The following is adapted from Life Profitability.
Entrepreneurs are innovators, creators, and game-changers. We are not satisfied with the status quo, nor are we content with stagnation of innovation. Boundaries are there only to be pushed and limitations are merely tests of the strength of our will. However, entrepreneurship is not a one-time job where we hope to reach some apex before we drop. It’s a way of work life.
If you are going to be on this journey for “as long as it takes,” you must figure in how to sustain what you’ve built.
Sustainability is key, because nobody can keep up the breakneck pace at which the archetypical entrepreneur employs to start their business. I learned that the hard way. Thus, I missed out on a lot of life’s most treasured moments. I wrote this article so you won’t go down that same path of potential self-destruction.
The exact elements you need for sustainability are specific to your context. Those elements don’t include notions of future payoffs such as money, reputation, fame, and power. Dreaming of one or more of those items may keep you looking ahead, but they won’t drive you to continue moving forward indefinitely. If you manage to arrive, you’ll be empty with all the marrow of meaning burned out.
To keep that from happening, you must seek out meaningful experiences, nourishing pursuits, and secure the necessary time to regularly rest and unplug. Further, you must make these to-dos a priority. Fittingly, the word priority actually comes from the concept of being earlier. Priority is something that factually comes first and has rank and precedence.
You came before your business. Your needs take precedence over the business’s needs. It’s just a fact. Humans must tend to their humanness—their mortality—or their humanness and mortality will flounder. At that point, you will no longer be able to run business.
Another odd aspect of the word, priority is that it didn’t have a plural meaning until we tried to be more “productive” during the mid-20th century. Think about it. How can more than one thing be first? Juggling “priorities” is another ill-conceived idea attached to the entrepreneurial archetype.
I’m not suggesting that during your day you won’t attend to more than one important issue. But for sustainability, you must center yourself around what it is to be you. Your well-being comes before the welfare of the business. Your highest value can then be the organizing principle for your days. Meaning and self-actualization will transcend lesser considerations.
Of course, I know this is easier said than done when you’ve been holding on to your business with a white-knuckle grip. Your business is volatile and demanding, and it’s frightening to think about easing up your grip. The notion is as heart-stopping as those movie scenes where someone may or may not let go of one hand to grab hold of the arm that can pull them to safety. Sometimes the character can’t grab the saving hand, because when you’ve been holding on for so long, it’s as if the natural mechanics of the body, mind, and heart go into spasm. It’s hard to release this thing when you’ve held it so dearly for so long, but you must.
For me, I had to start releasing my death grip out of necessity. Big parts of my personal life had begun to fall apart. Later, I had to lay people off. I felt burnt out and overmatched by the demands of the business. I thought, “This shit is just way too hard,” and I felt like throwing everything away, just letting go and letting it be over.
The solution wasn’t to sell, though. I knew I’d just start a new business and end up in the same place. I realized I had to do business sustainably; it had to stop costing me life, and, in fact, it had to profit my life. I made the decision to embark on a process that focused on having a financially healthy business, controlling growth, and doing it in a way that could create more time for me. I made a business that could sustain me with practices that put me in the center, living out my life.
It took awareness and attentiveness, as well as intention and purposefulness practiced on a daily basis for me to finally begin to let go. For instance, I learned to meditate to pull myself back from the future orientation so that I could make the most of my present moments. I did it daily and began a streak that lasted almost a year. I still meditate.
If you are in as deep a hole as I was in, you’ve got healing to do. Self-triage. Start doing things that not only nourish you but heal you. Build in time for your healing bit by bit. Add a passion for who you are to the passion you have for what you do. Persist in the art of shaping and managing yourself. You will grow and come to fruition, yielding a return on yourself. When the journey is about yourself, self-investment gives you the greatest chance to bend your strengths toward success.
So far, trying to envision your business as a function of you instead of the other way around has probably revealed some insights about how far you are from that—from a place where your life represents your best universe of possibility. You might even be in such a toxic relationship with your business, suffering so much damage that an intervention is necessary.
That can mean some difficult decisions and courageous actions. You might be in a seemingly impossible position, because it’s not always possible to immediately quit all the things causing trouble right now in favor of a new approach.
But it’s always possible to start where you are today and from there try to incrementally change the context of how you operate your business. You can reclaim your life for yourself.
Cut out the things that don’t serve you and transition into things that do. The sooner the better, but if it’s more of a gradual process, that’s fine too. Either way, starting that transition, even if it’s just in your head and heart, is very important. You can begin taking steps thereafter to say, “You know what, I can’t unwind this thing completely in the short-term. It’s going to take me six or twelve months. But this is where I’m going, and this is why I’m going there. And this is the reason why I need to transition out of this part of my life: I need to make my life livable.”
Business first, last, and everywhere in-between is an unsustainable mentality. You can still be an innovator, creator, and a game-changer, but those things don’t have to hold an exclusivity in your life. You can be peaceful, happy, and emotionally fulfilled while continuing forward on your entrepreneurial journey. Have your cake and eat it too by living profitably now.