Balance Is Overrated (In The Short Run)
I was on Twitter recently and came across the following tweet:
As a follow up to the tweet, one of the comments that Alex made was:
As with all things Twitter, the universe weighed in and one of the tweet that really caught my eye was from Stripe CEO, Patrick Collison:
As should be expected of any online forum, no one’s point of view was altered. Those for “long hours, nights and weekends” remained unconvinced while those for “balance” held their ground.
It’s a really fascinating debate and one that I’ve touched on in prior posts. While I’m not one for a universally applicable single points of view, I’ve come to believe in a few “truths” that seem to make a lot of sense (to me at least).
Balance is important. I completely agree with this - it’s a core truth, and one that we should all be thoughtful and mindful of. Living a thoughtful, balanced life is essential to good mental, physical and spiritual health. If your plan is to spend your entire life at work and doing nothing but work to the detriment of your personal life and well being, you have deeper issues that it’s essential for you to get a handle on.
But not necessarily in the short or medium term. That said, there are times when you will be out of balance and it isn’t simply OK, it’s essential and necessary to the goal. Competing for a goal, prepping for a big launch, creating a business from the ground up, will call for you to put in hours that are beyond sane. They will require all of your faculties and consume every waking moment. That’s the call of creation. And for a period of time (which you will need to define), it’s unavoidable but absolutely important.
If you want to build something great, it will require you to be out of balance. Some will argue with me on this, but unless you’re Jimmy Page and just dreamed up the Whole Lotta Love riff out of thin air one day, that striving for something great is a demanding process that quite simply cannot be done in a 9 to 5 role. It is simply all consuming, and so we have to expect to be out of balance during that phase. (You can also argue that Page’s full on commitment to music resulted in him being able to come up with that riff, apparently “effortlessly”.)
Sacrifice is absolutely essential to greatness. As an extension of the point above, the fact is that something is going to suffer. You won’t be able to watch all of the TV shows you want to watch. You won’t be able to hang out with your friends as and when you want. You’ll need to skip all of the movies that have just come out. You may even need to sacrifice time at home for stretches of time (so long as you have a supportive family that understands what you and they have signed up for). Again, 9 to 5 jobs will not do it.
You have an obligation as a leader to be mindful of the demands you place on your people. Of course, one can argue that the above points are fine for the creator, the entrepreneur, the individual who will reap the lions share of the rewards of any venture. And while that is broadly true, it is critical for the leader to ensure that his or her people are thoughtfully and fairly considered within this broad conversation. It does mean giving them time as and when they need it. It means fairly considering their motivations in determining what type of commitment is required of them. It means providing them with the motivations (psychic as well as economic) that are needed for them to buy in. It also means setting the expectations up front. You can’t simply expect to hire them, and then squeeze out every ounce of life from them in some “churn ‘em and burn ‘em” style management approach. Be fair, get their buy-in, do what’s right.
Finding a way to get to balance over time is critical. No matter what, over time, you do need to get to some level of balance. You can’t ignore your personal and emotional and family needs forever. It isn’t healthy and it isn’t right. Recognize where you are, recognize your checks and balances - not in some cold, economic way, but in a real, natural, personal way. Your inner voice will tell you when you’re out of whack and when you’re not. Don’t ignore it. At the end of the day, follow your gut and do what you feel is right.
Look, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything that doesn’t feel right to them. There are those who are perfectly happy with the 40 hour work week and are content making the trade-offs that that entails. I dont have any issue at all with that - we make our own choices and they are, for us, right.
But it’s foolish to do so thinking that there aren’t trade-offs being made. That religiously working 9 to 5 will result in inordinate economic achievement, entrepreneurial success, extraordinary career advancement. It might happen sometimes, but certainly not most of the time.
Balance is, without a doubt, essential. But perpetual balance (always, at all times) is, well, unrealistic.