You Have to Pick Two

I wrote recently about how you can’t have a growing business, a robust social life, and a great family life all at once.  You only get to pick two.  The implication is that, though everyone wants all three, you get a maximum of two if you want to succeed.  I’m beginning to think the heuristic is not just a maximum, but a minimum as well.  You don’t just get to pick two, you have to pick two.

If you pour yourself fully in to any one of these at the expense of the others, you’re unlikely to find long term success and fulfillment.  If you’re a passionate, single-minded entrepreneur, you need to create space for some kind of social life or family/significant other.  You won’t be your best if you don’t.

Many people accept this notion but mistakenly assume all that’s needed is a balance of time spent on the activities.  As long as I carve out 30% of my time to not work I’ll be balanced because I’ll be with friends or family.  This is far from the truth.  You need time with an interest or hobby around which friends congregate, or family time, but you can’t expect it to happen simply because you set aside time to not work.  You have to be just as intentional with your non-work time as you are with time spent working.  You have to be definite and deliberate in the creation of a social or family life.

Again, it’s not about the number of hours spent on each.  Maybe you’re able to pour yourself into a job with only a four hour workweek.  Maybe you can have a meaningful social life with nothing more than one kite-boarding session a week.  The point is to ensure you have more than one thing on which to put your energy and attention.  One needs to serve as an outlet for things left unexpressed in the other.

I don’t believe it’s really about creating a stark divide or work/life balance either.  Depending on your personality and habits, you may need that in order to do your two things.  Or you may need a seamless synthesis.  I tend to have a much better family and work life when I have fuzzier lines between them.  I love working from home. I’m writing this at the breakfast table with noisy kids all around.  I like taking my kids with me on work trips when I can.  I enjoy responding to emails at all hours, and I feel less stressed and more in the moment with family when I don’t have to put work completely on hold.  You may be the opposite.  Neither is better or worse.  The important thing is to have something outside of work to devote yourself to.

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