What is Success?
The depiction of success in our society is pretty universal -- some heroic achievement that leads to wealth, fame, or some other form of recognition. You see it in what the media covers, the entrepreneurs, the executives, athletes, celebrities, etc. But behind that success is a lot of hard work and sacrifice, specifically in the form of time that could have been spent with your loved ones. Timmy’s missed soccer game, Alice’s play you promised to attend but couldn’t, or more insidiously the physically present, but not mentally present moments you frequently have during family time. It all has me wondering if the cost of these “successful” people was all worth it.
When I founded Luxe, my first company, I wasn’t married, didn’t have any kids. And while I did eventually get married and had my first kid towards the tail end of my journey at the company, I never fully operated as a family man. Instead, staying in the same intense mode through the sale of the company to Volvo. I bore the daily scorn of my wife, who commented to me about being an absentee father and husband, who was infrequently physically present and even more rarely mentally. It was only after I was at Volvo did I start to recognize the folly of my life. Spending time with my son and then seeing my daughter born, changed my life. What was the point of wealth and fame if I didn’t have a family to share in its glory? What’s the point of being “that” person if your kids never see you? Is that even success? What’s your true legacy then? It was eye-opening!
Having seen my anxiety at full-force during my startup days, my wife asked me ever so nicely, that I never do one again. The stress of startups was terrible for my health, but also extremely taxing on her and the family. There was some pushback, but I agreed with a compromise. I could start and advise companies, but I wouldn’t ever be its CEO again. That seemed like a fair trade. So of course in that same year, I started my second company -- Pinwheel. This time, however, I wouldn’t be its CEO, leaving those responsibilities to a very capable former colleague of mine. And while since its founding, I have come back to the company in a full-time operating role (more on this sometime later), I have stayed true to my word and have come back as President and Exec Chairman. While that doesn’t seem too far off from the responsibilities of a CEO, it does feel different this time around. Partly due to the prioritization of my family, partly having a capable team at work, partly my maturation, and being a repeat founder.
I do still struggle a lot with this balance between family and work. I wish more people talked openly about this. I’ve found that clearly blocking off time for certain activities and then being fully-immersed in those activities and nothing else is a good tactic. What are some others?
Also, how do you balance the desire to be amazing at your job while also being an equally great parent and partner? How do you handle the guilt and feeling of inadequacy that is pervasive? Part of writing this blog is an exploration into this conflict. Come join in the discussion. Subscribe to the newsletter and come along for the journey.