To build a successful business, we often look for balance.
We look for safety, we look for the expected, we look for certainty. We try to find a process that works, that can be replicated. And we try to find ways success can fit into the hours of 9am-6pm on weekdays.
But few things of great importance are done in a balanced way. Instead, they require vision, sacrifice, and boldness.
This is why I feel that many company mission statements are so vanilla- that they try to balance everything equally; that standing for everything means they stand for nothing.
Business doesn’t often work this way. It requires moving firmly in one direction, shunning all other options. And we know it, we just don’t say it out loud as often as we should. The behind the scenes success is often filled with people taking crazy risks, working incredible hours, and making moves that are unexpected.
I work with a lot of writers, helping them to build a viable career by connecting their passion and expertise to the communities they hope to be a part of. I’m often digging into topics such as content strategy, social media, and other aspects of building an author platform. The most common question I am asked is: “How is this supposed to fit into my schedule.”
I know my professional answer is supposed to be some magical framework whereby you can fit twice as much effort into the spare 15 minutes we each have in a day. That there is one magical button that you can add to your website that will bring you thousands of raving fans. And yes, I do have lots of tips and tricks to help organize your time, carefully choose which tasks have the highest ROI, and group tasks together to best leverage your time.
But one’s success is often driven by two things: goals and purpose. And when dealing with the question of “how can I fit this into my busy life,” the honest answer is: if you don’t make the time, no one will make it for you. No one will make it easy for you to succeed. In fact, there are lots of people who will try to stop you, in their well-meaning ways: encouraging you to find balance; to not spend another weekend in the basement writing; that you are already doing enough; that maybe you aren’t a writer after all. These discouragements come in tiny ways in regular conversations. Writers often know them well.
Every success story of a creative individual is one of a long journey; of countless thankless hours of work when no one believed in you; of doing the impossible, which is often the most unsexy thing of all: jugging laundry, a family, a job, dinner, AND building your writing career.
And I think that is true of all business, and most endeavors that we hope desperately to succeed in. You have to put in the hours. You have to prioritize and give up any sense of a balanced life.
And to be honest, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Here’s why:
I gave up balance a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t prioritize in order to focus ONLY on the things that matter most to me. For example:
- Something I cut out of my life: The 3 hour roundtrip commute to New York City each day.
- Something I find MORE time to do: Hang out with my wife and 7 month old son.
Cutting out that commute gave me an extra 15 hours every week. That’s more than half a day! Why? Because commuting is unproductive to my career, and doesn’t add any joy to my family. So it’s gone.
I have a business that is about a year old, and a son who is less than a year old. Balance is not part of that equation!
So instead of looking for balance, I look for opportunities to maximize the joy I have with my family and the success I have in my career. And I am convinced that balance will only hurt both of those things. That to succeed, I need to be obsessive, to care about delivering outstanding service to the point that I can choose to work at 4am or 11pm if I want to. That I do everything I can to go above and beyond what I promise to clients. And I love doing this.
But that I also care so much about my family that I don’t hesitate to drop everything to take a walk with them, to read a book out loud with them, to just hang out on the floor with them making up funny voices for my son. To do something nice for my wife on some random Tuesday.
There is a small debate going on about the role of authors: should they focus only on writing or also on marketing themselves and their work. I think this is a personal decision for each individual. But regardless, the writers who only write will have to do so obsessively, without balance. The writers who also market themselves and their work will have to do so obsessively, without balance.
Most of my heroes are those who gave up hope for a balanced life. They simply dove headlong towards their dreams.
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