Category Archives: Work Life Balance

You Have to Know When to Quit

I recommend you read Nat Eliason‘s piece No More Struggle Porn. He’s attacking one of the more pervasive startup myths around, the idea that the struggle itself, the overwhelming and overpowering struggle that pushes everything else out of your life, is a good thing. He defines struggle porn as:

I call this “struggle porn”: a masochistic obsession with pushing yourself harder, listening to people tell you to work harder, and broadcasting how hard you’re working.

And his take on it, in a nutshell, is this:

Working hard is great, but struggle porn has a dangerous side effect: not quitting. When you believe the normal state of affairs is to feel like you’re struggling to make progress, you’ll be less likely to quit something that isn’t going anywhere.

The Myth of Persistence

I agree with him. Emphatically. I’ve posted here before on The Myth of Persistence:

Why: persistence is only relevant if the rest of it is right. There’s no virtue to persistence when it means running your head into walls forever. Before you worry about persistence, that startup has to have some real value to offer, something that people want to buy, something they want or need. And it has to get the offer to enough people. It has to survive competition. It has to know when to stick to consistency, and when to pivot.

So persistence is simply what’s left over when all the other reasons for failure have been ruled out.

Knowing When to Quit

And, with that in mind, I like Seth Godin’s take on quitting, which is the main point from his book The Dip (quoting here from Wikipedia🙂

Godin introduces the book with a quote from Vince Lombardi: “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” He follows this with “Bad advice. Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.

Godin first makes the assertion that “being the best in the world is seriously underrated,” although he defines the term ‘best’ as “best for them based on what they believe and what they know,” and ‘world’ as “the world they have access to.” He supports this by illustrating that vanilla ice cream is almost four times as popular as the next-most popular ice cream, further stating that this is seen in Zipf’s Law. Godin’s central thesis is that in order to be the best in the world, one must quit the wrong stuff and stick with the right stuff. In illustrating this, Godin introduces several curves: ‘the dip,’ ‘the cul-de-sac,’ and ‘the cliff.’ Godin gives examples of the dip, ways to recognize when an apparent dip is really a cul-de-sac, and presents strategies of when to quit, amongst other things.

Don’t let the struggle porn startup myths get you down. I’ve been through startups. I’ve been vendor and consultant to startups for four decades, and I started my own and built it past $9 million annual sales, profitability, and cash flow positive, without outside investors. And I’ve never believed that anybody is supposed to give up life, family, relationships, and the future to build that startup with 100-hour weeks and forget-everything-else obsession. Here’s what I say:

Don’t give up your life to make your business better. Build your business to make your life better.

 

 

 

The Natural Intersection of Entrepreneurship and Meaning

Thanks for Why should you build your business around happiness? over at typeform.com for the fascinating image featured here, about the intersection of entrepreneurship and meaning. It comes from an interview with Laurence McCahill of The Happy Startup School.

Venn Diagram Entrepreneurship and Meaning

Normal people care about meaning

This matches my belief that making meaning or changing the world or having a reason why matters to people. And it matters to startups. And investors too. I can’t offer any sort of rigorous data to prove it. But my experience tells me that normal humans care about right and wrong, not doing harm, and spending their time on something that makes the world around them better. Do you agree?

The post I took this from cites research showing

“Workers with a Purpose-Orientation are the most valuable and highest potential segment of the workforce regardless of industry or role. On every measure, Purpose-Oriented Workers have better outcomes than their peers.”That means:

  • 20% longer expected tenure

  • 50% more likely to be in leadership positions

  • 47% more likely to be promoters of their employers

  • 64% higher levels of fulfillment in their work

That strikes me as completely credible. And it matches my experience. I posted along those lines on this blog with Build a Mission, among others.

Startups Make Meaning

I’ve seen this factor come up often in startup pitches to angel investors. Investors naturally give more weight to a proposed startup that does something the world needs doing. Founders are more credible, and more likable, when they grow the business from roots in entrepreneurship and meaning.

 

I see this same idea recurring in a lot of different places. One that comes to mind immediately is Guy Kawasaki’s use of “Make Meaning” as a driver of business ideas in his book The Art of The Start.

I also like to remind entrepreneurs – just as this image does – that success is not simply a matter of doing what you love and following your passion. It is also doing what other people need, want, and will pay for.

 

Do You Suffer from Distraction Sickness

Does this seem familiar to you: Distraction Sickness

I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours.

Andrew Sullivan

That’s from Andrew Sullivan: My Distraction Sickness — and Yours, in New York Magazine this week. I recognized the author’s name immediately because I’ve seen Sullivan on talk shows often. On TV he comes off as thoughtful and articulate, and he’s frequently introduced as a gay republican and prolific blogger. Here’s the first paragraph of his Wikipedia biography:

Andrew Michael Sullivan (born 10 August 1963) is an English author, editor, and blogger. Sullivan is a conservative political commentator, a former editor of The New Republic, and the author or editor of six books. He was a pioneer of the political blog, starting his in 2000. He eventually moved his blog to various publishing platforms, including Time, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, and finally an independent subscription-based format. He announced his retirement from blogging in 2015.

