.
And that's the way it should be. Here's why.
You can achieve a work-is-life mindset without being a workaholic.
This attitude is routinely demonized, especially in the U.S., because it sounds like entrepreneurship requires you to be a workaholic.
A workaholic is someone with an uncontrollable compulsion to work, who isn't able to think about anything else. This causes intolerable stress, broken relationships, and poor health.
A work-is-life mindset is different. We entrepreneurs love what we do, despite how brutal it can be. No matter where we are or what we're doing, our business is on our mind. We're constantly solving micro-problems or getting inspired by our surroundings.
I started ÄKTA in 2010 off a credit card. Over the next five years, we became one of the fastest-growing companies in America and out-performed virtually every competitor we faced. During that time, I also traveled to over 30 countries for pleasure and volunteer work, had a lively group of close friends, was constantly out doing fun things and even maintained a healthy relationship for a couple years.
Spectators constantly asked how I managed to be so productive and run such a successful business while enjoying life for so much of it. The answer is simple: I was always working--always. My life was my work, and vice-versa.
I would knock out proposals on a plane, take conference calls from the middle of a jungle, have invigorating intellectual conversations over a casual dinner which led to a new innovation for a client, or start a new business based on an interesting need I observed while traveling abroad. Many people who I interacted with during this time didn't even know I was the CEO of a fast-growing company.
Acknowledge the downsides--then work to address them.
As with all things, there are downsides as well as upsides.
One major drawback I experienced was being taken away from day-to-day company activities and feeling disconnected. I learned to keep up this work-is-life lifestyle, I had to have an incredible leadership team to support me.
Another downside is that it may look too easy from the outside. You can lose the respect of your team and associates if it looks like you're out having fun instead of focusing on your business.
To avoid this requires some discretion and consistent communication. Many entrepreneurs are quite proud of this lifestyle and tend to "show off" in our age of social media. You must remain more private and keep aspects of this lifestyle to yourself. You must also make sure your team and clients know you're connected and not neglecting your duty.
Because of my love and passion for business, work doesn't carry the same negative connotation for me that it does for others. Perhaps this is unique to us entrepreneurs: Nothing feels more fun and fulfilling than starting a business or solving interesting problems. When you have that level of inherent mental focus, it never turns off--and it doesn't have to impede your ability to have a great life.
At the age of 32, I had enough money to retire if I wanted to. Over the next two years, I ended up investing in a dozen businesses, as well as starting a large new global enterprise focused on a slew of industries that I had absolutely no prior experience in (namely real estate development). While life (work) is as busy as it ever has been, I have never enjoyed life so much or learned more than I have recently.
My advice to you--especially if you're an up-and-coming entrepreneur--is simple: Work-life balance is a fallacy and you're allowed to ignore it. Don't worry about the optics.
Don't feel like you have to sit in an office until late hours to prove that you're working hard. You can be just as productive, and probably far more, if you find a way to live just as ambitiously.