Nearing the end of 2013, and having had a bit of time to spend with family and some incredible friends, I’ve turned a few thoughts to the seemingly unattainable goal of balance.
Entrepreneurs are flocking from Silicon Valley to places like Austin, seeking the dream the yin and yang between work and life. Known for its favoritism of “lifestyle,” one of the greatest distinctions of startup communities beyond N. California is the joy of life over that of work; the expectation that make time for your family, friends, and self. Why then does such a thing remain so unattainable??
I’ve come to conclude that there are 5 things that everyone needs in life, there is no such thing as a work / life balance for the simple reason that for entrepreneurs, work and life blend, we are what we do; our passions define us. So if not work and life, what?
Funds, Family, Friends, Fitness, and Faith
I’ve come to conclude that at the heart of happiness are the five Fs. I’m going to work backwards in sharing these with you as the first reaction I often get when explaining these to someone is that they aren’t religious, “I don’t have a faith.” Well yes, we all do, let me explain.
All of us have faith in something. At the root of faith is not the religious definition of faith but the intrinsic need we all have to believe in something; to have a passion. For you, that might be music or the theater. For another, their passion might be their next startup, their career, or a non-profit. Others have faith in humanity and live (and work), to better the world. And yes, for some, faith is indeed spiritual. Regardless of your definition of faith, I hope you can concede that we all have a need for a bit of this in our lives.
Self. Again let’s use the broader definition of the word; I’m not talking about working out, I’m talking about your personal fitness. Time for reflection, education, exercise, good diet, and the like. We all must make time for ourselves.
Some need few, others need many. Introverts recharge by taking more time to themselves so they have the energy to be social while extroverts derive energy from social interaction. Unless you are a hermit, you have need of friends.
The very definition of life, no? Perhaps the easiest way to comprehend why the idea of balance is unattainable whereas these 5 considerations merit thought is that over our lives, the role of family changes the amount of time we have for everything else. We grow from having parents in siblings dominating our schedule to independence and time for career or other priorities. From independence, most get married and have children; with the great responsility of parenting requiring a balance to both provide for your own children and teach them a good work ethic, with being there for the recitals, dinners, and watching them grow.
And where most slip up is in mixing up the concepts of work, career, wealth, and a paycheck. Our society rewards wealth and a successful career and yet, all any of us really need is enough funding to be happy while the rest of the Fs round out our lives. On the balance, we need funds just as we need family, what we don’t need is wealth nor a successful career (unless that is in which we have faith).
Think not about yourself, today, for a minute, but how throughout your life, to date, each of those things has played an important role in your life. More importantly, consider how each of those things has been more or less significant in determining your own happiness. Not only do we each have a unique distribution of those needs, over time, our needs change. Where once friends dominated your life and time, today you might have children who have replaced most of them. Where you were once happy on Ramen noodles and happy hour for a few hundred dollars a week, now you have an intrinsically greater financial need.
To borrow well known concept from my brother’s career in Capital Management, what we should instead strive for is diversification. A good friend, Dean Kakridas, sparked the idea over coffee one day. Just as your investment portfolio needs diversification to reduce risk by investing in a variety of assets, so too does your life. And like your portfolio, your life is better for it; the variety of assets create balance leading to a life full of personal wealth. Are the parallels so clear?
- Mutual Funds – Taking care of yourself is a lot like having a few mutual funds or ETFs) in your portfolio. The fitness of your investments demands a little more risk than some bonds but with the stability you can’t find in stocks. Taking care of yourself, your own fitness, strikes me as just that, as little risk as you deal with diet, physical fitness, and time required to learn, but with rewards far greater, and steadier, than the risks.
- Retirement Plan – When all is said and done, think about this, if you go through life with only friends, money, care for yourself, and faith in something that matters, what do you really leave behind? Our diversification requires a little family; don’t misunderstand me, not necessarily your own spouse and children, but kinship with the people in whom you’ll do anything and who will do anything for you. The very idea of an afterlife may be born of family, in the hearts of others, we all live on forever.
- Savings or Bonds – And don’t let me suggest that family is a sufficient alternative to friendship. Hardly. When down on our luck, when sick and in need, when stressed needing release; bah, simply, to enjoy life, we need to tuck a little away with those that care of us and will be there for us when we need them.
- Stocks – Analogous to funds. On the whole, your source of funding is in fact the riskiest of your personal needs. Jobs are lost, careers suffers, the economy changes, and innovation requires that the role that you play evolve. The more time you spend on the stocks in your portfolio, the better you might do, and over time, stocks, like your career, can result in the greatest amount of financial wealth. But not without a cost and because of those costs, we have a need for…
- Insurance – Your faith, isn’t it? When all else is lost, you have insurance, in your passions. You can turn to music or your hobbies. You can look to God. You can even double down and work harder, if your faith is in career.
When the 5 Fs are explored in that context, the need for a bit of each is ever clearer. Would you go through life without a retirement plan?? Without insurance? Sure, depending on where you are in life, you may have little need for one or more of those things, but throughout the entirety of our lives, we have need of all 5.
The goal for all entrepreneurs, to shift for a moment from what it takes to be happy in life to a topic more appropriate to my site, is sustainability. When 9 out of 10 startups fail and the average age of a successful entrepreneur is 40 (really!), you need to find a way to sustain yourself over the long haul. Roya Wolverson shared in a Time story this year that, “according to research by Vivek Wadhwa, an academic and tech entrepreneur, and the Kauffman Foundation, the average age of successful start-up founders in these and other high-growth industries was 40. And high-growth start-ups are almost twice as likely to be launched by people over 55 as by people 20 to 34.” (To a degree, “After 50, the mean salary fell by 17% for those with bachelors degrees and by 14% for those with masters degrees and Ph.Ds.”)
