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May 5, 2008

Wake Up, Damn It! You Won’t Get A Second Chance

“When you comin’ home dad? / I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son / You know we’ll have a good time then.” – Harry Chapin, Cats In The Cradle

With the response to Friday’s blog post / music video being so strong, I know I’ve hit a nerve.  I’m not the only one who has struggled with balancing family, relationship and personal goals while building a business.  It’s not easy.  The constant demands of business building and our social conditioning make it far too easy to neglect what’s truly important while we focus on “success” in the professional arena – and we can lose balance.   But it doesn’t have to be.  (More after this heart-wrenching, must watch video.)

The True Cost Of Doing Business

While driving to the store yesterday I had a chance to talk to my oldest son about an economic term called “opportunity cost,” the technical way of referring to the sacrifice you make whenever you spend your time/resources on something.  For example, if you spend 4 hours today redesigning your blog, you sacrifice 4 hours of writing additional posts.  Or, if you spend three hours visiting yard sales (as we were doing at the time), you sacrifice 3 hours you could be having a yard sale.

It’s like the old expression goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  Somebody’s got to pay for everything, whether in terms of actual payment (money) or some other sacrifice (resources get allocated elsewhere).  Harry Chapin sings about this in the video above, when noting that “planes to catch / and bills to pay” forced him to pay a high opportunity cost in terms of his son (“He learned to walk while I was away”).

For a freelancer or entrepreneur, the opportunity costs we pay every day can be significant.  The fact that one hour is billable and urgent can easily overshadow a non-billable event (like playing with our kids, spending time with our spouse, or hitting the damn gym already) that we can say we’ll “catch up on later.”  If this has been an emotionally neutral article for you so far, you probably haven’t been paying too high an opportunity cost lately.  But if you’ve been feeling the knife twisting (or avoiding watching the video because it tears you up), then it’s likely you’re paying more than you expected to to build your business.

How To Manage Your Opportunity Costs & Keep Balanced

The tricky thing about opportunity costs is that psychologically we tend to view them as mutually exclusive to one another.  We think that one activity necessarily has to require we sacrifice the other.  We’ll go to the gym when work calms down.  We’ll spruce up our web site when we get more money.  We’ll take that vacation with the family when we get ahead a little.  But when we’re always putting one thing off to have another, we run the risk of losing oportunities that may never come again (such as time with the family or better health right now).

In the 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferris brings up the concept of “mini-retirements” as a way to enjoy your life right now.  Instead of waiting decades until you can finally retire and relax and travel the world, why not rearrange things so that you can do so in the present, every so often, for a few days at a time.  You’ll get to taste a future goal now and add more enjoyment to your life.  This idea isn’t limited to retirements – you can apply it almost everywhere – and it’s a key factor in creating a balanced life.  I’m calling it the 80/20 Rule of Balance:

Devoting even a small amount of consistent focus to a goal can yield big results.

In other words, you don’t have to wait until you have 100% of the time/resources you think you need to start getting results – you can have them now.  For example, I used to think that once I “made it” and started making a lot more money I’d finally have the flexibility to spend more time with my family.  And so I’d put things off until “later” and leave a void in that area.

But now I realize that he 80/20 rule applies here.  For example, yesterday, our family had an enormous amount of work to do in terms of cleaning up the house / tackling maintenance projects.  The little ones wanted to go to the park, to go for bike rides, to play Lego for hours … but we didn’t have the time.  In the past, I would have said, “there’s too much work to do … if we can get it all done, then we’ll have time to play.”

But yesterday I applied the 80/20 Rule of Balance and did this – every so often throughout the day I’d stop working and spend 15-30 minutes playing with the kids.  It was rushed, I didn’t have the time I thought I needed to really “make it count,” but it didn’t matter.  The kids were very happy.  They didn’t need much – just a little time made a big difference.  And I made some badass Lego spaceships.  Really badass.

Did I get everything done around the house?  No, but I got some stuff done.  Did I spend as much time as I wanted to with the kids?  No, but I spent some time making memories.  I didn’t neglect either priority, and I created more balance because of it.  Emotionally I feel like even though I spent only 10% of the time I wanted to with the kids, I created 50% of the result they wanted. More importantly, I created enough of the result they wanted for them to feel connected.

