In North America today, the social narrative entrepreneurship tells us that, to be successful, we have to be willing to sacrifice our health, our relationships and even our emotional well-being. Simply put, we got to pay the price if we want to be successful. When we look at some of the most successful and most influential role models of entrepreneurship today, it’s pretty interesting what we see.
Let’s look at Elon Musk, for example. Elon Musk is the poster boy for world changing entrepreneurship.
Over the last year, he’s co-founded some of the most extraordinary companies like PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla. He’s done so by per proudly working a 100 hours per week. In a recent interview, when asked what advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs, Elon said, “Just work like hell. You just got to put in 80 to 100 hours per week, week after week.
” Now, to put this in perspective, to work 80 a week, you have to work from 8am till 9pm nonstop for six days a week”
If you’re really courageous and you want to work 100 hours a week, you’re looking at six days a week doing 8am to 12.30am. That’s past midnight. That certainly doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like sleep and exercise and spending time with loved ones, which ironically enough are all activities that have been shown scientifically to increase our happiness and our work performance. Working this much can lead to a whole slew of problems.
In the case of Elon, there’s a darker side to the story that not a lot of people know about. He’s only 42, and he’s already divorced twice. He admits that he spends very little time with his five children. When he’s with them, he’s often responding to e-mail.
Now, I’m not here to judge Elon’s lifestyle or decisions.
But I do believe that before we start to glorify or emulate someone, we should look at the whole picture. Not just our highlight real. I know this from experience: The extreme pursuit of my entrepreneur dreams almost destroyed me – twice.
Over the last twelve months, I figured out a way to have greater results in my business, not by pushing harder and working more, but by actually working less, by having more fun and enjoying my life a lot more.
I realized that the dichotomy between achieving my greatest dreams and enjoying my life in this moment, was actually a false one.
I was incredibly driven and worked incredibly hard. Despite my efforts, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I was burnt out and didn’t have any time for myself. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed one day and saw a post about taking time for yourself. I was amazed that someone had the courage to share that thought with the world. I decided to give it a try and cut out all the unnecessary activities in my life.
I started scheduling in time for myself every day, and slowly but surely, my business started to take off. I realized that taking time for myself was the key to success. Nowadays, I make sure to schedule in time for myself every day, and I’m amazed at the results. I’ve been able to build a successful business and enjoy my life at the same time. If you’re like me and you’re having difficulty getting the results you want, I encourage you to try taking time for yourself. It may be the biggest catalyst to bigger results that
My intention was to help people build better habits, improve their mindset and do more extraordinary things with their life.
At first I was super enthusiastic. I was having the time of my life and this was really fun. But as I became more successful and as the business grew, my workload increased and so did the complexity of my life. Not knowing what to do, I decided to see
From that point on, whenever I ran into a problem, I would just unleash my inner Zuckerberg and throw more hard work at the problem. If figured if I could just work a little bit harder, be a little more productive, then all my problems would go away, my business would thrive and then I would be happy.
Well, let me tell you: That approach did not work at all. Within a few months, I’d run myself into the ground, I was stressed out of my mind and I felt like there must be something wrong with me because I just wasn’t able to work as much as Mark Zuckerberg.
To make things worse, here I was running a business called “The Feel Good Lifestyle”, while feeling stressed out and exhausted. As you can imagine, I was a little bit out of integrity, and I hated that. So I decided to do things differently.
I decided to do a little experiment.
I gave myself a 30 day work less challenge. For 30 days, I intentionally spend less time working and I reallocated the extra time through doing things like spending time with my friends, going in nature and going on more dates with amazing women. Now, as you can imagine, it was a very enjoyable month. (Laughter) Lo and behold something unexpected happened; my business had its most profitable month ever by more than 45%.
For one, because I wasn’t working all the time, I had a lot more mental clarity. I was able to see opportunities clearly and act on them decisively. My creativity was on a whole new level, I had some of my best ideas ever and my team and I were able to execute on them a lot faster.
I learned to build systems, I learned to delegate more and I learned to focus on a few things that actually mattered.
Over the next few months, I was on this amazing trajectory and things were going really well.
And then, something interesting happened. Because things were going so well, more opportunities came my way, I said yes to more things and before long I was falling back into my old patterns. We’re working on all these exciting opportunities, we’re making such rapid progress, all I wanted to do was work more. I was addicted to the dopamine rush I got from crossing things off my to do list.
I was totally high off of the idea that I was achieving my biggest goals.
But before long, the high began to fade. I started to feel like all I was doing was run around all day, trying to keep 300 balls in the air. Deep down, I knew I wanted to take a break, but I was terrified that if I did, the whole thing would fall apart and my business would crumble. Here I was, the successful young entrepreneur, suffocating under the weight of my own ambitions.
I didn’t know what to do so I just reverted back to my old humor I threw more hard work at the problem, hoping it would solve everything.
Well, it didn’t. One day in the midst of all this chaos, I decided to go to a sensory deprivation tank. For those of you who don’t know, a sensory deprivation tank is a tank that’s half full with water, with a lot of salt, where you can actually float on top of the water, in total darkness, in total quietude. It’s a great place to relax and to do some deep reflection.
That day, when I lay down to float, I immediately felt this immense wave of fatigue surge through my body.
I felt it all. All the stress, all the pressure, all the discipline I’d imposed upon myself in my quest to build a next great company. I felt it. In that moment, the dam just broke.
I started crying uncontrollably.
