I read an interesting interview with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates over the weekend. A couple of years ago he was asked about work-life balance and this was what he had to say then: “For my particular way of being, it is true that I did not believe in weekends and vacations.” The second richest man in the world explained that the “sacrifice that an entrepreneur makes during the first years of building the business from the ground up is very great, but that leads to success.”
Some might find Gates’ remarks extreme especially for those who believe in work-life balance. But as someone who built his business from the ground up, I can totally relate with Bill Gates’ point of view.
Setting the foundation for a successful business is no easy task. It basically means a 24-hour work day and a 7-day work week. In a way, becoming an entrepreneur means becoming almost obsessed with what you are doing. It means doing everything you can to make sure your endeavor becomes successful. This is because the initial years of your business are very crucial in the sustainability of your venture.
This is the reason I have always believed that one of the first things aspiring entrepreneurs need to do in starting a business is to find something they love. If you love what you are doing, even if it is hard work, it will not feel like work. There is something pleasurable when you experience that adrenaline rush as you slowly build the pieces of your dream. They require hard work and long hours but it is something very satisfying. Entrepreneurs are adrenaline junkies. They think about their ventures all the time and cannot stand one minute of idleness.
And this is also the reason I have always advocated for young people to get into business. Their, youth, energy, enthusiasm, and vision are very well suited to the life of an entrepreneur.
Of course, in that same interview, Mr. Gates talked about how he evolved:
“Once I got into my 30s, I could hardly even imagine how I had done that. Because by then, some natural behavior kicked in, and I loved weekends. And, you know, my girlfriend liked vacations. And that turned out to be kind of a neat thing. Now I take lots of vacation. My 20-year-old self is so disgusted with my current self.”
And that is true. As your business matures, and as you yourself mature, you begin to appreciate the serenity of Sunday lunches with the family, movie night with the wife, and vacation trips with the whole family. This is the fruit of your hard work. That does not mean of course that you have to completely become a slacker and abandon your work ethic. It simply means evolving your work-life worldview.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, I think, explained it best when he said: “Work-life is a circle, not a balance,” promoting the integration of two instead of taking a break, or splitting up your professional and personal life. In the first place, completely separating work and your life is impossible. But it is possible to blend the two.
For instance, when we would have the annual holiday vacation to the US, we would go to malls so Cynthia and Camille could start their Christmas shopping. I would just find a nice coffee shop, order a cup of joe, and sit back. But I would also observe how the mall is set up, or how the coffee shop operates, and these would give me new ideas about our businesses back home.
Rest is important because it reenergizes you and it gives you more vigor to work harder for success. It frees up your mind so you could think better about your next venture. Nothing prevents you from “working” while on rest in the same way that working hard does not have to be hard. That is the “work-life circle.”