One of the struggles of running a business is the need to make decisions around your time. I made a bad decision the other day -- although I don't know how it could have turned out differently.
The question, "How do you manage your work/life balance?" is a question frequently asked of women in the workplace. The topic is so prevalent, that it was brought up to Carly Fiorina at this year's TechCrunch Disrupt.
Here's my question: Why hasn't anyone in the media asked about my work/life balance as an entrepreneur? In all of the interviews I have done for my various projects and companies over the years, not once has a reporter asked me this question. Do they think that I am balancing it all just perfectly? Do they think I don't care about my family? Or do we just assume that as a male founder, work comes first and family second?
Look at the facts.
The average founding team is between the age of 35-44.Though not all founders are like me with a wife and kids at home, most have built a foundation of friends and family that they would like to see every now and again. My point being, most of us are not fresh out of college with unlimited energy and time to devote to starting a business. We have concerts, plays, sports and school conferences. We have anniversaries and birthdays and mortgages. Yes, we are growing a business, but we are also trying to live and maintain our lives.
Most entrepreneurs I know admit to working 60-70 hours per week or more. Technology -- phones, apps, wearables -- are all pushing us to stay connected and always 'on.' This ad from Microsoft drives home that point.
I call a time out.
You know who does ask me about work/life balance? Other founders starting businesses -- both male and female.
As part of a push to cut through the bull in the industry and start a conversation around the hard-hitting issues while starting and growing a business, this is a topic that should be discussed freely and often.
Here's the problem: Growing a business doesn't happen linearly. When you first start a business, you expect to put in the long hours. But then you expect that once you close your funding and hire a team of people to act upon your vision you'll make it home every night for dinner. Or at least most nights. Or maybe bedtime.
The truth is, there is always something that can keep you at the office. There's a reason that starting a business has been likened to starting a family. I am on my fourth startup, and I am the first to admit that I still haven't totally figured it out. I've read the tips and I delegate and say no; I am selective about what takes me away from home and I keep my vacations sacred. And yet there are still times when the decisions that I make shine a light on the work -- both in the office and at home -- that still needs to be done.
The other night I missed my son's middle school concert. He received a standing ovation for singing "House of the Rising Sun" while playing guitar. Thanks to a kind parent who was there and recorded the performance, I was able to see the concert, but the truth is I wasn't in the room when he bared his soul to the world. I'm going to regret that for a long time.
How can we make it better?
Let's stop boasting about "always being on" and start admitting to each other that we didn't look at our emails once over the weekend. Brad Feld practices a Digital Sabbath where he refuses to look at email between Friday night and Saturday night.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that the whole "Work hard, play hard" mentality is wrong. I'm simply saying that we each need to understand and accept what is right for each of us. Just because the 20-something in the workspace across from you is there at all hours of the day and night doesn't mean you have to be as well. Be honest with yourself, your team, and your investors about what part of yourself you are willing to invest in your work and what part you save for your lifestyle.
I try to teach my kids how to think like an entrepreneur; to look at a problem and think of a way to make it better. My suggestion for this problem is this: Let's cut the B.S. Let's stop wearing "busy" as a badge of honor. We'll all continue to have to make hard decisions, and we won't always get it right, but we can confess that we are all striving for a little more balance in our work and our lives. And understanding how that balance affects you is the first step.
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