Just about every casual conversation I have with someone, the topic of work-life balance comes up. I have always felt this was kind of a weird way to refer to your life as a whole because to me work has always been a big part of my life. There have been chapters of my life where work consumed all of my time and there have also been a few times in my life where I didn’t have much work so I had a lot of time to spend with friends, read and sleep. Now that I have a wife and three children, my priorities have changed. I believe that instead of discussing the topic of work-life balance, we all should be talking about a priority balance.
Priorities have changed for me since I was fresh out of high school. Through my twenties, I would work long hours and sleep little. I wanted as much time as possible to try and build something. I have worked for myself since I was twenty years old. My entrepreneurial roots go all the way back to my childhood. In high school, I prioritized work over education. In my early twenties, I worked a lot. I had little time left over for friends and a relationship. I tried to have both, but long hours at work always won. At age 25, I knew that this was not a sustainable way to live. During my twenty-fourth year, I had left a relationship and lost touch with several friends. If I was ever going to get married and have kids, I could not live like this. I also watched married friends of mine get divorced over things like money and working too many hours. I did not want that to happen to me.
I decided to make changes. I wanted to create freedom in my life to do things like see the world and hopefully find someone to love. I sold off the remains of the business I spent my early twenties building and started building websites. I had a laptop and could work from anywhere. During the next few years, I did just that. If I woke up and wanted to work from the beach, I did. It was nice, but I soon realized I had swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. I was making a living, but I was not being as effective and productive as I could have been.
I am coming up on my eighth year of marriage and my oldest child will turn six this year. My experiences so far have taught me that you can not get time back. Once you spend time, it is gone. Having realized this early on it helped shape what I would do with my time. Setting priorities is important. I have wanted nothing more since I was a teen to start a company and make it something awesome. I have started a few companies over the years, some successful, others not. None of them grew to the potential I knew they had and I am fine with that.
A life is much more important than a company or a career. You and I both have an average lifespan to make a career happen or to build a business. However, once you introduce a new life into this world, priorities should change. That life needs to be nurtured and shaped, very much like a business does, and time is limited.
My Kids Are My Startup
I have never considered any of my businesses a startup business. The story, however, is similar, I built something from nothing and am trying to grow it. Call me old fashioned. I consider myself a small business owner. Kids, however, are startups. They come into this world ready to be programmed and shaped into something amazing. If they are guided by a good CEO (parent), they will flourish and add value to this world. They may even get acquired by someone (a spouse), and build their own little startups (Grandkids!).
The problem is that there are some crap CEOs out there who are more interested in themselves than their fledgling startups. Let’s ditch the metaphors. There are some crap parents out there who are more interested in themselves than their children. Can you have an amazing career and raise a family? Yes! Can you run a successful startup company and still be around during the hours your children are awake? YES! It’s not hard, it’s prioritization.
At one point, I was running three companies at once. I had a successful photography business, website design business, and a technology review/news website. Each of these companies brought in enough revenue to support a small family. After my wife and I had our first child, I made sure I was working a regular work day of 8 hours or less. Sure there have been a few days here and there where I have worked closer to 12 hours in a day, but they are few and far between. I used to shoot several weddings each month on the weekends but have since scaled back the amount of weddings I book each year to make sure it does not cut into my family time.
The one thing I want to succeed above all else is my family. I love business and could not imagine doing anything else, but my family trumps business. You can close a business and start a new one, but you can’t close a family. You should never close a family. When a business closes, there is limited damage that can easily be fixed. Someone loses a job, they go get a new one. When you break up a family, the damage lasts forever. We are talking about a family breakup due to a husband or wife that overworks and does not prioritize correctly. I recognize that there are valid reasons for divorce. I am not here to discuss those.
I think that if more men/fathers of this world would prioritize their lives in favor of their families, there would be less of all things negative. If I have to hire more people to help with work so I can maintain a regular work day, I am fine with that. Yes, it will mean paying the wages of others which waters down the money I could be earning, but it is worth it. If I was working for a company, I would forego a promotion if it meant taking time away from my family.
To be honest, I could go on about this forever, so to keep this post from becoming a total rant, I will end it here.
If you are a dad or children any age, please consider how you can give them more of your time. I know you have seen the countless movies that portray a father who tries to spend more time with his already grown kids. That is not the time to make up for it. Do what you can while they are young and before the damage is done. If you are not raising them, someone else will.