This post originally appeared as an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Last week I had drinks with one of the country’s most successful and recognized entrepreneurs. Just a year ago he sold his 5-year-old company for hundreds of millions of dollars. I asked him for the biggest key to his success. The answer: “I worked my face off—traveling around the country for any opportunity and often working until 2am…but I barely saw my kids for 5 years.” The statement was something between regret, warning and statement of pride—and left me wondering if it was a success story after all.
It goes without saying that you will put in more hours as an entrepreneur than virtually any other career path. And it’s not the hours, but the intensity that takes a toll. When the buck stops with you there is no clocking out or calling in sick. Ironically, the people who choose the entrepreneurial path often enjoy the “always on” nature of the job. We love to work and build, and working for yourself can be addictive. But the addiction takes a toll when we let it rule our marriages, families and friendships.
Entrepreneurs need to remember to give themselves work-life balance and unplug every few weeks or months. Time away from work obviously helps maintain family health, but it can actually help make your business stronger, too.
Vacations and weekends off recharge your batteries, provide the chance to learn something new, and often end up resulting in big picture ideas and insights. Think of that long road trip or beachside book that led to a new product or solution to a challenging problem.
Breaks from work are important cultural signs, too. Employees model the behavior of company owners, and the worst thing you can do for your culture is to set the expectation that constant work is the rule. Nonstop work will burn people out within months. And if the boss never takes a break, employees don’t get the chance to step up.
Perhaps most importantly, taking time away from work forces you to focus on what is most important for your business to succeed. As an entrepreneur, there is a constant pressure to keep busy in hopes of closing one more sale or coming up with one more cost saving. After all, we don’t want to leave any opportunity untouched and have to deal with the “What If I…?” regret later.
But in every market and company I’ve seen, 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort. True leadership is not about doing things right, but doing the right things. Forcing yourself to limit your work—whether for time away or a good night’s sleep—leads to a triage process where you weed out what has little impact in the big picture.
Perhaps true success lies in the journey, rather than a bucket of money that might wait at the end of the road. The problem with “working your face off” at the cost of family relationships and personal growth is that you may not like what you see when you look in the mirror many years later.