So that’s your lesson – you don’t have to wait until you can give 100% of your focus to finally tackle another priority area in your life.  Give it some attention now – even if it’s a little bit, and it’s like watering a plant.  It keeps it alive.  And you’ll find that it also creates the hunger inside you to get more disciplined so that you can spend even more time on it later.

I’ll leave you with this thought.  I never got to know my father.  He worked 3 jobs to provide for us and I barely ever saw him, (my family basically fell apart when I was 9).  I feel a sadness and a void that can’t be filled because the window of opportunity has passed.  But I know he loved me, because he tapped into the 80/20 Rule of Balance.

Though I have very, very few memories of him at all, the strongest memory is how every once in a while when I was young (7 or 8), he would wake me up at 3am in between two of his jobs and take me out for ice cream for a half-hour or so.  This tiny sliver of time didn’t close the gap between us, but it let me know I was loved, and it’s a strong memory even decades later. Perhaps if fate had played out differently, the gap may have even closed over time.

The message I want you to take from this – begin closing that balance gap now, not later.  If you have no time to spend with your family, find a way to carve a slice now.  If you have no time to take care of your health, find one small step you can take this week.  Do something now, and get things going.  It doesn’t take much to start getting significant value, so don’t miss this window of opportunity.  It will never come again.

You won’t get a second chance to balance your life.  You have to start right now.  Wake up, and fight for it, and take whatever bit of ground you can today.  You can’t count on the perfect opportunity to start balancing your life – you have to take the present opportunity and squeeze something out of it.

Want to share your thoughts in the comments below or subscribe to this blog? I dig both. :-)

36 Responses to “Wake Up, Damn It! You Won’t Get A Second Chance”

  • May 5, 2008 Brett Legree


    Excellent. Really, I’m speechless. We’ve chatted about this back and forth on Twitter as you were writing this.

    Your last three paragraphs hit me. Hard. This song is one of my favourites, and I can thank my wife for that. She started singing it to me one time, when our first child was very small, and I was “too busy” doing something that doesn’t matter anymore. Then I went and listened to it, really listened to it while reading the words, and cried.

    The rest of my thoughts on your post will come as a follow-up post on my blog, tomorrow.

    You’ve kicked my a$$ today, and more importantly, made me think, and touched my heart.

    The time is now.


    Brett Legree’s last blog post..from dusk till dawn. a story about running.

  • May 5, 2008 Bob Younce at the Writing Journey

    You hit it on the head hear, Dave. “Devoting even a small amount of consistent focus to a goal can yield big results.”

    That’s why I’m blogging. I could continue to make a good living writing for other folks, and be happy doing it. But I’d rather write about stuff I enjoy, and help other writers in the process.

    As to the rest of it… Let me just say that I realized when I left the corporate world exactly how much time I had indeed missed with my kids. never again.

    Niebu for this.

    Bob Younce at the Writing Journey’s last blog post..178 Ways to Improve Your Internet Writing

  • May 5, 2008 Bob Younce at the Writing Journey

    “here,” not “hear,” lol. Much earliness today.

    Bob Younce at the Writing Journey’s last blog post..178 Ways to Improve Your Internet Writing

  • May 5, 2008 Nathalie Lussier

    I totally agree with these ideas. I decided not to take a corporate job and instead to focus on building a business. I chose this path because I didn’t like the way my boyfriend and I spent our time together. We did chores together, and had barely a few hours of real intimacy. Not to mention that I was often cranky and tired.

    Now working on my own business goals, I know that things are different already. Thanks for the great post!

    Nathalie Lussier’s last blog post..Give and get a massage to feel like a billionaire woman

  • May 5, 2008 Wendi Kelly


    I have had the Cat’s in Cradle song framed in my office for years now.
    I love coming to your blog because its such a reminder to me to stay on track to the committment that I made to turn my life around in 2003. I had one of those Jobs that was 24 hours- 7 days a week ( Realtor) that sucked away my life from my family and I watched my kids growing up as I waved goodby to them through a car window as I pulled out of the driveway. I am quite sure my youngest daughter’s earliest memories of her mommy all have a cell phone stuck in her ear!

    Making a lot of money didn’t make up for making us all miserable. I used to come home late at night, look at my sleeping kids, curl up in a ball and just cry. Changes had to be made, balance had to be found. The kids needed their mother, I needed my kids.