The independent blog mentioned is The Dish, where the last post is dated June of 2015.

But that’s just background information. What’s notable about his background, in this context, is the sudden change, the lack of Andrew Sullivan writing and talking on TV in the last year. I read this piece and discovered why. And decided that what he’s calling distraction sickness might be an epidemic.

Distraction sickness

Sullivan describes a process that seemed alarmingly familiar to me – and, I bet, to you too:

Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating.

Is that not you? Ok. Nobody you know? C’mon, tell the truth.

He continued:

I tried reading books, but that skill now began to elude me. After a couple of pages, my fingers twitched for a keyboard. I tried meditation, but my mind bucked and bridled as I tried to still it. I got a steady workout routine, and it gave me the only relief I could measure for an hour or so a day. But over time in this pervasive virtual world, the online clamor grew louder and louder. Although I spent hours each day, alone and silent, attached to a laptop, it felt as if I were in a constant cacophonous crowd of words and images, sounds and ideas, emotions and tirades — a wind tunnel of deafening, deadening noise. So much of it was irresistible, as I fully understood. So much of the technology was irreversible, as I also knew. But I’d begun to fear that this new way of living was actually becoming a way of not-living.

Is this you?

I’m not attempting to duplicate Sullivan’s whole article here. I highly recommend you read it yourself and think about it. But here’s one more piece of it I want to add:

Our oldest human skills atrophy. GPS, for example, is a godsend for finding our way around places we don’t know. But, as Nicholas Carr has noted, it has led to our not even seeing, let alone remembering, the details of our environment, to our not developing the accumulated memories that give us a sense of place and control over what we once called ordinary life. The writer Matthew Crawford has examined how automation and online living have sharply eroded the number of people physically making things, using their own hands and eyes and bodies to craft, say, a wooden chair or a piece of clothing or, in one of Crawford’s more engrossing case studies, a pipe organ.

It certainly made me think about my level of the disease. For a split second. Before diving back into blogging.

 

 

Business for Life not Life for Business

Office clutterWe talk about work-life balance, in general terms, but here’s one simple thought that should always be there in the background:

Your business exists to make your life better. Not vice-versa. Don’t sacrifice your life to make your business better.

I got a lot of play on Twitter recently with this simple idea. And this post is largely based on one I did two a few years ago. But this bears repeating. Of course it’s obvious, But people forget. We business owners forget way too often.

The “have-to-do” factor is infinite

Do you use what you “have to do” for your business as the constant recurring excuse for missing things that matter to people you love – soccer games, recitals, appointments, and so on? I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-repeated saying about people on their death beds not wishing they’d spent more time in the office.

I think the “have to do” factor for entrepreneurs, startups, and small business owners is essentially infinite. If you are one of us, then you can – if you want – always find a “good” business reason to not do anything but the business for the rest of your life, non stop, without anything else.

But real life is more important

Specifically, my advice (from a post I did here in 2012):

Don’t use business as an excuse for selfishness and obsession. I’ve lived through this. There is an overpowering temptation to push everything else aside and dive into the business. Everybody who wants you to do anything else is annoying, and “Don’t they realize you’re building a business?” You miss dinner, the kids’ games and teachers’ conferences, everything that matters to anybody else in your life.

So you have to draw lines and set priorities. As I was building my business my wife insisted I be home for family dinner every night I wasn’t traveling. I objected at times, but looking back, with the kids all grown up. I’m so glad. And she set vacations and paid deposits months in advance, so we had them. I’m glad for that too. I posted about that here on this blog, several years ago in True Story: Relationship vs. New Business.

You know this. But so did I, and I would have really screwed this up without reminders. So this is your reminder. Life is more important than business. And the right work-life balance isn’t 95% your business and 5% the rest of your life.

(image: shutterstock.com)

What Business to Start? Look in the Mirror. Depends on You.

I’ve always said that what business is right for you depends not on the market, or what’s hot, but on who you are. So look in the mirror. I get a steady flow of questions about what business to start, and I see them almost every day on Quora.com, my favorite question-answer platform. With this in mind, I always say…

look in the mirror. What business is best to start depends on who you are, where you are, what you do well, what you like to do, and what you can do that other people need, want, and will pay for.

Balance_at_sunset_bigstock_3393994.jpg

I also refer to two now-classic posts by others that sum this up very well.

First, What Kind of Startup is Right for You, a post by Nellie Akalp on Mashable in 2012. Nellie goes right to the heart of an often misunderstood core concept of small business, which is that the best business for you depends almost entirely on who your are, what you want, and what you do.

