I was at a StartupsUncensored event some time ago where a speaker, Jason Nazar, the founder and chief executive of Docstoc, said: “You can have your start-up and one thing. You can have your start-up and your health. You can have your start-up and your family. Or you can have your start-up and your significant other, but you can’t have multiples. If you try to have multiples, you’ll be poor at all of them.”
I had never heard someone speak so candidly about the lack of work/life balance when it comes to start-ups. As we continue to build Fashioning Change, I am often reminded of his words. Since I started the company, managing interpersonal relationships with family, friends and a significant other has been really hard.
I’ve lost friends because they thought I was crazy to try to build my own company. It took my father a very long time to understand what I was doing. In fact, it wasn’t until Fashioning Change was featured in the December issue of Entrepreneur that he really expressed acceptance of what I had dedicated my life to do. I’ve been in relationships that ended because I was told I’m “too ambitious” or because the guy would make me feel guilty when I couldn’t drop what I was working on to grab dinner — or make dinner.
I’m a Type A personality. I’m competitive and driven. Because the landscape of “shopping for good” continues to grow with inauthentic voices and so-called greenwashers, I’m driven to work harder. Still, I’ve learned that working at 110 percent seven days a week isn’t sustainable and can even compromise what I create. And I have come into a place where I’m on a personal mission to create a more normal start-up work/life balance. Over the Memorial Day weekend, I spent my first weekend in almost three years with no access to a computer or phone.
And I’ve been chatting with other start-up friends, 99.9 percent of whom are men — I do wish there were more women starting companies. None of the men I spoke with have ever been told that they are “too ambitious,” but many expressed overlapping challenges that we all know are common in the start-up world: depression, reckless partying, drug abuse, drug addiction, frustration with family members who don’t accept their work habits, compromised health and failed marriages.
I have one friend whose former wife cheated on him, and he blames himself for working too much and tearing apart his family (they have two kids together). Much of what you see in the media tends to glamorize start-up life (“The Social Network” is a great example). Until recently, the toll taken by the start-up life has gotten little attention.
A friend of mine, Bobby Matson, founded Startups Anonymous with Diego Prats. They are both entrepreneurs who persevered over the challenges of a failed start-up. Startups Anonymous is a Web site that aims to help start-up founders and employees connect anonymously with serial entrepreneurs about the real challenges they face. After being live for just a few hours, the site had received more than 40 e-mails from founders all over the world eager to connect with someone — an indication of how many isolated people there are trying to figure out the challenges that come with building a start-up.
Have you thought about this, too? What have you given up for your start-up? Do you see it as sacrifice or as just part of what has to be done? Have you learned anything about managing your work/life balance?