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For Entrepreneurs Work-Life Balance is a Horrible Metaphor

Everybody talks about achieving work life balance. It is the holy grail for ambitious people and a constant struggle. The problem is it is a horrible metaphor and will do you a lot of harm.

Starting and running a business takes a lot of time and mental energy. Unfortunately it is the people we most care about that end up suffering.

I think I’ve watched one episode of the West Wing, and I don’t really even remember what it was about, but there was a scene in it that has stuck with me. One of the main characters, I believe he was the President’s chief of staff, had a special date night scheduled with his wife. They were just getting ready to walk out the door when he gets a call. That call informed him of an international crisis that could put the country on the brink of war.

He told his wife he had to go to work.

Entrepreneurs can identify with this. We have personal things planned and get the call that our server is down and we aren’t taking orders. Or that we can speak to a huge new audience we’ve been trying to reach if only we’ll come right now.

The chief of staff’s wife had that hurt look on her face and asked him when she was going to be more important than his work.

His answer was basically, never, not if the alternative was nuclear war.

And I remember thinking, of all the husbands who’ve been asked that question – “When will I be more important than your work?” He was the only one justified is saying never.

You – my business owning friend – are not stopping nuclear war.

I tell this story because we all understand our business isn’t as important as our relationships.

I like to say I help people get what they really want in life. I put the really in there because you don’t want a successful business anymore than you want a lot of money. You really want what you think those things will give you.

You want a successful business because of what it can do for your family. Not as a substitute for a family.

The first thing to realize when trying to achieve work-life balance, is what’s the balance? What is it you want really want? Why do you have your business if it is not for those people you care about to benefit from it?

Which brings me to another problem I have with work-life balance.

Balance is over rated.

You want to be the best guitarist in the world? You don’t do that by being balanced. You do it by be obsesses.

You will not build a large world class business with just a little bit of time. A little bit of work.

You will only do it by massive effort.

Unbalanced effort.

So if our family and relationships needs to be as important as our business, and success requires obsession and unbalanced effort, how can we achieve work-life balance?

You can’t. It is a false belief. A bad metaphor.

Don’t try and put your work and your life – whatever that is. I mean is your work not part of your life?

No you need to integrate your work and life. In all aspects of your life you are going to make trade offs of time and effort. In your work there is always going to be more than you can do. More things to do, than time to do them, or energy to do them.

That’s true in your personal life as well. We can’t say yes to everything. Your kids can’t do everything that is available for them to do.

So you need to lump everything you need and want to do into one big pile and prioritize them based on the outcomes you want. Sometimes you’ve got to go stop that nuclear war at the office and sacrifice a kids recital. And sometimes you need to miss that opportunity to get a new client so your child will know you care about that 3rd grade play they are in.

A couple of things to keep in mind.

No one thing is the end of the world. You miss a single recital and your kid won’t grow up to be a serial killer. You don’t call that big prospect back immediately, it won’t crater your business. There will be more chances to build your family and your business.

Second examine your beliefs about the things you are struggling with. A lot of times we are broken up because we believe that to be a good parent we have to make every baseball game. Because of that belief we feel tremendous guilt if you miss one. But that is in our head, not necessarily in our kids. Find out the truth by asking them. Letting them be part of the decision.

Question of the day: How do you make your work part of your life?

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