Vik Patel is a prolific tech entrepreneur with a passion for all things cloud. As the CEO of Detroit-based Future Hosting, Mr. Patel has played a significant role in the world of hosted infrastructure since the turn of the millennium. His unique perspective throughout the dawn of the new Internet frontier is further enriched by a B.A. from the University of Michigan and J.D. from the John Marshall Law School.
When I first became an entrepreneur, my approach to work was simple: work was everything, and nothing else mattered. I invested all the hours I could into managing and growing my business. When I wasn't working, I was thinking about my business. When I wasn't thinking about my business, I was sleeping--and I didn't do much of that. At first, I was happy: I loved the exhilarating feeling of building something, and I knew the road to success was paved with hard work and dedication.
I was an avid reader of biographies of successful entrepreneurs, and I thought the lesson was clear: wake up at 4:00 a.m., go to bed at midnight and work in between. It'll come as no surprise to anyone that my happiness didn't last long. Within six months, I was exhausted. I was easily distracted. Ideas didn't come to me as easily, and I was ill more often. Instead of taking a step back, I blamed myself. Perhaps I didn't have what it took to be a success like the entrepreneurs I admired.
Finding a Hinterland
I was lamenting my lack of drive with a close friend of mine, an Englishman who never seemed flustered or upset. He had the respect of our peers, but he didn't seem to work nearly as hard as I did. In response to my complaints, he introduced me to an idea that has been important to me ever since. He observed that I lacked a hinterland. I had no idea what that meant, so he explained that a hinterland is a term used in British politics to describe a person's interest in or knowledge of matters unrelated to their work. It might be literature, sports, science or art. To be a well-rounded individual, it is necessary to develop a hinterland. It's considered suspect not to have one: people without a hinterland are thought to be lacking something important.
I dismissed the idea out of hand. Work is what matters, I insisted. And, of course, I continued to become gradually less happy and productive. Eventually, I began to think more about the idea of a hinterland. I was clearly on the path to burnout, so what was there to lose? I embarked on the project of developing my own. For me, it was reading about topics that interested me, but weren't related to my work or to business: fiction, history, science and art. I made myself spend a couple of hours a day, usually in the morning, developing this hinterland. I took at least one day a week off of work to do something enriching, often with friends, sometimes alone.
The results were remarkable. I was happier, of course, but what I hadn't expected was that I became so much better at my job. My focus improved, and I was able to think more clearly. My productivity skyrocketed, because every hour I spent working was an enthusiastic hour. I worked less, but I worked so much better.
The lesson here is not that hard work isn't important, or that it's necessarily harmful: hard work is essential. But there's something damaging in the attitude the startup culture has about work: work is everything and, even when you're playing, it should be all about work. I work hard, but I make sure that I don't neglect my hinterland, because it is this hinterland that nourishes me and empowers me to work better every day.