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.
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