The best business is always a matter of context. You look in the mirror and figure out who you are, then you apply that to business. Here’s just a quick piece, two paragraphs:

Create a list of skills that covers what you’re good at and areas where you’re a subject matter expert. Then list out the things you like to do. Compare these two lists and see if any patterns emerge, or point to any business type that aligns both your strengths and passions.

Imagine yourself at a cocktail party, Tweetup or other networking event, and you’re asked that inevitable question: “So, what do you do?” Think about how you’ll respond with each potential business option. Are you proud and excited to describe your new business? Or a little embarrassed and looking to steer the conversation elsewhere?

This is really good advice. She has five points in the post, all of them worth reading.

The second one is called How to Fit Freelancing Into the Rest of Your Life, on freelance folder, written by Laura Spencer. It’s another reminder that what’s best for each individual you depends on your specific needs and nature.

For example, one of her points is “Know Yourself:”

What enables you to do your best work? Do you need quiet, or do you thrive in the midst of chaos? Are you your most creative first thing in the morning, or are you best late at night? What inspires you? Some freelancers are inspired by music, others by art or nature. Does clutter bother you, or can you work just about anywhere? Once you understand what enables you to do your best work, you can make sure that your work environment fits the bill.

Two very good posts. Conclusion: generalizations are dangerous. Every startup entrepreneur, ever solopreneur and freelancer, is a different case.

(image: bigstockphoto.com)

Entrepreneurship and Leadership with Mark Maples

My Friday video for this week is on entrepreneurship and leadership from the Stanford Ecorner. If you haven’t been there for a while, check it out. There is a new interface, and it’s a great collection of speakers on entrepreneurship, startups, business, and investment.

Here’s the intro from the site:

Silicon Valley veteran Mike Maples Jr. shares heartfelt advice urging aspiring entrepreneurs to “only do things that you think have a chance to be legendary.” By committing to always doing exceptional work and being around inspiring people, Maples says you will reap the cumulative benefits of a lifetime of excellence, and be able to enjoy it again whenever you look back.

This is a two-minute excerpt from a longer talk.

What If You Answered Those Spam Emails?

In this TED talk, comedian James Veitch answers emails offering wealth in gold. It’s pretty funny, a nice 10-minute break for a Friday.

I’m not happy with the ways this embeds on this blog, so if this doesn’t give you a good screen display in the resolution you want, then you might want to try it by clicking this link: TED talk James Veitch What Happens When You Answer Spam Emails.

Startups and Business Owners: The ‘Have to Do’ Factor is Infinite

This should be so horribly obvious:Work is Infinite

Your business exists to make your life better. Not vice-versa. Don’t live to make your business better.

Obvious? Sure. But people forget.

Do you use what you “have to do” for your business as the constant recurring excuse for missing things that matter to people you love – soccer games, recitals, appointments, and so on? I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-repeated saying about people on their death beds not wishing they’d spent more time in the office.

I think the “have to do” factor for entrepreneurs, startups, and small business owners is essentially infinite. If you are one of us, then you can – if you want – always find a “good” business reason to not do anything but the business for the rest of your life, non stop, without anything else.

So you have to draw lines and set priorities. As I was building my business my wife insisted I be home for family dinner every night I wasn’t traveling. I objected at times, but looking back, with the kids all grown up. I’m so glad. And she set vacations and paid deposits months in advance, so we had them. I’m glad for that too.

You know this. But so did I, and I would have really screwed this up without reminders. So this is your reminder. Life is more important than business.

(image: shutterstock.com)

(Originally published in Planning Startups Stories)

Love, Sex, and Small Business. Wait … What?

I received an email today, Valentine’s Day, with this juicy data from a Manta survey on marriage and business

Snails by Adam Foster Flickr cc

… a new study … shows small business owners are mixing business with pleasure. The survey of more than 1,100 small business owners shows one in four work with their significant other and nearly 60 percent say they would recommend it. In fact, one-third of those polled say their family life and relationships have actually improved as a result of owning their business.

But then, just when you thought it was safe to start a business, they followed that with this:

Unfortunately, that hasn’t extended into the bedroom. SMBs rank their sex life last in the areas of their life that have gotten better with business, saying their business and personal relationships are of higher importance. 

I think that proves, once again, that surveys prove nothing. 

(photo credit: Adam Foster | Codefor via photopin cc)

A Must-Read Piece on What Really Matters

This morning I’m just plain grateful for what I just read. Towards the end it includes this quote containing two quotes:Bruce Turkel Turkel Talks Blog

In his beautifully crafted The New York Times article, You Are Going To Die, Tim Kreider writes, ‘You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look is craven denial.’

As Erma Bombeck wrote in her 1979 book Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream, ‘If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television… and more while watching real life. But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it… look at it and really see it… try it on… live it… exhaust it… and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.’

That’s from near the bottom of Bruce Turkel’s What Was So Damn Important Anyway?. You should read this.