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A company is like a baby

Gustav Juul

Gustav Juul

Principal Partner

Adizes Institute

My adventure as an entrepreneur started about 10 years ago. Like every other entrepreneur, I started out with big dreams and excitement. I wanted to be an entrepreneur because I wanted to control my own destiny. I believed that I had the right ideas, the right skillset and an unflinching dedication. I wanted to do things right and in so doing create one of the largest HR organizations in the world and in many ways also a legacy.

This is the bright side of entrepreneurship, but unfortunately, there’s also a darker side. The rigors of entrepreneurship demand sacrifices, and if you don’t make those sacrifices you’ll never be able to succeed. Business is, at its core, a give-and-take process. The more you invest, and the more you’re willing to part with, the bigger the rewards you’ll reap.

Like many other people, back in 2010, although the Mexican office which I was Country Manager for was doing extraordinarily well, my employer was badly affected by the financial crisis in Europe and subsequent economic climate. Given that I was working at an Executive Search firm, you can imagine things got a little more precarious than usual.

I had a big values-conflict with the owner of the company and he ultimately decided to let me go, because “nobody quits on him”. Being about to turn 40 I had a decision to make. I was not Mexican, but moving back to Europe seemed to me that I would be going back as a failure. I therefore decided that the best thing for me as to stay and start my own business. The allure of working for myself, in control of my day-to-day working environment and maybe specially the fact that I would never again give the power to anyone, to choose if I would have a job the next day, was just too strong. This was not the first time I flirted with the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, but to be honest, nothing ever became of my ideas since I always started out with the idea of initially to just freelance on the side, being too risk adverse to take the plunge completely. So taking “the plunge” at the time I did finally start my own company was not so much a choice as a necessity. Now almost 10 years later, with a fairly successful business, I have no regrets. Zero. Still, along my twisted journey, which has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, there’s been one common theme that I keep bumping into: Sacrifice.

What is Sacrifice, Exactly?

Google kindly suggests a number definitions, but for the moment, let’s choose this one:

“To give up something important or valued for the sake of other considerations.”

Seems like a fair enough definition. But what does one give up when making the entrepreneurship leap? Well, everyone is different, but for me the list includes the same things as a baby would need, love and care, time, money and your sanity:

  • Love and care. If you work for someone else, if something goes wrong you can easily point the finger at someone else. When an entrepreneur or a parent, the buck always stops with you, whether you like it or not. All your responsibility now and you have to deal with it, cashflow, taxes, putting food on the table, accidents and bad breakups.
  • Time. I know zero, zip, none, no business owners who work fewer hours than they did while in a corporate job. That can change later on in your business career, but the beginning is mostly just hard work.
  • Money. You know, benefits, those cushy things that employers give their staff to tempt them to stick around or in the case of being a parent, that life you had before you had kids, where you could just fly-away or stay at home and have a relaxing weekend. That just disappears like mist before the sun for a long time ahead.
  • Sanity. A lot of entrepreneurs … and parents will tell you it is, technically speaking, crazy to go into business. You constantly have to take risks, stick your neck out, take criticism on the chin, fail often. It’s a wonder your average business owner or parent doesn’t run around town screaming like a manic.

How about that work life balance?

Almost every article out there that I’ve found recently talks about what things you need to sacrifice to succeed – as if you need to cut almost all of the essence out of your life to “make it” in this world. I would be hypocritical here in saying that I haven’t done that during my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve even found the journal I started writing when I started where I even planned for less sleep, have no hobbies, and not prioritize my social life, so I could have more time to commit to my goals and my business.

As entrepreneurs, we always repeat the same thing to ourselves – just a bit more time, I need to take care of a few things, and once it’s done, then I’ll get everything in order… However, life and business don’t work like that. There’s always another thing to be done, another project that needs our attention, or a deadline we need to hit. Slowly, but surely, we erode our health, relationships, and pretty much everything that we thought was valuable. That’s why the whole concept of work-life balance never made sense to me.

Well, if the whole notion of balance doesn’t exist, then what does exist? I think that the best way to explain it is, againcomparing entrepreneurship to having children. When you first become a parent you set things aside, many things, life changes, sometimes for the better, sometimes for something wonderful beyond belief, sometimes for something much harder. But life changes … the “me and my friends”-balance changes to “whatever my child needs”-balance. Your sleep, wallet, social life and sanity all take a big hit, and you adapt. After having your first child, it is difficult to imagine that you could love another human being as much as you love your first child, and still you have a second child, you make room in
your house and your heart, and there is room in both.. and your sleep, wallet, social life and sanity take another blow and so on and so on…

Life is dynamic, the balances changes, I have been an employee and single and I have also been an entrepreneur and a parent and I can tell you that the latter is better, not only for you personally but for your business as well. Building a strong foundation based on just a few fundamental pillars is what makes a long-term entrepreneur shine. For me it is two pillars that I could not live without.

Family

When you watch movies in which they feature a business owner, you often see a successful mom or dad missing birthdays, Christmas and other important family moments. This is usually followed up by their spouses telling them that they feel left out and that the kids need to spend more time with them. One can say this is a bit of a cliché, but the reality is that entrepreneurs tend to become occupied, and lose track of things that are not directly related to our primary goals.

I have learned that this doesn’t have to be the case – as long as you align your priorities. Putting family first doesn’t mean that they need to come first in the day, or that you need to set aside a few hours each day to play with your kids. I’ve found that a bit of quality time during which you are fully focused on your loved ones, without TV and your phone, outweigh the few hours where you are there just for the sake of being there. Sometimes, what gives us that extra push throughout the day are those brief moments of intimacy we have with our loved ones.

Me Time

I read somewhere that the person that you will spend the most time with in your life is yourself, so better try to make yourself as interesting as possible. When you lead a dynamic life of an entrepreneur, it always seems that your backlog never ends. Even after you’ve finished all the things you’ve added to a to-do list, there’s this thing or two that you’ve neglected to do.

Because of this, the idea to take a small amount of time to dedicate to “me time” adds a sense of guilt, as it doesn’t yield as much return on investment compared to other high-leverage activities. The truth is, setting aside even a few minutes a day and dedicating it to things you enjoy doing, whether it means going for a walk, listening to music, watching your favorite TV show, or reflecting on your inner thoughts and day-dreaming, is equally important.

You will be amazed by how much you will learn about yourself and how much it will help you crystallize certain things when you’re doing things that don’t lead to any kind of results but a pure sense of fun and relaxation.

But how much sacrifice does it take?

Ok, so enough with the examples of sacrifice – just remember that sacrifice is different for everybody.

But how much sacrifice is required? It depends. I can tell you that I have never missed any of my children’s birthdays and I know whom I will spend Christmas and New Years with for the rest of my life. But, I wish I could warn you about how much overconsumption of caffeine you’ll have, and how many nights you won’t sleep because you’re worried about paying your mortgage. I’d love to say that you’ll be breaking even within a year or two, or that in six years you’ll cash out as a millionaire. But alas I can’t tell you these things. Every business is different, and each is a swirling mix of luck and hard work.

What I can tell you is that no matter how much sacrifice is required, I feel it is always worth it. Why? Because as the business owner, I am the one in control. I can decide what risks are worth taking, how much time to spend, and how hard to push. Yes, I may be crazy, but if that’s what it takes to tempt the hand of fate, then that’s a sacrifice worth taking.


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