Through my consulting practice and teaching, I talk to a lot of individuals who have ambitious goals, either for the start of a new venture or expansion of an existing business. My favorite was the founder of a start-up software company who told me her objective was to be “bigger than Google”. That was five years ago and she still has only two people on the team.
While she is not likely to be bigger than Google, why does this entrepreneur, and many others, have an objective that is so outlandish? Better yet, how does such a goal, even if miraculously attained, make their life more enjoyable, interesting or fulfilling? The answer is; it often doesn’t.
One of my former clients often complained about how hard he was working in his small business and the negative impact it was having on his family and health. Yet he had left a comfortable corporate job where the pay was better and the time demands were much less. Even worse, he insisted on controlling every factor of his business and instead of delegating, he was mired in the minutia of day-to-day operations.
In each of these scenarios, and many more, the problem is misalignment of personal and business goals. My advice is that before you solidify the objectives for your business (or career) you always start with a blank sheet of paper and ask yourself questions like:
1. If money, time and the potential for failure were not obstacles, how would I like to spend my work time?
2. What do I really love to do, and hate to do?
3. How do I want to spend my workday in terms of what I am doing, who I am doing it with, and how much I am doing?
4. How hard do I want to work and how hard am I willing to work, to achieve success?
5. How much time am I willing to invest in the short-term, in order to reach my goals in the mid- to long-term?
6. How will my family and friends be impacted by my business venture and am I willing to make this tradeoff.
7. What sacrifices am I willing to make to achieve greater levels of success?
In business school, students are taught start-up strategies of companies like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft – not about the successful restaurant grew from one to a dozen locations, or the consulting practice that grew from start-up to 25 employees. Students naturally set their sight on achieving the massive success they are taught, despite the fact that such levels of success are rare and in some cases, not even desirable.
I’ve witnessed more than a few business owners (also corporate workers) who achieved their financial goals but lost their families in the process. Some don’t mind the tradeoff but I think most regret making such lopsided work-life balance choices. The point is that you can be successful and quite happy by hitting a single, double or triple in business. The home run may cost you more than you ever wanted to pay!
This issue recalls a personal moment of truth earlier in my career while I was a director of marketing at a large software firm. I received an offer from a prestigious technology company to be an “evangelist” which meant that I would be on the road doing speeches and meeting with partners about 90 percent of the time. When I shared this news with a COO friend who I respected, he said something to the effect of, “I was on the road so much when my kids were little, they might as well have called me “uncle” instead of daddy. I got the point and turned down the prestige and money. I chose my family over career and have never regretted the decision.
Of course I want you to prosper, and to achieve as much success in business as possible, but only in a way that aligns with your important lifestyle objectives. Better to ask the right questions early than face the regrets later.