Why is the “There will be more Tomorrow” Paradox so important yet so hard to live by
How juggling seemingly exclusive states of mind and facing the hardest decision can keep you mentally sane in this startup game
Let’s start by acknowledging the elephant in the room and assume it right from the beginning: if you’re building and growing a startup there is way too much to do and too little time — being it within or out of the company. That’s the nature of the game, and you should know it if you’re starting or joining one.
Scaling a company while achieving product-market fit (or how I prefer it, market-product fit as Bryan suggests here) is no simple quest, and easiness is not why you chose to do it — that’s why it’s fun. Still, as it’s complex, time and energy consuming, sometimes you might doubt why are you doing it in the first place.
Here’s a 10 step loop that might keep you awake at night:
1. [no time for it all] “It can’t wait for tomorrow, it can’t. You see, I have enough things on my plate to keep running non stop 24h a day, and I can only do it for 18h a day.”
2. [the shy call] “I can work for 18h a day but I promised myself I would work less, and live more.”
3. [the angry and confused realization] “If working less would mean living more, why do I feel so alive when I’m working? After all I’m building it with my own hands with a great group of people and impacting millions in an exponentially way. Isn’t this living? Can’t this feel good?”
4. [the shift starts] You start missing the small (but so important) things like replying to a friend’s message or a drink you had arranged a while before (isn’t deploying a new version of your product a much bigger deal?) “How can I be having a beer if my checkout page could break in the process?”.
5. [the shift is here to stay] Then come the birthday parties or family events, celebrations and goodbyes that shouldn’t have been missed. “But everyone was in the office, how could I leave them there?”
6. [trade-offs start getting real] The friends you didn’t see that often are now gone, because your priorities are really well defined and, well, they come last (“No one messes up with my prioritization skills, I have so much to do and so little time, I master it like no one else”). It was simple: first come close family, partner/husband or wife as well, then close friends, rest of the family, and rest of the friends. Let me tell you something you might have noticed by now (otherwise you would be sleeping): you’re not even getting to number one on this list, let alone all others.
7. [no one gets you] Your friends and family don’t understand why you don’t show up or proactively reach out. They naturally don’t share your drive for your work and they don’t get how building [your product name here] can be so important that justifies you disappearing.
8. [the lemon pancake effect] You sense their feeling, and it tastes bitter-sweet. You truly want to listen to them, but start getting annoyed with the conversations they have: “I have five minutes with you, can we use them not talking about how I don’t have time for you?”. Maybe there is an easier way.
9. [sugar-addiction kicks-in] Why should you taste bitter-sweet if you can taste sweet only? “I don’t need that, I’m saving millions of people’s lives here, they just don’t get it. This is a one in a lifetime opportunity and these metrics are too good to get away from. And hey, people at work understand me, so I might not be going crazy after all”. So you avoid contact with them, they slowly stop counting on you, and when you realize your backs turned and you’re facing away from each other. “How did I get here?”
10. [dig deeper, please] “I don’t know, it’s all going so fast. But I’m now sure: It can’t wait for tomorrow, it can’t. You see, I have enough things on my plate to keep running non stop 24h a day, and I can only do it for 18h a day.”
(repeat in loop, put in a darker tone every time you start a new cycle)
If you struggle with the opportunity cost concept applied to real life and dislike making hard choices, this is no game for you: trade offs are real.
I’ve been there, I’ve lost contact with some people I love, I’ve had many sleepless nights, I thought I had my priorities so right, I was building some amazing stuff along the way with incredibly talented people. I saw the cycle happening with and around me, so easy to be repeated and so hard to be broken. It doesn’t take long to become hooked, I bet you didn’t notice it. Not only that, you’ll think it’s natural and you enjoy the ride: why wouldn’t you after all? Looking around you feel good, as you breathe and live from this adrenaline you produce for each other — working late, coming in early, living from and for this narrative.
Here’s a mirror: look at it and tell me who do you see. Is that the ‘self’ you identify with? If you were to invest, now, in your future best self, would it be there you’d put your coins?
If you’re ready, stop for a moment to look deeply: how interesting is it that you judge and look suspiciously to casino addicts, so desperate for their next lucky strike, ceasing to differentiate night and day, hooked. What you don’t realize is that you too are addicted, attached to this ego and drive boost: you need it to balance the fact that the rest of your life is going away, or gone. You left it behind. Face it, you are no different from the junkies you observe from far. Yeah, it tastes sweet on this side of the road.
But the truth is that sooner or later the bitter taste will get stronger and impossible to be unnoticed. You start doing things you don’t really know why, or stop doing others you truly identified with. You start asking “When did I really stop playing music? Why don’t I draw for hours in a row anymore? When was the last time I arrived somewhere on time? Why am I in a bar at 4am on a Sunday, talking about work? Is being on Slack during breakfast normal? Why do I prefer to send one more email or finish that really important task instead of going home?”. Isn’t it a strange feeling when you stop being able to differentiate between yesterday, today and tomorrow?
When it all feels like a continuum, and epic effort to deliver the undeliverable, you’ll have to stop, think about it, and face a decision that only you can make. Hey, no one said this would be easy.