    You are RIGHT ON TARGET with this. And it’s great to be reminded. It is so hard to balance it all, but 15 minutes of attention here and there are amazing in their power.
    Thanks for a great motivating post. ( That song still always makes me cry.I’m sure it always will)

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..False Loves

  • May 5, 2008 Sharon Hurley Hall

    Wow! I wrote about finding balance just last week, but I love the way you’ve put this, Dave. You don’t get a second chance, so you have to make the most of every moment. Great post.

    Sharon Hurley Hall’s last blog post..Balance Revisited

  • May 5, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Brett -
    Glad you liked. Trying to get the toughlove out to people so they don’t miss their chance. Looking forward to your post.

    @Bob -
    Niebu to you too. I’m still in the corporate world, but making fewer concessions while here :-)

    @Nathalie -
    Glad to hear that you’re on the right path. Keep it rocking. PS – I like your most recent post!

    @Wendi –
    Good to have you here. I might just frame the lyrics too, thanks for the idea.

    @Sharon –
    Thanks for your support. Going to read your post now!

  • May 5, 2008 Meryl K. Evans

    My life is richer since I left the corporate world for the freelance life. More time with the kids, more volunteer work, and taking up a sport (tennis) as I grew up a sports freak and wanted to get back into it.

    I hate seeing people work all hours and make their careers their priority in life. I think many of them will regret it eventually. You can still have career ambitions and work to live instead of live to work.

    Meryl K. Evans’s last blog post..10 Tips to Balance Freelance and Personal Lives

  • May 5, 2008 Janice Cartier

    One of the best things anyone I have loved said to me was this: “I want to make beautiful memories with you. ”
    And we did. He’s gone now, but I have all of those touchstones that I hold dear.
    15 minutes of now is a powerful thing.
    Dave and Brett, I am going to have to keep the tissue by the keyboard if you keep this up. Excellent.

    Janice Cartier’s last blog post..72 Million and a Ball of Twine

  • May 5, 2008 Tei - Rogue Ink

    Sah, if you keep writing heart-wrenching posts like this, I am going to CRY. Unabashedly. Like a kid who dropped his ice cream on the hot pavement. And NOBODY WANTS THAT. I am not an attractive crier.

    My mother was the one who was never around, but she always wanted to spend time with us, and all us kids knew it. Tell them that a lot and they’ll never doubt that you wanted to spend time with them, they’ll never think you had your priorities screwed up. I certainly never did. I hear a lot of kids talking about how their parents didn’t care because they weren’t around, but you and James and Brett and all the other fathers out there won’t have that problem. Your kids will know how much you cared. You’re working too hard to make sure they do.

    Tei – Rogue Ink’s last blog post..Talking to Yourself: Why Going a Little Crazy is Good for Freelancers

  • May 5, 2008 Brett Legree


    I just had to come back to comment again. Sometimes, even if you do get it, it doesn’t hurt to hear it again from someone else. We have to constantly check ourselves, to make sure we are working on the important things.

    Not work.



    Brett Legree’s last blog post..from dusk till dawn. a story about running.

  • May 5, 2008 Lisa

    Great post, Dave. This has been on my mind a lot lately, and I appreciate reading someone else’s take on the subject. My son will be a college freshman in the fall, 7 hours away. My youngest turns 16 in October. I can’t believe where the time went, but I can look back and appreciate that I did the best that I could. I worked a lot, but when I didn’t get the flexibility I needed I managed to find something else that was better.

    Oh and for anyone who has a daughter, go listen to “Butterfly Kisses” and see if you can get through that song without a tear or two. ;)

    Lisa’s last blog post..Got Razor-Sharp Focus?

  • May 5, 2008 Janice Cartier

    Well that, Lisa, was just no fair. Little Emma butterfly kisses are the best in the world. Damn. I’m supposed to be painting and everyone is determined to be all touchy feely this morning…muddly, puddly mess now, and it is all your fault… if we leave the humanness out of business, who are we in business for? I love your application Dave, of the 80/20 rule…And I think the more we set compasses to include this necessary down time with our families, with each other, and I mean really be there, the better off we’ll all be.

