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Is work-life balance a myth for start-ups?

Worklife

The decision to launch a start-up is often justified by statements such as “it was time to do something on my own”“now was as good a time as any” or “it’s too good an opportunity to pass up”. These statements, while high on enthusiasm, are low on balanced consideration. While all opportunities carry a risk and demand confidence from the risk-taker, start-up founders are right up there amongst the hardcore thrill seekers.

Being involved in a start-up provokes various reactions. Polite folks suggest they knew you would take this route. Others flatteringly suggest you will be the next Steve Jobs or Richard Branson (it can be hard to know if they are being kind or mocking). Of course, some sophisticate will question your decision by asking whether you value work-life balance, the suggestion being there is a clash between the two.

I do not accept this suggestion. After all, how can there be a conflict when one is equally part of the other? Work and life are, to me, the yin and yang of my existence. If you love living – and what you do – why would you need a peace agreement between these two complimentary and vital activities? If I couldn’t work, I would only be half a person.

Any discussion of work-life balance is, of course, not applicable to those who have chosen to launch and grow a start-up. That’s because a start-up isn’t work, it’s a passion. People driven by such passion are sometimes called workaholics and a symptom of their addiction is the fact that they don’t suffer from work fatigue, they simply need sleep to recharge before resuming their start-up duties. To these enterprising folk, life is work and work is life.

Start-ups are fuelled by this philosophy and the core aim of those involved is the potential success of the venture and, of course, their own personal success. As barriers to success are identified, they are greeted with delight and overcome by applying the strategies in the business plan, or simply explained away with a quick strategic variation. In this way, all news is interpreted as good news…although, over time, challenges may slowly become less exciting.

Regardless of whether the eventual outcome for the start-up is a win or a loss, entrepreneurs are richer for having invested in experiential learning. That said, this learning process does involve a personal cost for entrepreneurs…the full extent of which won’t be apparent until after the lesson is learned. Potential costs can include the destruction of material wealth along with a heavy toll in terms of health and personal relationships.

Entrepreneurs who survive a start-up experience, now mindful of the personal toll, often have a new found respect for the concept of work-life balance. I learnt that despite all the sacrifices I made along the way, that launching a start-up takes twice as long, costs twice as much investment capital, and is twice as hard, both physically and emotionally.

I survived my start-up experience due to a decision made thirty years ago by my then new partner that relieved me of control of social engagements but ensured they. I am fortunate that she is smart and assertive in taking the view that our social life is vital for her and me. Social diary bookings are very rarely broken.

Launching a start-up is essentially a marathon. Entrepreneurs who succeed are long distance runners more than sprinters. Planning to survive what is a physical and emotional undertaking is all about applying the right resources at the right time. How lucky is the entrepreneur who has someone who takes them out of their compulsive obsessive zone and provides a distraction called real life? I was that lucky.

See also: What I wish I knew before launching a start-up


About the author

Sydney-based Alan Manly is an entrepreneur with extensive experience owning and managing SMEs. He is the author of the forthcoming book, ‘The Unlikely Entrepreneur’ and his website is www.alanmanly.com.au

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