May 2, 2008
Are You Building An “Empire Of Dirt?”
“If I could start again / A million miles away / I would keep myself / I would find a way” – Trent Reznor (Though covered much more emotionally below by Johnny Cash)
You get to live this life exactly one time. You try to pack in as much achievement as you can in that life, to get as much done, to build your dream life.
But are you really sure that your actions are building the life you’re really after?
When The Ladder You’ve Climbed Is Against The Wrong Wall
When Johnny Cash covers Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” he’s sending a strong message: What I achieved wasn’t what I really wanted. The choices he made may have catapulted him to super-stardom, but he lost his way and let more important things in his life fall to the wayside. When he sings “You can have it all / my empire of dirt,” he makes it very clear how much his ’success’ compares to what it cost to achieve it.
It’s all to easy to do this with our businesses and our careers as well. We might be working 80-hour weeks to provide for our family, but failing to give them the time they so desperately need from us. We’re locked into thinking, “But I must do this, we need the money,” without necessarily thinking about the opportunity cost – the things we’re giving up in our pursuit of them. We think we’ll create that work-life balance later, that “this is only temporary,” but is it really?
Think about your own life. How many things that are important to you – truly important to you, long-term – how many of these things have been on the back burner for 6 months? A year? Five years? Forever? How many things do you tell yourself you’ll do later, “when you have the time,” “when the money finally comes in,” when things finally “slow down?”
I’ve got some uncomfortable news for you: Things will never slow down. You will simply force yourself to make the time to keep your life in balance, or you won’t. And if you don’t, you will regret it more than you know. The things you’re doing right now to ensure you and those you care about have “everything you need” might be sabotaging that very goal, if you’re not careful about it. This warning will not apply to all my readers, but for the ones who watched the video and felt the knife twisting inside, this is for you.
How To Guarantee You Don’t Screw It All Up
How do you create a work-life balance that gets you everything you want? The answer is simple, but not easy (in the same way that the solution for weight loss is ‘eat less and exercise’ – simple, yes. Easy, no). To start moving closer to work-life balance every day, you’ve got to do two important things:
- Want Less / Scale Back.
- Raise Your Standards.
These are not the answers you want to hear, but they’re the answers I have to give you. And if the things you’ve been keeping on the back burner for far too long are time sensitive (like relationships with people), this uncomfortable advice may just save your ass.
Step One: Want Less and/or Scale Back
Society rewards and glorifies superstars, and because of that we’re conditioned to think that we have to have it all, become millionaires and have everything “come together.” We set million-dollar goals or desire to become famous because we think that will make life easier, though it rarely does. But that’s the allure. We think that having more will make us happier, and make life easier, though that’s not guaranteed – and it becomes all to easy to postpone things for “just a little while longer” while we build out business.
It’s like the old story where the millionaire takes a beach vacation and discovers a fisherman on the shore, catching fish with ease and speed like he’s never seen before. He urges the humble fisherman to start a business, leverage his skills, and build a fishing empire that would give him a massive income stream for life. “What would I want to do that?” he asks the millionaire, who replies “So you can live a life of leisure at the beach.” The fisherman looks at him puzzled. “But I’m already doing that right now,” he answers, and goes back to fishing.
So the question here is this: Do you really need to take your goals to the finish line to get the results you want? This is an important question. When I started my business, I wanted to make a million dollars so that I could have all the time I wanted to spend with my wife and kids. So I poured myself into building a business, only to discover that years went by without me spending enough time with them, and it’s costing me in big ways, ways I can’t fix with the money I’m making now. And that sucks.
If this message doesn’t apply to you, be thankful. But if it does, stay alert. Ask yourself if you really need to make $X amount of money before you can have what you want. Perhaps the better path is to set incremental goals, only pushing past them when you’ve satisfied the balance of other areas of your life. For example, I’ve cut back the time I spend building my business a lot in the last 12 weeks. I limit almost all my writing/blogging time to three slices of time: one hour before dawn, on my lunch hour, and an hour or so while I put the kids to bed at night. My coaching calls take place in my car on the way to and from work.
Does this put a limit cap on my billable time? Of course it does. But I’m playing with my kids more. I’m reading to them more. And I’m not telling them, “wait until I’m finished with this work” as much (today being an exception, since it’s a day off from the day job, and I woke up late )
Can I make up for lost time? No. But I can take advantage of the time I have. And that’s the lesson for you – if building your business has forced you to put off spending time on things that you must spend time on because they are important, you need to consider scaling back. I’m not saying abandon your goals, not in the least, but I am saying you need to structure them in a way that doesn’t sacrifice family/personal priorities. You will never get that time back.
Here’s the funny thing, though – if you put personal priorities like family and health first and then demand that you “fit business in” rather than “fit family in,” you will become amazingly effective with your time. I can’t tell you how much more productive I am now that I’ve cut back my business-building hours. It forces you to become demanding and discerning with where you put your focus.
When I say “Want Less / Scale Back” I mean crank things back until you’ve balanced the time you spend on things that have lifelong, meaningful value, and work your business around that rather than the other way around. Will this cost you money and business opportunities? Of course it will (though you may actually grow faster and easier with your new, stronger focus). But you won’t regret it. Neither will the people you care about.
As you become more discerning with your time, you will become better at building your business without sacrificing time that can’t be replaced. Do things the right way, because you will not get a second chance.
But how do you do that when you’re overwhelmed, overburdened and overgoaled? Here’s how.
Step Two: Raise Your Standards
You act according to the image you have of yourself, the identity you’ve built in your mind. There are things you don’t do (like robbing banks, killing people, or stealing your best friend’s girl) not via willpower, but because you have a standard for yourself, tied to your identity, that you aren’t willing to violate. Think about something you have trouble avoiding (like eating junk food) and something you have no trouble avoiding because you’d “never do it” (like scamming the elderly out of money) and you’ll understand. It’s not about willpower. It’s about raising your standards, about seeing yourself as a person who’d “never do” whatever it is you want to avoid. When it’s not who you are, you don’t think twice about it.
I’ll be talking about this in upcoming posts, because I’ve been working through it these last few months, and the road isn’t easy. It involves demanding change from yourself, rethinking some of the ways you’ve been doing things, and you’ll have internal resistance to that for sure.
For today, though, the first step is raising your standards just a little bit by focusing on what you won’t settle for sacrificing in order to meet your goals. Maybe it’s time with your kids, your spouse, or some other important spirtiual/fitness/personal goal you’ve been neglecting. Whatever it is, it’s time to raise your standard by demanding you get balanced. It all starts with a statement like this:
I refuse to sacrifice ______ in order to build my business. I will do whatever it takes to balance the two, because that’s just how I roll.
Your statement will be different, since different phrasing will resonate with you better. This is the format that has been working for me. The key is to decide what you won’t settle for anymore, and to drill that into your mind over and over again until it becomes ingrained in your personal identity. Until it’s not something you want to do, but something you are.
I’m hitting the limit for the time I promised myself I’d spend on this post, so I’m stopping now. I’ll close with a small favor to ask of you – please pass this article along via email, or IM, or Twitter, or backlink … spread the word. There are too many people out there who are struggling to build their business so that they can hav more time with the people they care about, but are losing balance. This article won’t fix all of those problems, but it can be a powerful start.
Thank you for spreading the word and subscribing to this blog. I truly apreciate it.
(Update: This topic continued in Wake Up, Damn It! You Won’t Get A Second Chance)