Sunday, October 9, 2011

Don't Lose Perspective on What Truly Matters

When my oldest son Luke was born almost 9 years ago, it should have been one of the happiest days of my life. Instead, that day was fraught with fear and concern because Luke was born 2 months premature after a very difficult pregnancy. He was delivered by C-section and had to be rushed into the NICU because he could not breathe on his own.

While my wife recovered from surgery, I was alone with my tiny son who was connected to all sorts of sophisticated machines to keep him alive and monitor his vital signs. As I sat there in the NICU, I remember reflecting on my life and had a momentous, life-changing realization.

At that time, I had been leading my business startup through a risky change in business model. We were attempting to transition from engineering services to selling proprietary catalog products. The transition was very challenging and I had fully committed myself to making it successful. What I realized that day in the hospital was that my commitment had consumed my life. As I sat there in early February, I realized that this was the first day that I had not gone into work in more than a year. During the previous calendar year, I had worked every single day, for 10 or more hours on most of those days. What made the situation unfathomable is that for the 3 months leading up to my son's birth, my wife had been bedridden. Unbelievably, I went off to work each day leaving my pregnant wife with a cooler, a bowl of food, the TV remote and some reading material. My amazing wife did not complain, but clearly she could have and should have.

So, why do I tell this story? You probably think that I am extreme and this could not happen to you. The strange thing is that, while I was stuck in this pattern, I did not realize that anything was wrong. At the time, I could not see how obsessed I had become with making the business a success. I got so caught up in the struggle that I lost sight of what is truly important. I tell this story not as an example of what not to do, but rather as an example of how easy it is to fall into the trap of loosing sight of what is truly important. I know other entrepreneurs who have fallen into similar traps. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, don't kid yourself. This could happen to you.

What I realized that day in the hospital is that life needs balance. I had given up most of the important things in my life to singularly focus on building a company. Founding a startup is hard and there is little margin for error. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make something out of nothing. But there are better ways to build a great organization that shouldering all of the burdens yourself. What I have learned is to:

  1. prioritize those things that have the greatest impact, 
  2. say no to other less important activities,
  3. surround myself with very talented people, 
  4. and ask for their help.
These changes in my leadership approach have allowed me to lead a happier, more fulfilling, balanced life, and have led to a flourishing, successful business.

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