People often ask me whether it’s truly possible to achieve a work life balance when you’re an entrepreneur. My short answer’s usually no, at least not in the traditional sense. You can’t do your eight hours, turn off your computer and go home. When you’re an entrepreneur, your business comes with you everywhere. It’s what you think about most every day.
Elon Musk, the chief executive for Tesla and SpaceX, has spoken openly about his lack of freedom and claims to have taken just two weeks off in 12 years. Ultimately though, you make a choice. If you have the energy and perseverance to work continuously at a high level of stress, and that works for you, then great, but you’ll have to make sacrifices. I’ve certainly made many in my twenty year career and my work life balance has fluctuated dramatically from starting my first enterprise at the age of 21 to moving my business to the beach to founding AVirtual at the age of 41 . Here’s my story split into three parts, starting from the beginning:
Part 1: The Beginning
My entrepreneurial career began on an island off the coast of Honduras. I was 21 years old, filled with the kind of youthful passion that seizes an opportunity with blind enthusiasm. The idea was to start a volunteering company that sent young people to remote locations around the globe where they could use their skills to positively impact the local community. That business was and is today Global Vision International (GVI).
Despite my lack of real knowledge or industry experience, it began well. One of the advantages of starting a business when you’re young is that you have no real responsibilities so you approach it with fearless confidence and idealism, which does well to disguise the fact that you actually have no idea what you’re doing. That said, I did once buy a pair of prescription glasses on the side of the road before going into a business meeting to make myself look more professional; they were so strong, I could barely see. It was an exciting and uncertain time, but I loved the unpredictability of it and thrived off the challenges.
However, as the company grew, it became less adventurous than I’d imagined. Whilst my company was sending young people to help with marine conservation in the Seychelles, I was stuck behind my desk managing spreadsheets. I was living in a tiny house in suburbia, rarely exercising and drinking too much. I was overweight, stressed and frightened about the future.
I was six years into running the company when my wife became pregnant and whilst GVI was relatively successful, it was hard work and still not making quite enough money just yet. I went to the bank for a loan and they needed me to take out life insurance so I went to the doctor for a health check. The doctor’s diagnosis was clear: if you continue like this, you’ll be dead by the time you’re 50. It was a frightening reality check, but one I desperately needed. I wanted to be a good father; inspiring and energetic, I wanted to have time for play as well as work. My wife understood that for me it wasn’t just a case of going to the gym and changing my diet. I needed a drastic change that would force me to take control of my life again. I had to make a decision: professional success or happiness.
I chose surfing. I’d never actually even surfed before, but I was drawn to the lifestyle that it promised and critically, it demanded a geographical move so that we could be close to the sea. More than that though, it meant a shift in mentality. Surfing is a meditative sport, it encourages a more mindful existence, which for me, wasn’t going to be possible in England where I was trapped in bad habits. So in search of a better work life balance and with a three month old baby, we sold our house and moved to Costa Rica.
Richard Walton is the Founder of AVirtual a company that provides virtual PAs to small business, entrepreneurs and start-ups. He is regularly featured in the press talking about topics such as work life balance and productivity.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.