I wish I spent more time in the office

Fast forward to your deathbed and think of the last few words you’ll utter. You only have one shot, so make it count.

Laurence McCahill
Aug 5, 2013 · 6 min read

By Laurence McCahill
Co-founder of The Happy Startup School

One of the top regrets of the dying is that they worked too hard. Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, uttered ‘I blew it’ as his last words, despite an estimated wealth at this death of $65 billion:

“How could that be? He was a full-time, always-there businessman! He would do anything to grow his business, and it gave him immense fame and fortune! But that’s where the problem lies because when it came to the rest of his life, Sam wasn’t nearly as dedicated. He was never really “there” as a father, husband and friend. He had the wealthiest pockets, but the poorest soul. And in those last minutes of his life, he realized where he had failed.”
Mike Michalowicz

Don’t think you’re ‘wimping out’ by going away for a break or knocking off at 5pm to see your loved ones. It will be well-earned.

After all, time is is our most precious commodity.

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When thinking of what success looks like in lives and in business, we should be looking at other measurements other than how much money we’ve made or ‘shareholder value’, to the intangibles —how we feel about our lives day-to-day – our happiness and that of our employees and customers. Most would agree that these are important, but very few take them seriously. If you ask most parents what they want for their children, almost universally they will say ‘to be happy’. Unfortunately for many, this takes a backseat later in life.

Happiness and commuting

Recent studies have shown that one of the factors that contributes most to our overall happiness is the length of our commute to work. There are different reasons for this:

  • A commute to work eats into our precious spare time with family & friends
  • It makes us worry more and enjoy the working day less
  • And often we can’t predict how long it will take, which makes us feel out of control and helpless

We can almost feels our lives ticking away before our eyes.

I know I’ve been a lot happier since my commute to work is a 10 minute stroll across Brighton, versus a 60 min trip across London on the train and tube. I now have 2 hrs time with my family each day that I otherwise wouldn’t. I leave the house at 8.40 and I’m back by 6. I’ve got to see my two young boy grow up and feel a part of their lives, even coming home most days for lunch together. For me, this has been priceless.

Spend happily

In their book Happy Money, authors Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn suggest that one of the ways we can optimise our spending for happiness is to buy time.

Too many of us see value in acquiring money, versus freeing up time. Perhaps as it’s an easier measure of success, but that’s not a reason to do it. After all, what’s the money for?

Being whole at work

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At Alptitude we took our families

Through our work at The Happy Startup School I’ve met lots of budding entrepreneurs that want to leave the corporate world and 80 hour working weeks to follow their own desire to build a startup and do what makes them happy, rather than rich.

They may end up working the same hours early on but it won’t feel like a struggle as they’ll be in control of their own destiny, have autonomy over the work they do. Get joy from each day.

When we talk about ‘work-life balance’, this implies that we leave our ‘real’ selves for the margins of life. It should all be just ‘life’, and we should all strive for work feeling more like play if we get it right.

Leave by example

This shouldn’t compete with having a family – our businesses should embrace family so the lines are blurred. The Scandinavian countries seem to be leading the way in getting this balance right:

Stef Lewandowski talks about leaving by example in his post What gets done is done. Martin Bjergegaard has spent the last 3 years speaking to highly successful entrepreneurs around the world that have built great businesses whilst also leading a happy and meaningful personal life — stories we can all learn from, in his book Winning Without Losing. The rare few who are brave enough to challenge the status quo and tune into their inner wisdom.

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We should lose this culture that celebrates overworking, as if success only comes through sacrifice. I’m as guilty as anyone of checking my emails late at night and working while on holiday but that doesn’t mean that we’re effective when we’re burnt out.

Much of the best work I’ve done has been when I’ve had clarity of thought and a distance from the day to day grind. I make a point of taking at least 5 weeks of vacation a year, ideally out of the country and certainly away from home.

This helps to get some perspective and realise what’s important — people, relationships and precious time.

No longer is money our primary driver. We need to consider other types of currency:

  • Time
    More focus on the things you love
  • Relationships
    Getting back to the things that matter
  • Autonomy
    Having the flexibility to make better life choices
  • Experiences
    Less stuff, more memories
  • Mastery
    Challenging yourself to be better
  • Impact
    A desire to make a positive dent in the world

Fast forward

So think about it. What does success look like to you?

Now here’s an idea. Write your epitaph.

Would you rather have your gravestone say, “He/she never missed a meeting” Or one that said, “He/she was a great person and helped others”

I imagine myself on my deathbed (in fact I did with 50 others recently).

I ask myself, What might those last five or ten minutes be like? What scenes or thoughts might float by? Serving on a board of directors or creating something beautiful.

I’ll choose the latter every time, thanks.

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Laurence McCahill

Written by

Co-founder The Happy Startup School. Designer, coach, writer.

The Happy Startup School

For entrepreneurs that want to do good, make money and be happy

Laurence McCahill

Written by

Co-founder The Happy Startup School. Designer, coach, writer.

The Happy Startup School

For entrepreneurs that want to do good, make money and be happy

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