Regardless of when you find success, the reality is that we’re all working for 40+ years and you are much more likely to peak at where peaks tend to be found: somewhere in the middle. Our culture’s focus on career, success, and wealth can ONLY be met by most with stress, sickness, and disappointment as MOST of that time will be off the peak. You’re either working your ass off toward the peak, or looking back with disappointment at what you once had. What matters is not wealth or success but just what you need, at the stage in life in which you find yourself, to have the funds, and family, and friends, and fitness, and faith, to be happy.
Achieving Tech-Life Balance
Having pondered the 5 Fs for years and only recently put serious thought to them, imagine my surprise when this month’s copy of FeedFront magazine arrive to find an article by Randi Zuckerberg referring to Work, Sleep, Family, Friends, and Fitness.
Sometimes the demands of work must take priority over the needs of our children. Sometimes the demands of family mean there’s no time for our friends. Sometimes the demands of our friends mean there is no time for the gym. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Focus on the few things that are important to you, each day,” remarked Zuckerberg. “As long as it pretty much balances out in the end, it’s all be okay.”
Randi Zuckerberg continues, in introducing us to her must read book, Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives, to reveal some secrets to disconnecting from technology to help us find balance. Her broader perspective, about the role of technology in our lives obviously wasn’t what struck me. It was simply that parallel to my 5 Fs and a simple point she made that struck me to my core: you can pick three.
How does one diversify when you can’t?
I’ve long struggled with the idea of a work / life balance simply because I’ve convinced myself that I can only have 2. Perhaps it’s my psychology, a mindset that might be like your own, but I find myself incapable of finding happiness in 3, let alone 4 or 5. When I pour my energy into any more than two, something begins to suffer so greatly that the cost is too much to bear. How might we diversify?
We know the cost of funds. If you make $1, you know the impact it is going to have on your life to sacrifice that dollar for something else. You can easily value that dollar and make decisions about what’s involved in not giving up the entire dollar, but $.10 or a quarter, so you can make time for something else. My point is that it’s easy to understand how to diversify against your need for funds but at the same time, it’s the one thing that none of us, or at least 99% of us, simply can’t go without.
So funds, even if you live on the street and draw funds from the generosity of the driver exiting the freeway, must get some of our attention. There’s one thing.
We can turn away from our families, and many do by ostracizing relatives, abandoning children, divorcing spouses, or simply remaining single and keeping other family at arms length, but the cost isn’t as clear. It’s impossible to value family in the same way that we can do funds. Granted, most of us would argue, rightly so, that you can’t quantity the value of family, but when considering how to diversify your life with the right amount of funding and family, at the stage of life in which you find yourself, how much family is enough? What is the right balance between stocks and your retirement plan?
This is where I’ve long struggled with the idea that we can find more than two and yet the idea of a work / life balance is ludicrous to me simply because there is more to life, and work, than funds and family, only two of the things we really need. With a wonderful family of my own, I’ve long struggled with giving friends, faith, and fitness enough time as my need for funds and family is always so great. In my case, making time for myself, my faith, or friends comes at a clear cost of time from family and work and evidence to me, of that challenge, is that when I make time and find richness in my friends or faith, work piles up and my family misses me. While certainly there is no such thing as balance, it doesn’t feel like diversification when more of one comes at the painful cost of another.
I’m sure you can relate. Perhaps family isn’t your priority today but fitness, time working out and caring for yourself takes you away from dating or friendships. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to trade those off but I’m curious to hear from all of you, have you figured out how to trade off the 5 considerations and effectively diversify? How??
To me, getting more than 2 right has been an amazingly rare accomplishment. It goes without saying that I’ve found richness in family, friends, faith, fitness, and funds, but rarely more than two at once. Troubling me is being conscious of the fact that fitness always comes last for me, there are no mutual funds in my life, the one thing beyond your retirement plan that most advisors recommend comprises the bulk of your portfolio.
Each of us is unique with distinct needs so the question isn’t one that can be answered directly. What’s right for you isn’t right for me so the question I’m asking you to explore with me is not the right mix but how you accomplish a mix.
Diversification or Depression
When we can only accomplish two, or we’re blessed to be able to pick three as Zuckerberg suggests, what is the cost when one of things fails? When we lose a job but have family and friends around; we suffer and turn to the others for support. What then is the cost when everything in which we’ve diversified fails?
The need for diversification is greatest when you make the leap to the disastrous times in the lives of, thankfully, few of us, when everything comes crashing down around us. Can you imagine: losing your job and health all at once because of an accident; perhaps your family and closest friend are lost in a disaster; maybe faith, for you, is religious and in a time of great need at the hands of someone passing, you feel abandoned.
When we’ve diversified into 3 or more of the 5 Fs, we’re far less likely to reach the lowest possible points on our lives as humans. With a bit of each of those needs, we can always look to another when times are tough. And it’s for that reason, at this year end, and time with family and good friends is so cherished. For those of us who struggle to give more than 2 of those needs time, without a crushing cost from the loss of another, the greatest reward we can get in life is a bit of diversification. When you only have 2 needs in life filled, and I’m speaking I think, for the most part, to the entrepreneurs who make their next venture the entirety of their lives, when 9 out of 10 startups fail, diversification saves us from ourselves.
Well, that ended on more of a down note than I expected. Funny thing about blog posts, unlike books, they seem to be more of a stream-of-consciousness than a well thought and architected story. I’m no J.K. Rowling but I suppose there is quite a bit of double-meaning, interweaving, and I hope, provocation of thought in here so I’d love your thoughts. In what ways do you find happiness in life? And as you wrap up 2013, hopefully, there are some ideas here that help you find a little more balance in 2014.