For the next 30 minutes, I just laid there, butt-naked in the dark, crying my heart out. With no idea what the hell was happening to me. (Laughter) I wasn’t even sad, I was just completely exhausted, emotionally drained. For the last three years I’d pushed myself so hard, I’d take on so many challenges and I’d overcome so many of my fears and insecurities along the way, but I’d never given myself the time or the permission to actually recover from all this madness.
It’s funny looking back, this whole time I thought I was doing such a great job, when in reality, what I was actually doing was slowly killing myself.
And I know I’m not the only one. I was like the athlete who is so motivated and training so hard for the Olympics, that he ends up overtraining and injuring himself.
Sometimes we can have the best intentions in the world, but the extreme pursuit of our dreams ends up destroying us. Physically, mentally and emotionally.
So in that moment, I knew I needed to radically alter my approach to entrepreneurship.
So I slowed down. I temporarily skilled down parts of the business and I started asking myself the big questions like, “Who am I? Why am I doing all this? What do I really want?
” I scrapped the whole masterplan and I decided to give myself time to realign with my purpose and with my soul’s desires.
I decided to stop treating myself like a machine and accept the fact that I’m just human. And sometimes, I just need to chill out, just like everybody else. I decided to stop obsessing about the future and about these big goals I had in mind and to start appreciating all the beauty that’s in my life right now. I made a very critical change to my mindset.
I let go of the idea that the amount of success I get is directly correlated to the numbers of hours I worked.
I just let that go. And then, magic started to happen. If we zoom out of entrepreneurship for just a second and we look at different fields, we can get a very different perspective on what it takes to achieve sustainable, extraordinary performances over time. Let’s look at elite athletes for example.
In a twelve-month year, elite athletes go through four seasons; they have the pre-season/training camp, they have the regular season, they have the play-offs, and then, they have the off-season.
We never question the fact that the best athletes in the world take four months off a year to recover and build themselves back up for the next year. But if an entrepreneur was to do that, we would think they’re crazy. Let’s look at rock stars.
They operate in a very different way.
They’re not concerned about working slow and steady long hours, the way they structure their lives is that they prepare for their performance, they perform, and then they recover.
What would happen if as entrepreneurs, instead of working all these long hours, we looked at our life in terms of preparing for a performance, performing brilliantly for just a few hours, and then recovering until our next performance. What would that do for a business? And finally, if we look at artists, like painters, they’re not obsessed about their productivity and how many hours they work, what they focus on is getting in a state of alignment and flow so that their greatest work can emerge. What would happen if as entrepreneurs, we weren’t so obsessed with the volume of our output and the number of hours we put in the office, and instead, we focused on creating the most amazing, beautiful work.
What would that do?
To give you an example of these principles in action, this month my business is well on its way to having another record month in profit. But we didn’t do it by hustling harder and pushing more. I actually spend the first week of the month on a sailing trip of the coast of California with my friends, totally disconnected from work. Actually, the only productive thing I did was write this talk.
The second week of the month I worked about 30 hours.
And yet, we’re achieving greater results than ever. It’s a lot easier. And that feels really good, especially after all the hard work. Now, I don’t have all the answers and this is a highly personal topic, it’s different for me, and you, and everybody else.
Maybe for Elon Musk, working a hundred hours a week really is optimal.
Or maybe, he’s not succeeding because of his crazy work schedule. Or rather, in spite of it. Maybe Elon could be doing even better. I don’t know.
But what I do know is that one of the most important traits of successful entrepreneurs is that we constantly test our assumptions.
So let me ask you this: What is your current assumption about the correlation between the number of hours you work and the amount of success you’ll have? Do you believe that you have to push yourself to the limit each week in order to reach your goals? Or is it possible that maybe, if you slow down a little bit, if you give yourself time to rest, to reflect and to recover, not only you’d be happier and healthier, but your business would be better as well? If you think that there’s even a remote chance that that might be the case, I think we should test it.
So here’s my invitation to you: For the next 30 days, starting on Monday morning, give yourself a 30 day work less challenge.
Whatever amount of work you’re currently doing, skill it down by 25%. So if you’re currently working 80 hours, skill it down to 60. If you’re working 60 hours, take it down to 45. And then, start to track the results.
Look at the qualitative metrics like how you feel, how creative and productive you’re being, and look at the hard data, the quantitative metrics like your profit and your revenue.
See what happens. Worst case scenario: You’ll have a really fun month, you’ll get to experience life in a whole different way, and you’ll be a lot more rested by the time you get back to the regular schedule next month.
But best case scenario: You realized that this whole time you’ve been the victim of a broken social narrative. And that you could actually be more successful by working less.
How cool would that be?
A lot of successful entrepreneurs are starting to make that shift, from Yvon Chouinard from Patagonia to Tim Ferris and even Arianna Huffington. Maybe it’s time for you to make that shift as well. Whatever you decide to do, here’s the bottom line: Entrepreneurship does take a lot of hard work.
There’s always going to be phases where we need to sprint and put in longer hours.
But trying to stay in ‘biz’ mode all the time is one of the most destructive things we can do.
For our health, for our relationships, and for our business. I sincerely believe that now, more than ever, the world needs its entrepreneurs to shine, if together, we’re going to overcome some of the world’s biggest problems. But this isn’t going to happen when entrepreneurs are constantly exhausted and just running on fumes all the time. It’s going to happen when entrepreneurs are inspired and energized, because they’re aligned with the natural rhythm of their body.
Here’s the good news: From what I’ve learned, you don’t need to work yourself to death to succeed.