Finding Balance as a Startup Founder

6/15/11

I’m in Hawaii on a cruise this week. It’s a vacation with my wife’s family. I wasn’t originally planning on attending, but I’m glad I decided to go.

No laptop (but ipad). Lotsa reading and some writing. And most importantly, i’m having fun with family. I’m definitely still thinking about my startup. My mind doesn’t stop. But since phase 1 of my alpha product is near complete, this has been a fitting and refreshing break.

For some time now I’ve been doing 16-hour days of heads-down coding. Like any startup, I have a ton to get done. And I know how deadly missing one startup week can be. I was very close to not coming on this trip.

But if there’s one rule I’ve always tried to live by, it’s this: live every day like it’s your last. Enjoy the journey. Seize the day.

Dangerous Minds

I can easily see myself slipping into the mindset that if I work ridiculously hard now while I’m young — skipping out on vacations and other family/friend outings — then later in life I’ll have everything I ever wanted and more. I’ll one day be able to spend all the time with family and go on all the vacations in the world and do whatever I desired. I just have to pay the price now.

That’s a common mindset for the ambitious and motivated. It’s how we justify our lack of balance, lack of family/friend time, and general lack of completeness. We’re giving up now for the promise of tomorrow. We mask it as vision and sacrifice. We feel like martyrs for the cause.

It’s enticing. It’s reasonable. But to me it’s wrong.

For many, the promise of tomorrow never arrives. For the lucky few who achieve it, it takes much longer than anticipated. And usually, the sweet taste of success will leave us wanting more. Our commitment as a young, hungry mercenary — work insane hours now to play later — is long forgotten. We never believe we arrive. Tomorrow always stays a day away.

That’s a treacherous path.

Gone in 60 Seconds

I don’t wanna let life pass me by. I wanna be there to see my son take his first steps. I wanna be in the bleachers cheering for him the first time he scores. I wanna be side by side with my wife at parent teacher conference, hearing of his struggles and triumphs. I wanna tell him bedtime stories at night, and make him scrambled eggs in the morning.

I wanna be there. For my son. For my wife. And for all the others who matter most to us. I wanna be present.

Life will always be busy. I will always be working on something big and important. I will always be out hustling and creating. I will always have a default excuse of “I am simply too busy.” It’s my reality. It’s the path I’ve chosen.

But my most important work will never be a startup. The startups I create and the riches I acquire will not go with me to the grave or into the after life. The relationships I build will. Making myself available for those closest to me — whether a cruise in Hawaii or a walk around the block — must be a priority to me.

It’s not easy — especially when work is so fun and fulfilling. To actually leave work — physically, mentally or emotionally — requires work. A lot of it. And for me, will require years of discipline and practice. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m still trying to find the perfect formula for balance.

Beauty and the Beast

I’m terrified of an outcome on the other end of the spectrum. One that involves me at my death bed, with all the riches in the world, but with no one around me. A world of regrets — wishing I would have spent more time with my wife and kids. Wishing I would have strengthened my relationships with good friends. Wishing I would have served and helped more people. Wishing I would have found the things that bring true happiness. A world of everything, but with nothing.

I’m happy to err on the side of too much friends and family. They bring the most happiness to my life. And they are who matter most. Maybe I just don’t know enough old people, but I’ve never met an old person wishing they would’ve spent more time at work.

Be careful when you give up today’s joy for tomorrow’s unknown. The destination will be sweeter if you stop to enjoy the path.

Back to catching waves…

  • http://twitter.com/timchaves Tim Chaves

    Totally agree.  It’s too easy to get stuck in the mercenary mindset, and hard to get out of it.  Sometimes you just gotta say “I’ll be home at…” and then just do it, no matter what comes up.  Founders’ families (I’m guilty too) get sacrificed too often, and they didn’t sign up for that.  Nice post.

    • http://www.mickhagen.com/ Mick Hagen

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! You are right, too often our families are the ones who suffer and they certainly didn’t sign up for it.

  • http://twitter.com/stevearntz stevearntz

    I like this post, but I can also understand the “sacrifice while you’re young” mentality.  Dentists and family practice doctors do it in return for stability, flexibility, and in many cases wealth.  I wonder if founders are simply unable to give up the “founder’s high”.  There is something to be said for investing now in yourself so that you can reap the rewards later, but it can certainly be a slippery slope – especially for entrepreneurs.

    • http://www.mickhagen.com/ Mick Hagen

      Thanks Steve. Usually sacrifice is required to do something meaningful. But as you say, it’s a very slippery slope. And keeping a good perspective through it all can be tough. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  • Neomartian

    After reading this post, I remembered this song

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-s5r2spPJ8g

    • http://www.mickhagen.com/ Mick Hagen

      Really good song. Thanks for sharing!

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