Friday, November 06, 2009

An Entrepreneurial Life - You’re the Boss Blog

Thinking Entrepreneur

I just celebrated my 30th anniversary. One wife, three kids, 10 business start-ups, five business successes, five business misfires. I started my company the year before I got married, right out of school. I have come to realize over the years that I have not had a normal life. That’s because I am not normal; I am an entrepreneur.

It took me a long time to figure out that I am different from most of the people I know. I have never had a full-time job, a savings account for my child’s education, or anyone to answer to besides the bank and 50,000 or so customers. I am also a recovering entrepreneuraholic. Starting a new business can be intoxicating. As with anything intoxicating, moderation is key. There are prices to pay.

First of all, I am not having a midlife crisis. My whole life has been a series of crises — from hiring the wrong people to not getting paid to running out of cash to running out of customers (something new in 2009). These events cannot usually be compartmentalized. They creep into your personal life, if you have a personal life.

I can speak only for myself. Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. But here are some words that I believe describe many successful entrepreneurs: independent, intense, strong-willed, obsessive, competitive, intolerant, thrill-seeking, adventurous, visionary, crazy, self-absorbed. With short attention spans. Perhaps some of these characteristics are necessary to be successful.

Now, suppose we were to make a list of words that would describe a good or easy-to-live-with spouse or parent. Would any of the same words be on this list? Hmmm. I don’t think so. Suffice it to say that the traits that make someone successful at work can be challenging at home. Can someone be different at home than at work? I think so, but only to a degree. I’ve come to believe that a real hero is someone who figures out how to leave his problems at work. It isn’t easy. I frequently haven’t succeeded. I’m not even sure that I always tried. I was young and ignorant.

It’s so easy to justify working long hours, missing family events and being stressed out in the noble quest of providing for the family. I accept the reality that if you want to be successful, you sometimes need to put the business (or job) first. I wish it were as simple as just deciding to put the family first — and maybe it should be. But entrepreneurship is not always about our wishes. Sometimes we have critical responsibilities that can’t wait: to a customer, to an employee, or for the bills that have to be paid. At some point, though, once the business is successful, it is no longer about providing for the family. It becomes more about ambition, ego and competition. We all make choices, some conscious, some not.

Everyone talks about balance. There is no balance. Balance is perfect. There is nothing perfect in work/life balance. It is about compromise, choices and, often, regret. Here is the irony of ambition: The same ambition that drives people to be successful won’t let them enjoy being successful. They pay a terrible price for their success, as do their families, but they are never successful enough. Me? I feel successful. I didn’t always. I never felt as if I did enough, made enough or achieved my potential. I have redefined what it means to achieve my potential. Sometimes controlling your ambitions can be a good thing. Sometimes smaller is better. Grow or die is an insane war cry for entrepreneurs. Many times it is grow and die. The bottom line is more important than the top line.

My business day is very different from what it was 20 years ago. I would go from one urgent matter to another, all day long — from a customer to a production person to an insurance agent to the accounting firm to the newspaper’s ad sales representative. It is normal and necessary for an entrepreneur to wear 10 different hats in the course of an hour. But it can make your head hurt.

I remember a morning when my mother called me at 9 o’clock to tell me that my grandfather was going in for emergency surgery. She asked me to call my sisters to tell them. At 4 p.m. one of my sisters called to ask why I hadn’t called her. I was speechless, and mortified. I had forgotten. About five seconds after hanging up with my mother, I had got caught up in my typical day of moving from one crisis to another. I felt stupid, irresponsible and out of control.

This chaos went on for a few more years until I learned how to hire, train, manage and empower. It also didn’t hurt that my company’s growth started to slow from more than 30 percent a year to about 10 percent. I have learned that bad things can happen in your life. I don’t ever want to be in a position that I can’t take some time off to deal with whatever comes up. I guess I’m trying to approach normality.

I have three wonderful children that I don’t think I screwed up too much. And I have a loving wife who has put up with all of the nonsense that goes with entrepreneurship. I hear the line from “My Way”: “Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew.” I think of my wife. I get teary-eyed. And then I go to work. I’m trying. Happy anniversary.

Jay Goltz owns five small businesses in Chicago.

Good read. Even better reminder on not letting chaos take over your life. It's strange that 15 years ago (15! Eeks, age is completely creeping up on me), I would balk at the concept of normality. But these days, perhaps that's what we all really want - some sense of normal, or at least our own definition of normalcy.

I'm guilty of the many crimes brought up in the article - and all because I was obsessed. Obsessed with getting it right. Obsessed with doing more than what's expected of me. Obsessed with doing it better and faster. There was a reason why I left, many of which were professional and yet, more of which for my own well-being and perhaps, like Jay, it was my way of trying to approach normality.

PS: It's super scary that the theme of my USC admissions essay back in the day was Ol' Blue Eyes' "My Way." Even scarier now that I realize the lyrics are starting to take on a very different meaning.

Posted via web from I am Audrey.



Blogger Shilka said...

Thanks for sharing the read! =]

10:27 PM  

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