“If you want to make it big, you must put your whole heart and soul and all or most of your spare time into the business, especially at the beginning. Either do not get married at this state, find a wife who does not mind seeing you very much, or prepare to get divorced. Make sure you have the energy, stamina, and health to travel frequently and to tolerate nights without much sleep. It is ideal if you can get by on four hours (but needing six hours is not disqualifying).”
It disturbs me now—in retrospect—that I underlined this passage as important when I read the book it came from in 2000. The author, an Ayn Rand acolyte (and, bizarrely enough the recent author of a “how to” book on romantic love), minces no words and lays it on the line, does he not? The message is clear. You want to succeed? Forgot marriage, children, hobbies, even sleep…it’s business or nothing.
How sad. How disquieting. And how disturbing.
While I don’t think money, as an inanimate object, is the root of all evil necessarily, I do now believe that the mad climb to the top of the corporate ladder is a damaging trek. Left in the wake of that myopic ascension are family members, loved ones, friends and possibly even customers. The above quote is not an aberration in most business books, either. Even in the writings of the more-level headed gurus like Peter Drucker do you find the underlying, insinuated notion that the key to success is to make business priority number one over ALL others.
But is that true? And if it is, is such success worth the psychic price?
The running joke with me is that, one day sooner than I hope, my children will ask disdainfully, “Dad, couldn’t you have worked more and seen us less growing up? Where’s the money?!” Seriously though, I know many adults of workaholic parents who often ask the reverse: “Where were you when we needed you? Why was business more important than us?” Why, indeed.
It’s not just the man’s cross to bear anymore, either. I know of plenty of professional women who work themselves around the clock and have to “schedule” time with their children, or husbands. How can this be healthy? And while we all do indeed need money (increasingly more of it in these times) and loving one’s business is a laudable and admirable goal, some things are just more important. Moreover, balances can and should be found.
I’ve always admired the drive of successful business men and women—but not as much as I used to. As a wise, old sage once said, “You can’t take it with you” and that’s so true. Why sell your soul for the almighty dollar, for the corporate prestige, for all the tea in China if your child or wife feels you don’t love or spend enough time with her?
This worship of business success and money permeates our culture in ways we sometimes don’t even realize. “Economic Man” has replaced “Spiritual Man,” “Educated Man,” or “Community Man” in terms of commanding respect. And every bizarre argument can be offered up in defense of the trader principle. Libertarian friends used to tell me that it was perfectly fine for young women to work in the porno industry, for example. “They’re getting paid for it,” I would hear as justification, as if the paycheck was the panacea to all the pain, anguish, debasement and debauchery such “work” would inflict on someone else’s daughter.
I like money as much as the next guy. And I love my business, too. But I have come to find more enjoyment in the sheer thrill of creating and of helping other businesses as my means to an end. The money can still come in albeit much more slowly than it once did. But I can look myself in the mirror and know that I’m trying to make a difference and help those who perhaps feel the same way I do, those trying to find beneficial balance in there lives.
There are successful business leaders—and I know a lot of them—who are quite wealthy and successful but who also have the right priorities. They’re not the crazed, sleep-deprived automatons described in the opening paragraph. The fact that such people do exist gives me hope. You really don’t have to sell your soul—or cut down on your sleep—to make it big, contrary to what Jack Welch or Mark Cuban might say.
I think small business people understand this best and that is why it’s such a pleasure for me to work with them. Many of these business owners include their families in their work thereby increasing productivity AND profitability. They see business as fun—even in down times—and as a challenge, like a sport, but not one where winning or losing is the only outcome. It’s a sport in the sense that you train everyday, you work out and stay lean constantly, you please those who come to see you and, yes, you try to beat your competition, but still shake hands afterward. That is what real business should be like. If it were, we all would win.
Let’s try and keep our souls, then, and resist the temptation to be the economic Uberman that would appear to be the modern measure of all success. Business should be an extension—an important extension, to be sure—of our lives. It should not BE our lives.
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