2 years ago, I boarded a red eye from Seattle on my way back Baltimore. I had arrived in Seattle the day before, a quick trip with a few meetings. Once I landed in Baltimore at 10am, I was headed to a sales meeting. The following morning, I was back out, headed to California for an investor pitch. At some point, I said hello to my 6-month-old son, 2 year old daughter and wife.
It was on my flight to California the next morning that I had a groggy, coffee fueled, epiphany, I was a liar. I lied to myself, I lied to my wife, I lied to my kids, I lied to my friends and coworkers.
Every entrepreneur knows the startup phase. During this phase we work 24 hours a day, 7 days week. We create and build, we network, we travel, and we lie awake strategizing our next steps. During this phase, we make promises to ourselves, our family and friends. We promise things will change, we won’t live like this forever, “it’s just the startup phase”. We will get to the next phase and find balance. We will be home more. We will take time to enjoy our success with friends and family. We will find balance… But not yet.
All entrepreneurs can now laugh.
We started Think|Stack 7 years ago. We went through “the startup phase” and then we went through many other phases. New products, new services, new companies. Each phase disrupting balance. Whatever the distraction, the workload never subsided. The hours never decreased. The stress never lowered.
I kept waiting for this moment. The right time to pull back. I believed that the world would tell me when I had “made it” and could afford to focus on my family, my health and fun.
The hustle and drive, the motivation and desperation to succeed and grow, the fear of failure, never afforded me that moment.
So here I was boarding another plane. Tired and stressed, body whacked out from time zones and shitty food, emotional and desperately missing my family. On yet another cross-country flight. I was jittery from excessive cold brew and I was frantically slapping a power point together for my upcoming pitch. Time to take off. I closed my laptop, leaned back in my seat looking at pictures from my wife, of the kids and began to wonder… What the fuck am I doing?
I am list maker, so naturally, I wrote a list. A list of why. Why did I decide to become an entrepreneur.
To create. I love to bring ideas to life and create new things.
To lead. I am passionate about leading and teaching.
To learn. There is no better education than entrepreneurship and I love learning.
To have fun.
To be flexible and control my destiny. I don’t dream of wealth but rather building a company that will allow me personal and financial freedom.
Family. To support and be present with my family, to be the greatest father and husband that I can be.
Community. To give back to the city that I love.
I looked down at that list disappointed.
Was I creating, leading and learning. Yes. But not to the best of my abilities. I had spread myself thin, I was a shell of my best. My family had suffered the most. Business success had clouded me from my real purpose.
I sat a stared at my list. I was so intensely lost in thought that my seat mate was scared. Anger and anxiety were set in. Upset that I had gotten to this point. I am usually so goal oriented and self aware. Anxious, that it might be unfixable.
With so many irons in the fire, so many people depending on me, how could I find the time to do anything but what I was doing?
There it as, that voice in my head, “now isn’t the time, in a few more months, things will settle down”.
Wrong, I said to that voice, things will never settle down. There will always be the next challenge. The ideal time will never come and if it does, it will be too late.
Now was the time, now is the time.
I spent the rest of the five-hour flight building my “Work Life Balance Plan.” Highlights included focus, delegation, scheduled time for family and working out, meditation and reflection.
After its creation, I reviewed the plan. I was scared. I was anxious. I wasn’t sure how my business would be impacted with less time. My inner-control freak screamed. But I refocussed and left determined to execute my plan.
Two years later, I can tell you with confidence, I have never been happier. I am far from perfect. Some weeks I achieve balance and others I don’t. I revisit my list often, it has been a guidepost to help keep me on target. My balance plan changes, with the changes in my life, but my purpose remains constant.
So why did I write this blog today? I am not sure if it was the most recent episode of “This is Us”. It could also be that I have sucked recently at finding my own balance. It could be the natural reflections of a new year. Whatever the cause, something was boiling inside of me this week.
I am part of a peer advisory group and we met yesterday. My peers are struggling with the same balance. All of them are business owners in various stages and tenure. Each explained why balance wasn’t attainable now. They were all waiting for the “right time”.
After hearing from a few of them, I had my Jerry Maguire moment.
There is no right time. At some point in our lives we decided to quit our jobs, finance our futures and start a company. At that moment, we had a dream and purpose. Your dream isn’t my dream, but something drove you to make this sacrifice. Then the hustle gets in the way.
We claw and fight to build and improve our companies and the chip on our shoulders drive us to more and more. We burn everything we have to give. We fight and claw to get a finish line that we define. But the line keeps moving.
At some point we have to realize, THERE IS NO FINISH LINE!
Stop waiting to cross the finish line and start building the balance now. Remember your purpose, and then go achieve it. Approach achieving this purpose goal, like the business goals you achieve each year. Practice those same steps and you will find success.
Tomorrow isn’t promised, who knows what crock pot fire is waiting for us around the next turn. If it all ended tomorrow, what are you leaving behind? Do you feel like you found your purpose? Or did you make all these sacrifices for your most recent quarterly goal? Is that what your kids will remember? Is that the legacy you wanted to leave behind?
It was that passion yesterday, that drove me to write this post. Please stop making excuses and stop waiting for the finish line. I promise that line is never coming.
If you want to find balance, build it. If you want to enjoy the ride, start. Be patient, have fun and stay true to what’s important to you.
With balance, you will be a better owner, creator and leader. You will be a better parent and spouse. You will exceed your goals and will enjoy the hell out of every day.
So this weekend, build your plan. Work life balance begins Monday.