Centuries ago when I attended Harvard Business School, I took a course on entrepreneurship. The professor was a brilliant contrarian whose ideas have guided the creation of hundreds of successful and innovative businesses. He said something on the first day of class that has stayed with me ever since.
He asked us, "Will all the married students please stand up?"
About half the class got out of their seats, and the professor asked them to leave. He told them that a family would get in the way of their success, so there wasn't much point in them taking his course.
In the end he let them stay, of course, but he wasn't kidding. That was his way of making an important point: If you're going to be successful, you've got to love your business more than anything else--even your family.
I've been thinking about that lesson recently because Valentine's Day is coming up. It's a lovely idea--an entire day devoted to expressing how much you love the people closest to you. By all means, make it an occasion to show your spouse, kids, loved ones that you care. Then get your behind to the office because that's where you need to be. Your family will still be there when you get home.
The same goes for other special days, like birthdays and anniversaries. You should absolutely make note of them--but not by taking long visits to the country with your spouse or going off on weekend getaways. That's what jewelry is for. Or treat everybody to a steak dinner. It takes less time, so you can get on with running your business.
I think of that old professor of mine every time I meet clients who fail to be fully committed to the success of their business. If you are not focused--if family, friends and loved ones fill up your busy weekly schedule--you are probably failing to deliver real profits for your company.
Your cell phone is for keeping in touch with clients and sales managers in the field, not for taking calls from your spouse throughout the day about what groceries to pick up on the way home. Cutting out early to take your kids to baseball practice three times a week, or picking up your Aunt Tilly or Uncle Ned from the airport, are unacceptable interruptions to success.
You can keep doing these things and waste dozens of hours each week. Or you can focus on the financial future of your business and work all day, every day. You are the only person responsible for fixing your business and making it better, and that isn't going to happen while you take 14 personal phone calls a day and attend local Cub Scout meetings three-times a week.
Your husband or wife might squawk when you shut off your cell phone during meetings, and tell them only to call for an emergency. Johnny and Suzy might stamp their feet or pout when you don't make it to the baseball game or the ballet recital. But here's a news flash: They'd much rather enjoy great financial security than see you struggling for the rest of your life to make money that never comes.
Sometimes people who work from home tell me they have the best of both worlds; they get work done and spend time with the family. But I have found that, when pushed, they admit they are doing it half-heartedly, while watching a football game on TV with the kids or cooking the family dinner. If you can't be focused while working from home, don't bother.
Of course you have every right to a life, if you don't care about making money that is. You have your priorities, and I understand that. If you don't want to put your business before all other considerations, then prepare yourself for a life of financial mediocrity.
Love your business more than your family--it's not an easy or popular attitude to adopt. Often you will feel tremendous pressure to take time away from your business to devote to family matters. But in the end, the best thing you can do for them is to create the legacy of a business that is thriving and financially sound. When you're retired, wealthy, and able to spend Valentine's Day and other special occasions with your kids and grandkids at your winter home in Hilton Head, you'll be glad you devoted so much of your time to your first love: your business.