By Sean O’Leary
I read an article recently in The New York Times titled “In Silicon Valley, Working 9 to 5 is for Losers”. The premise is that in today’s tech world, working 40 hours isn’t enough, especially when the goals of “private jets and mansions” are at play. The author, Dan Lyons, points out the futility of this lack of balance long-term. However, as we see all too often today, there are a lot of mindsets that seem irrational, yet are easy to justify by those stuck in the bubble of their surroundings.
I can’t imagine living a life focused solely on material goals. Of course, having the means to live the life one strives for is important. As people mature, we realize that relationships matter. Regardless, it’s tough to always be in perfect balance. I’ve experienced this in a unique way recently.
I co-founded my first company when I was 30. At the time, my kids were 4, 2 and 1, so my wife and I moved from Houston, where we had little social support, to Louisville where she and I had met and could count on being closer to family and friends. Starting a company at that point in my life was tough, as there was very little time for “me” at any point in the day. Learning how to build a business on the fly was challenging, to say the least. As many parents can relate, walking in the door was often met with an exasperated wife and mom looking for a break herself after a busy day with babies. Despite the stress and fatigue, those were some of the best days of my life. Being an active part of the kids’ routines and activities was amazing and the business grew rapidly.
We eventually sold the company. While making a great return for our investors, employees and ourselves, I’m most proud of the fact that we built a great place for people to work and be challenged while building a life for themselves and their families.
So why am I writing this now? After reading that article, I was reminded of how successful our business had become because we had stressed having a work/life balance that mattered. We emphasized the need to make it to family events such as games, dance recitals and school field trips. Staff were forced to take at least one continuous week off work each year (which is more difficult than it sounds) and we only allowed one week of vacation rollover each year in an attempt to get people out of the office. In 2010, the company was recognized as the Best Place to Work in Kentucky. The company won numerous awards, but this recognition for me was the most meaningful.
I now run another start-up in a tangential industry and all three of my children are in college. Like most early stage businesses, this one is hard to leave mentally. I realized after reading that article that I’m in a unique situation as I have the perspective of the importance of balance, yet I don’t have those things that naturally forced me (happily) to find ways to get away from work. Without those activities pulling me away from the office, I’m working constantly and I’ve realized how important those dance recitals and games were to my effectiveness as a leader, as well as a husband and father.
With this in mind, I want to hand out some free advice, especially to those early in their career. Work hard, the boss(es) notice and appreciate the effort. While you’re at it, be easy to work with and thoughtful to others around you. If you’re making someone’s life or job more difficult, you likely won’t last long. However, make sure you find some time to clear your mind away from your work, with your family and by yourself. If you don’t have a hobby or any outside interests, search for unique volunteer opportunities and I promise you will grow in many ways. Ask yourself why you do what you do and if the answer is solely material, then you’re going to find out someday that you’re wasting your time on things that ultimately won’t matter. Now if you will excuse me, I have a show to attend with my wife.
Sean O’Leary is the CEO and Co-Founder of EdjAnalytics, a Louisville based data science and analytics company that builds proprietary tools focused on helping people improve decision-making. Prior to Edj, Sean was the Co-Founder and CEO of GENSCAPE, Inc. – a Louisville headquartered organization that offers proprietary data to the global energy markets.