    Janice Cartier’s last blog post..72 Million and a Ball of Twine

  • May 5, 2008 Karen Swim

    This struck a nerve and we all need that reminder to pay attention to our “whole life” everyday. The opportunity you miss today may never come again. Take 15 minutes and write the book you’ve been dreaming of writing. After one week you will be more than one hour closer to making it happen. 15 minutes of working out is better than 0 activity and taking 15 minutes out a busy day to call your grandmother, brother,sister, friend to say “I love you” keeps you connected. Thank you Dave for this post and this reminder.

    Karen Swim’s last blog post..Before You Move Forward, Be Still

  • May 5, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Meryl –
    It’s hard not to make carrer a priority because of a) social conditioning and b) the need for cash. But as you say, the secret is working to live rather than the other way around.

    @Janice -
    Get a box, ’cause I ain’t letting up. :-)

    @Tei -
    As I said to Janice, I ain’t letting up … because emotion leads to action, and this is too important to just talk subtly about …

    @Brett –
    Glad to be of service!

    @Lisa -
    Time flies. Glad you did your best to capture the most of it.

    @Karen –
    It’s tempting to think that 15 minutes (or even one minute) won’t make a difference … but it certainly does.

  • May 5, 2008 Steve Woodruff

    Thanks. I needed that shot in the arm!

  • May 6, 2008 Lillie Ammann

    Thanks for this heart-touching and powerful reminder of what is important.

    Lillie Ammann’s last blog post..Free Stories and Articles

  • May 6, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Steve, @Lillie –
    Glad to help. :-)

  • May 6, 2008 Monika Mundell

    Wow! You and Brett just double kicked my a$$ today with both of your posts. You know, while I knew both of the songs you listed I never actually listened to them properly. Doing this today made me all teary and I know realize that balance is really the key.

    While I knew this before I totally GET it now. I’ve been too arsy with my health – way too much and as a result have suffered many downfalls. True to your post I will get my behind back into gear this week.

    I’ve actually started to major stress over the last week or so because I’ve gone and gotten myself another two cockatiels. Now I am the proud mommy of four and like little kids they are full on work. So much so that my afternoons are taken up with play and cuddle to the price of missing out on my writing which has put a huge load onto my shoulders.

    Thanks to your post I now know again that it doesn’t matter if I miss out on a post here and there. What matters is that my little darlings are happy.

    Thank you Dave for setting my head straight again.

    Monika Mundell’s last blog post..So Your Are Published – What Next?

  • May 6, 2008 Brian Clark

    I credit the song “Cats In The Cradle” with my resolve to be with my kids and put them first. I can barely listen to the song without getting choked up.

    Great post, Dave.

    Brian Clark’s last blog post..Can White Papers Make You Wealthy?

  • May 6, 2008 Christine OKelly

    Ouch. I’ve had a very similar nasty discovery after waking up from my zombified “too busy” state and freeing up some of my time. I’ve been telling myself the same lie – I’ll do more things with the kids when the business reaches xyz goal… and for the last 4 months or so that has meant almost no time with them. That’s just unacceptable – and you’re right – it’s probably never going to change. I know by now that my personality is to constantly take on new challenges – so I’ll always be pressed for time unless I take a stand.

    Thanks Navarro… I love when you kick my a$$.

    Christine OKelly’s last blog post..Hunting Down and Exposing Deep Dark Challenges

  • May 6, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Monika –
    Glad to be of service. Sometimes we just need a simple reminder to get back on track.

    @Brian -
    Thanks for dropping by. I saw your recent skiing post and smiled at the coincidence of topics. Life’s funny that way.

    @Christine –
    As long as there are a$$es to be kicked, my foot will be a-swinging …

  • May 17, 2008 PV Reymond

    Hi Dave,

    I couldn’t agree more. We humans tend to delay things but we delay the things we don’t like or the things we are not interested in.

    When you are really interested in something you start doing it. So, my point is that there are important things you have to do but you delay them due to the lack of interest even if you know they are important.

    It is something difficult to overcome but you can do it developing the habit of doing things you are not interested in and you develop this habit just by doing systematically.

    It is important to create a work schedule and prioritize the most important things you have to do.

    Also, you can delegate some work but it is another story.

    ^PV Reymond

    PV Reymond’s last blog post..How To Really Make Money Online Is Coming

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