I love when people call what we do at 37signals a “lifestyle business” — but probably not for the reasons they think. When the lifestyle card is pulled from its tired deck, it’s usually meant as a pat on top of the head. An “oh, that’s such a pretty drawing, dear little boy.” Ha!
It’s the archetypical false dilemma. Either you 1) let your business devour your life and you’ll be incredibly successful or 2) you balance your life with other things than work but are relegated to paying-the-rent success. Double ha!
It’s been a long time since there was a direct correlation with the number of hours you work and the success you enjoy. It’s an antiquated notion from the days of manual labour that has no bearing on the world today. When you’re building products or services, there’s a nonlinear connection between input and output. You can put in just a little and still get out a spectacular lot.
Here’s where I put on my pocket psychology hat. I think that it’s very hard for some people to come to grips with this new reality. It’s a lot easier to deal with your lack of success when you can rationalize it by saying other people just work harder. That leaves the door open to think, “I could have that too, if I was just willing to give more. But since I’m not, I’ll be content with what I have.” That’s a comforting, ego-protecting notion.
It also works if you’re already having reasonable success and you want a life distraction. You can assign your success to the insane hours you put in and then not feel so bad about giving up everything else. If you convince yourself that the only way that you can have success is through total immersion, you don’t have to make excuses to yourself or your surroundings. The sacrifice is justified.
I’m not saying that you can’t have success by pouring in all your waking hours. Of course you can. I’m saying that you don’t have to. That the correlation between the two is weak.
We’re living proof that you can work much less than popular entrepreneur lore would have you believe and still run a very successful, multi-million dollar business. And still have time for taking flying lessons, learning to play the guitar, nurture your garden, go hiking, enjoy cooking, socialize with people outside your tech circle.
It’s your choice.