Entrepreneurs are notorious for making big sacrifices in pursuit of their lofty business goals. Even after they find success, many struggle to achieve that ever-elusive state, work-life balance. So, are entrepreneurial success and work-life balance mutually exclusive? The answer depends on whom you ask.
Take Elon Musk: The legendary CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Neuralink, among other companies, has been quoted as saying, “Vacation will kill you.” And, apparently, many Americans -- entrepreneurs or otherwise -- seem to agree with Musk. A 2016 study conducted by Project: Time Off found that 55 percent of American workers surveyed said they didn't use all of their vacation days.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, on the other hand has this take: He advises entrepreneurs to “Put time aside to just be.”
So, which is it? As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve found that both of these perspectives contain an element of truth. Certainly, being an entrepreneur is inherently stressful -- really, truly stressful. Paradoxically, the pressure to find some sort of balance between work and private life, whether it’s coming from within you or from loved ones, can turn into one of the biggest stressors of all.
That’s why I try to avoid this work-life pursuit altogether.
"Peace" does not always equate with "balanced."
As an entrepreneur, what I seek, and what I suppose most people seek, is inner peace, a state of tranquility that’s impervious to external factors, good or bad.
Over time, I’ve learned that balance is not a prerequisite of inner peace. It’s certainly possible to live a completely unbalanced life and still feel peaceful. In fact, life will never be perfectly balanced. It ebbs and flows, and we’re largely powerless over external circumstances. So, no, inner peace must be achieved in spite of any imbalance, not in place of it.
Inner peace is not an end state. Rather, it’s something you must strive to achieve on a daily, ongoing basis. For entrepreneurs facing a seemingly endless list of tasks to complete, and fires to put out, inner peace can seem elusive -- but it is also very important for this group in particular.
With that in mind, here are three tips to help keep you centered, grounded and feeling adequately empowered to handle any obstacle you may encounter.
1. Always analyze situations from a "thankful" viewpoint.
According to the 2017 Small Business Owner report from Bank of America, running a business is four times as stressful as raising kids. To avoid becoming overwhelmed by external stressors, make time throughout your day to look inward. Ask yourself, “What do I feel right now?” and “What do I need?” Be honest with your answers.
When I find myself feeling extremely drained or discouraged, I’ll often create a gratitude list. That sounds corny, but I’ve found that when I take the time to write down the things I'm grateful for, I can actually feel my mindset shift. I use an app called Gratitude 365, which issuper simple to use on my phone right before I go to bed.
A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that work satisfaction directly corresponds to feelings of gratitude, which peaks between the ages of 25 and 34 and then again later in life. If you make a conscious decision to think about what you're grateful for in any given circumstance, you’ll likely find yourself happier and more productive at work.
2. Do something positive for yourself or someone else.
Entrepreneurs know how powerful execution is: Making something happen is all about movement and action. We all understand, on an instinctual level, how positive actions tend to lead to more optimistic feelings.
However, if you expend all your energy on actions that simply get you closer to your business objectives, you’ll inevitably end up feeling exhausted and burned out. Instead, reserve some time and energy to do something that simply makes you feel good in the moment, whether it’s reading a book, watching a movie, going for a walk or taking an entire day off from work.
I like the take Warren Jolly, CEO of the advertising firm adQuadrant has on this. “The secret to living is giving,” he says. Jolly is one of a number of Los Angeles-based CEOs who dedicate a significant amount of time to philanthropy, actively supporting a variety of causes -- including charities in his native India -- as a donor, member and contributor.
According to Jolly, the fulfillment he’s found through helping others has not only made him a better CEO, but has guided him as he shapes his company’s culture.
For me, taking the time to do my boyfriend’s laundry, help a co-founder with an outside endeavor or simply talk with a stranger about his or her day can be rejuvenating. Remember that even the smallest acts of kindness have immense value for both parties.
3. Let go of guilt.
Because entrepreneurs are naturally goal-oriented people, many treat the pursuit of a balanced life like a business objective. They'll keep a running list of everything they must accomplish in order to achieve this so-called balance: professional success, proper nutrition and exercise, a dynamic social life, intimate family time, constant personal growth and so on.
All of these things sound great, of course; but in reality, speaking from personal experience, I’m lucky to enjoy even one or two of them at any given time in my life. Trying to chase them all at once -- and inevitably failing to attain them simultaneously -- will trigger feelings of guilt and shame, ultimately leading to more negative behavior.
Instead of grasping at goals to achieve some state of perfect balance, focus on what’s directly in front of you. Let go of the past, don’t worry about the future and immerse yourself in what you can control right now. Because guilt has never served anyone's needs.
Related: Want to Be Happy? Embrace Insanity.
Entrepreneurs tend to be a little different in the sense that, while work is an outlet for creative energy and a source of immense satisfaction, many of us in today’s world often feel more like human doings instead of human beings. We feel pressed to impress as we scroll through social media sites, and we believe that we have to maintain some sort of balance to feel “good.”
Although it is fine to aspire to be more balanced, it's not okay to berate yourself when balance eludes you. I now live by a personal motto: Unbalance is a balance. Seek peace.
I find that it helps me to remember that every day presents a new opportunity to embody exactly that.