What is this “work-life balance” thing people keep talking about?
I am an entrepreneur. It’s what I’ve chosen to do with my life. I am very happy with my life, which is largely composed of work: work which I’ve chosen because, yes, it makes me money, because it makes the world better (assuming we’re successful), and because it gives expression to my particular gifts, such as they are. Some people paint, some write poetry. This is what I do.
When I hear people whine (and yes, fair or unfair, that’s what I hear them doing) about “work-life balance,” it seems to me that more often than not they’re expressing an entitlement mentality. “I really shouldn’t have to work,” they seem to be saying, “but since I do, I demand as much time away from that work as I can possibly get away with.” And if their work is indeed meaningless and stupid, then good for them (although if we counted up all the hours these same people are probably spending on Facebook and porn sites on their employer’s time while pretending to work, then not so good at all).
But I bet your work is not meaningless to your employer, which is to say, the person to whom you gave your word that you’d work very hard to advance his interests in exchange for money you need and expect to receive promptly, complete with occasional raises and lots of benefits. You know, money that could have gone to someone more dedicated, more productive, more honest, or at the very least, more important to your employer: his wife, his kids, his favorite charity, whatever.
It seems to me that if you’re not doing your best all the time, you’re stealing. That may offend you. But if you’ve ever had to make a payroll, especially in an early-stage venture where everything’s on the line, you know: it’s really that simple.
Now if in those hours to which you are limiting yourself in the name of “balance” you can do your very best and give everything that could reasonably be expected — which is to say, at the very least, everything you would expect of you if the shoe were on the other foot — then fine. Go play racquetball. Get a beer. Have at it. Again, good for you.
I work for myself. I’ve organized my life in a way such that I am almost always near or with my family. But we’re doing serious things, and I work constantly, and rarely let up. I certainly work far more hours than anyone who works for me, and as long as they live up to the standard just stated, I take crazy good care of them in ways hardly any employers would dream of. But we’re not here to “have balance”; they can do that working for the Post Office, and make exactly a postal worker’s amount of difference in the world. If “balance” is the principal object, why not?
At PayPal I routinely saw guys in their cubicles for as much as 56 hours, leaving only to go to the bathroom. I saw people sleep on the floor because they didn’t want to waste the hour or two it would take to go home and return. We were going up against some of the biggest and best competitors in the world. We went from zero to 25 million customers in two and a half years. Not like curing polio perhaps, but we absolutely made a difference in the world, a difference I’m not one bit ashamed to point out included a great return on our investors’ trust in us. We didn’t do any of this by whining about whether we had enough “me time.”
I’m not saying this is how anyone else has to live. Do what you want. You can be perfectly happy as an assistant manager in a five and dime in Peoria, if all you want from life is an eight-to-five and some softball.
But I’m good at what I do, and I like doing it. There aren’t that many people in the world who can do what I do either; there are lots of competitors, but the percentage of global population is pretty low. And honestly, you only have so many years in this life, and you ought to make them count, at whatever you happen to be good at.
So no, very much like Olympic athletes, medical students, and other people building toward some truly exceptional goal, entrepreneurs should give it their all. You chose your “work-life balance” when you chose your course: your work is your life. I certainly wouldn’t want a brain surgeon who didn’t feel that way, and I wouldn’t want to invest in your startup if you don’t too.
Rod D. Martin, founder and CEO of The Martin Organization, is a technology entrepreneur, futurist, fund manager, and visiting professor. Fox Business News has called him a “tech guru”, Britain’s Guardian labeled him a “philosopher-capitalist”, and Gawker once described him as a “brilliant nonconformist.” He was a member of PayPal’s pre-IPO startup team and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Council for National Policy.
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