Work vs life – is it possible to strike a balance?
An entrepreneur is in control of their own destiny. They can change the world around them and – sometimes – build a personal fortune along the way. Exhilarating, right?
What the glossy magazines and glamorous business magnates don’t always say though is that the entrepreneurial lifestyle doesn’t come without sacrifices. Success comes at a price and future Mark Zuckerbergs and Elon Musks need to be wary of this cost as they dream of journeying from startup to stardom.
“People think being an entrepreneur is sexy – it’s not, it’s actually miserable,” Foro Technologies co-founder Ali Saheli warns. “I had the toughest time in the first year – I missed pretty much all my friends’ birthdays.”
His frustrations are echoed across the Future Worlds mentors network. “I’m constantly working 24/7,” React Comms’ Managing Director Layla Stacey says. “Because I always put business first, I never have [enough] time for myself or my family.”
Critical Software Technologies’ Brian Luff adds, “I have a very understanding wife who didn’t have much of a husband for many years and I don’t look back on that with any kind of pride. I honestly believe that a lot of that isn’t from choice.”
A quick review of Future Worlds mentors’ reflections on the demands of startup environments reveals unanimous cautions about the importance of managing a work-life balance.
“If you’re not responding within hours then people think you’re not on the grid,” entrepreneur Ben Cons says. “Work takes over your life and there comes a point at which you can be overwhelmed by that, so you have to be critical in your decision making.”
“You have to create a balance between family and business,” Geoff Baker, IMechE President Elect, adds. “When you’re going through an exercise in a project you are most probably totally obsessed with it, but there are other people around you and you have to make sure you keep all the plates in balance.”
The broad consensus from mentors with experience from fledgling companies is that aspiring entrepreneurs must be prepared to invest those extra hours in the early stages to make a business work.
“You don’t have much time to spend with your friends and family so you can become a bit isolated,” R&D CORE founder Thomas Papakostas remembers. “That’s fine for a few years but after a while you do feel the need to reconnect with your lost friends and family.”
“You do have to put a lot of commitment into something to make it work,” former management consultant Chris Spackman adds. “There are times where you have to work evenings and weekends to make a success of something. But at the same time you have to have a balance and occasionally say ‘I’ve got to put a stop to this and spend time with people that matter and I care about’.”
It’s a sentiment that rings true with Salesforce Director Muj Choudhury. “Sometimes you’ve got to know when to switch off, spend time with the family and go out and smell the flowers,” he says. “If you don’t do those things you become less effective and less productive.”
Cyber defence chief Penny Endersby takes a different approach to work-life balance to many of her mentoring peers. “I’m known at work for being somebody who does the job in the conditioned hours,” she says. “I’m really ruthless about not working stupid hours. In fact, I can’t do it. I can do one 50 or 60-hour week but then I’m not effective anymore and have to recharge. How I achieve that is partly by being good at prioritising and partly by having a really good team around me. One of the key skills I’ve learned is to learn how to delegate to people.”
For some though, the very premise of a tension between our career and free time is an unhelpful starting point to approach the topic.
“I see work as a part of life,” Growth Shack Director Ben Clark explains. “For me, it’s really important that I see the whole of life as integrated. Rather than thinking that I’m turning up to work and then going home for life, I want to think that actually my life is richer because of the work that I do.”
The prospect of sacrifices in a startup journey is an unavoidable reality in entrepreneurs’ futures. The collective wisdom of our Future Worlds mentors would suggest that it’s essential that the next generation of startup founders enter this world with their eyes already open and manage their lives as best they can to bring the best out of a challenging environment.
“How do I manage my work-life balance? I think the honest answer is badly,” engineering consultant Vincent Mifsud jokes. “It’s not a question you can answer easily, so I’d rather turn it around and look for some guidelines. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you feel it’s adding value and your other half or family are not grumbling then you’ve probably not got it too wrong.”