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An Entrepreneur's Last Breath: Why You Shouldn't Be Like Elon Musk When You Take It

If what you're doing is truly life-altering, working longer and longer might be something worth sacrificing a balanced life for. Otherwise . . . don't.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Exhale. Now, imagine that that breath you just took was your last one on Earth. Are you satisfied?

Thomas Jackson | Getty Images

This is a question with which I am familliar, because before I started my marketing agency and grew a VC-backed SaaS company by 270 percent in seven months; I was a nurse. In that profession, I held the hands of dozens of people as they took their last breath. There wasn't a single one that told me they wished they that they had worked more hours.

Related: 5 Changes I Made to My Work Schedule That Made Me 2.66 Times More Productive

But that's what it takes to succeed, right? At least that's the opinion of an entrepreneur everyone's heard of, who said:

"Work like hell. I mean, you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40-hour workweeks and you're putting in 100-hour workweeks, then even if you're doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve." -- Elon Musk

Indeed, there's no shortage of quotes about working harder from Musk, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Thomas Edison and many other revolutionaries. And, certainly, working that hard as an entrepreneur is unavoidable at times. I've even written about working 100-hour work weeks, myself. But that kind of pace shouldn't be a habit.

If what you're doing is truly life-altering -- perfecting nuclear fusion, solving our nation's energy needs -- working deathly long hours might be something worth sacrificing a balanced life for.

Related: My Career in Silicon Valley Taught Me the Futility of 80-Hour Work Weeks

But the majority of us aren't Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos. We're working hard to provide a stable, quality life for our families. And there's nothing more important to our, or your, family than actually having you be a part of it, not just provide for it.

So, where do you draw the line between your responsibility to humankind and your responsibility to your family, friends, community -- and self? Here are three ideas of what you can do when you take a break from #hustling.

Spend time with family (and friends).

You get 940 Saturdays with your kids, according to the calculations of author and pediatrician Harley Rotbart. Some 260 of those hours happen by the time those kids are just 5 years old. Many Saturdays will be filled with weekend house projects. More will be filled with taking your kids to sports practices, band competitions and other school-related activities.

Meanwhile, being an entrepreneur is hard. Being an entrepreneur with kids is even harder. But being involved with your family isn't just "good ol' advice" -- it's medically sound advice. John Northman, a psychologist from Buffalo, N.Y., has written on Web MD that, "This idea of feeling connected becomes very reinforcing to all of us, and it contributes to happiness, it contributes to mental health, and it does contribute also to physical health."

Need a little more convincing? Consider that Oprah Winfrey took time out of her crazy schedule to make sure she attended her sister's graduation in Wisconsin. It's little things like that that make the biggest difference in the lives of the people you love.

Volunteer in your community.

There are so many needs in your own neighborhood and community that can be met with just some basic time and love -- or with cookies, as the blogger behind asserted. You don't always need a world-changing, innovative solution. Sometimes, you just need a heart, a hug and some kind words.

Walk around your neighborhood. Get to know your neighbors. Ask them if you can do anything to help them out. My wife and I have been able to lend tools, babysit, provide meals and do many other simple things that can really help people feel loved.

You can scale up this gesture by getting involved in even bigger projects: housing shelters, food banks, even literacy training. An organization in Minnesota called, SALT, helps Somalian refugees learn English so they can thrive here; it also helps them survive the cold Minnesota winters.

There are so many organizations that you can get involved with to help out the people (or animals, or even plants) in your community. There really is "something for everyone."

If you need a little inspiration, check out what Richard Branson had to say about volunteering, "First, as our experience showed, it's important that everyone in your business be involved, including the leadership team --no one should be so busy that they can't take part," he wrote.

"Everyone needs to be able to take breaks for fun and exercise, and your company needs to have a healthy, engaged and creative workforce if you're going to get ahead of your competition."

Eat, drink, and be merry.

"And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15, ESV

Yes, that's from the Bible, but hopefully, if you don't believe in God, you can look past the source.The context here doesn't suggest that we should party hard, but instead that we should take time to enjoy whatever food and drink we have -- to find joy in anything life has given us.

I personally think you should also take time to exercise, meditate, sleep eight hours, drink plenty of water and even find an enjoyable hobby -- playing the piano, fishing, sewing -- something that allows you have a little time for yourself, that doesn't involve the craziness of being an entrepreneur.

You could even settle for just doing the dishes, something that Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos both reportedly enjoy, and an activity which apparently helps both with creative problem-solving.


Then again, what do I know? I'm not Elon Musk. There's a good chance I won't be a household name figuring out how to solve the world's energy problems.

There are some people, a very small few, that need to heed Musk's advice and work 100 hours a week, every week -- and realize that they will need to give up on a normal, balanced life in order to turn our world upside down.

Related: Is a Shorter Workday Actually Better for Businesses?

For the rest of us though, let's focus on our humanity and make time for the things (and people) that we walk past every single day. One hundred hours or no, you can make a remarkable impact on their world.

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