When Does the Cost of Success Become Too High?
Work-life balance is not a simple equation. It's more like nuclear physics.
I wrote recently about life being like an investment portfolio. Well, if my life were an investment portfolio, you can compare last week to Bitcoin’s recent crash. Like so many professionals at some point in their careers, my personal life fell on its head, and the mess threatened to spill over into the business.
Simone Biles made headlines recently when she pulled out of the Olympic Games to focus on her mental health. Then, Ben Stokes did the same. I wish I could take time off by choice. As a one-man show, “taking a personal day” when I have a lot of new business is not an option.
New clients are like a first date, and first impressions last.
The other side of Steve Jobs
I finished reading Small Fry last week, by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs’s first daughter — although he denied the relationship for years.
I never knew this part of Steve Jobs’s life. His alleged cruelty to his daughter shocked the hell out of me. He has attained almost legendary status in the business world and is the go-to figure for countless articles featuring sage business advice, lifestyle choices and pithy quotes that have become part of the entrepreneurial canon.
I was aware that the book might be one-sided. So I decided to read Jobs’s authorized biography by Walter Isaacson next, for which he gave the writer dozens of interviews.
The book confirms a lot of what Brennan-Jobs wrote.
So, the man could be cruel and spiteful and bitter and petty — but I know that my life has been improved remarkably because of him. I likely wouldn’t even be a writer today if he had not carried out his vision!
Liking your work versus loving your work
I get asked the following question a lot: “So, I just wanted to check if you like doing this kind of project and if you’d be willing to take on the job?”
I usually respond that I like doing whatever pays the bills.
But liking work and loving work are two different beasts. And they have wildly different effects on my state of mind.
Work that I like distracts me. But work that I love uplifts me.
When I do work that I like, I think of how it will pay for things for my daughter. When I do work I love, such as ghostwriting a particularly moving memoir, I believe in my heart that the world might become a better place for her because of it.
Books change minds, and the best books change the world.
Did Steve Jobs think this way when he left his daughter every night to go into his office and work instead of spending time with her? If we ask two people about whether he did the right thing by spending so much time on the work he loved, we’ll get two different answers.
In Brennan-Jobs’s book, she reveals a scene of her father apologizing to her on his deathbed, weeping.
But would he have acted differently if given the chance?
The life-work balance equation is a farce
The equation I use for burying myself in my work is that “work = money for my family.” If I don’t build my business, they’ll suffer, right?
But do they not suffer equally if I’m not there when they need me?
This is the constant struggle that professionals and entrepreneurs must face in their lives. And I think there is no simple answer.
The life-work balance equation isn’t an easy X + Y = Z. It’s more like those nuclear-physics equations that run for pages and pages, but also with constantly changing variables. And for those of us who are parents, choosing between our kids’ soccer games and a mega-huge deal is an equation that carries terribly confusing weights on either side.
We read stories of people who quit their jobs to raise a family, and these stories are both praised and criticized. But who are we to judge what other people consider the right work-life balance for themselves?
I remember a conversation I had with a lead once. He was offering me a lot of work, but my son was due to be born any day. I said, “Look, if my kid is born, I can’t take the job on.”
He said, “Paulo, uhm, congratulations, but I need the work done. And I’ll go to someone else if you can’t do it.”
He isn’t a father.
I told him, “Sorry, if my son is born, your project waits. Take it or leave it.”
He took it.
And he became my biggest client.
But if I had been in a more difficult financial position, I might not have been so confident.
Work-life choices have a lot to do with the moment they’re taken in. A choice made today might not be the right choice tomorrow.
Reading about Steve Jobs’s life is interesting because he was a public figure who touched us all. But to judge him as “success” or “failure” is impossible — and it isn’t our place either. He made his choices, and he was the one who had to live with them.
For me, work-life balance is simply this: doing the best I can do in the moment and trusting myself to do better next time if I make a mistake. In the end, I know that I will judge my own life harder than anyone else will.
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