Why you need to know there might be no tomorrow
Fact: startups fail, a lot. Money is short for what you want to accomplish, focus proves to be harder than anything else, burn rates are high, and expectations even higher. There is no time, and the simple truth is that tomorrow you might be shutting it down. No more monthly active users or paying customers, no more growth challenges and J-curves, no more team to think and learn with, no more Go Big or Go Home and “I’m saving millions of people’s lives here”. Being aware of this is as scary as exciting: it keeps your senses sharp, it gives you a sense of urgency that makes your creativity spark, it allows ideas from different areas to cluster together in a surprising way, and it is the main driver for startups to keep moving and disrupting industries at a pace that would be impossible otherwise. You need to know and feel in your skin that tomorrow might be too late, keeping that childish approach of constantly asking why and challenging the status quo. This is why you joined this journey, and it’s crucial to make it worth it.
Why you need to keep some of it for tomorrow
What is most interesting and difficult to grasp at first sight, though, is that you can ruin it by trying to do it all now, today, due to the tomorrowlessness of its very nature.
If you try to convert what is in fact a marathon into an endless sequence of sprints, you will soon be out of context and most likely burned out. Strategically stopping and recovering builds resilience and is key for a better performance, and the more you put into something, the more important regular recharging becomes. “That sounds great, but things will not happen by themselves”. We know, you have enough things on your plate to keep running non stop 24h a day, and can only do it for 18h a day. We know.
Ironically enough, you will never be able to keep pace in the long run, and be as productive for the company as you could be, if you do not stop to rest and recharge.
Think for a moment: would it all be worth, would it drive you the same way right now, if you knew for a fact that you wouldn’t be working on this tomorrow? Would you put in the hours of effort and energy to solve all these challenges, would you miss your friend’s birthday?
You know it will be all gone if you are not heart and soul into it, yet you need tomorrow to be there so that you put your heart and soul into it.
Here’s the powerful paradox between two opposite selfs that can give you the balance that is so hard to find. When you realize you can juggle between them, once you are aware you can focus deeply in your work and leave it and focus on something else, you will finally be able to sleep. You’ll cease going around the cycle as suddenly you gained perspective. You start being comfortable stating “There will be more tomorrow” and call it a day, knowing that it because of this that you can invest so hard on it today.
Stating this will allow you to explore your full potential, and I suspect you will be surprised. After giving you peace of mind, this frame of reference will make you dedicate more time to think, take a day off, walk in the park or invest in people what they really deserve — the critical ability to unfocus. As a consequence, you might find you think more clearly and creatively, bring better solutions for the challenges you face, and simply become someone that is better to work with. Worried that there would be no time for it all, you couldn’t see that you add more value by being carefully balanced and by leaving room for other things that contribute for a greater you. It’s not surprising, as it sounds contradictory that you can become better at something by not being obsessively focused on it.
Disclaimer: I’m not focusing on the importance of family or friends and prioritization of life areas in general (those are for each one of us to do). I don’t argue in favour of unfocusing from work just to gain better productivity afterwards, and using people as a mean to an end, but I’m framing this in the context of work itself for this article’s sake.
The unexisting recipe: it’s all about expectations
There are few things in life worse than unmet expectations from the people you love, it’s just heart breaking. If you keep on making the mistake of over-promising and under-delivering for too long with too many people, you break an important relational link and soon discover you see nobody when you look around. Your life is gone, you left it behind. So why not give it a try, and focus on different things for a change?
This might sound like a one-size-fits-all-professor-macumba recipe, but it’s not. Maybe I wish it was, it would be much easier. It’s not linear, because this is in fact a messy decision, a matter of position that you cannot avoid forever. I have good news though: it doesn’t matter what you decide to focus on or what your position is, as from the very moment you do it you will be better off. You’ll set the right expectations for yourself and, most importantly, for what others can expect of you, and that is the first step to getting it right.
What really matters when you go to sleep
My high school philosophy teacher once told me that there is one thing that really matters at the end of the day: people. It is not by chance that family, friends and relationships keep popping up as the number one driver for long-term happiness. David Kopans notes that even though we might spend most of our waking time working, most likely the high return investments in terms of positivity currency are (also) found outside the office, so you should not wait to diversify them.
The truth is that I still struggle with this every day, working late nights or weekends with its trade-offs to make sure me and my team succeed on a great amount of things that fuels Uniplaces growth: we set the bar high above. But having this frame of mind keeps me sane as I know where the balance will tilt towards, be it in small or critical moments.
By embracing the Paradox, I soon saw the dividends of shifting my focus to people: by acknowledging there is always tomorrow, you start investing in the right things and become a better partner, friend, brother and even a better stranger in the elevator. Make no mistake, none of these come as a separate self that you can choose given the context. You come as a whole, all the time, so you better come in shape.
Companies too are only as good as the people that make them, so you are also responsible for making an effort to feed this positive cycle of mutual influence inside your organization. If you’re so dedicated to your company, most likely you’re an integral part of it. This means you’re part of your company’s cultural shaping as well: stand out and contribute to it, spread out the Paradox perspective. I suggest you start it by calling it a day, get out of the office and be with people that matter to you.
Welcome, you just entered a new loop. Go get some sleep, there will be more tomorrow.