“You want to know the best part about startups?” - “What?” - “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.” This was a conversation between Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz in Horowitz’s book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things¹ when they were leading Loudcloud during the depths of the bursting of the tech bubble. Since that time the two have teamed up on a number of ventures and currently manage the wildly successful venture capital firm of Andreessen-Horowitz.
While this is an excellent bit of gallows humor between the two, it doesn’t miss the mark by too much on the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurial ownership. The classic joke about entrepreneurs is that we would rather work 80 hours for ourselves than 40 hours for someone else. But it’s not just the hours; it’s the mental strain that counts too. So why do we do it?
The opportunity to take on the world on our terms, to innovate, to create, to build a better mousetrap? Probably a resounding yes for all of us. The opportunity to design our ideal life, control where and when we work, to adjust our life balance as life changes? Again, probably a big yes. How about building wealth, having control over our earning potential, building something with an enterprise value that will outlast all of us? Absolutely!
So are we getting those things? Or are we instead stuck on the emotional rollercoaster and lacking in some or all of those areas?
I believe entrepreneurship is about all of that stuff above, but what we all desperately want is to live a life of true wealth. I define true wealth as the ability to design our lives around our values. For most of us that means:
- Having the time to spend with those who matter most to us
- Doing something with our time that is worth doing
- Having enough income and capital to allow us to do the things that we want
- Having the physical and mental energy to maintain our physical health
Sounds pretty simple right? It really is, and the great part is that all the pieces that create our version of those four elements are entirely different for each of us. For someone it might be to own a yoga studio that helps seniors stay mobile, traveling one week of each month, and spending time with their children. For someone else it might be managing a specialty corporate litigation practice, leaving the office each day at 4pm, and competing in the Ironman circuit. Both of these people could be living their version of a life of true wealth.
So if you are not living a life of true wealth, how do you even go about starting the process to change? It begins by looking at each of those four elements: time, the value in our work, money, and physical/mental health. Write down what a life of wealth looks like for you, in detail, for each of those areas. As an example:
Time: Work 7am-3pm, Monday-Thursday. Take at least one month off per year and travel outside the country.
The Value In Our Work: If your company manufactures air conditioning units and you don’t currently find that valuable, decide to either sell and do something different, or how to tweak the business to make it better. Support engineering scholarships, make your products 10% more energy efficient, whatever resonates with you and your values.
Money: Do you spend your money on the things that are valuable to you? Do you have money set aside that lets you lower your stress level because you know you have a cushion during a bad business period? When you look at the enterprise value in your business, do you have a plan to use that to reinforce your values down the road?
Physical/Mental Health: Do you feel a sense of vitality? Can you do all of the physical tasks you want? That could be walking up the stairs or running a marathon. Can you relax and be at peace regularly? Write down what physical and mental vitality means to you.
Once you have an outline of what a true life of wealth looks like for you, it is time to create strategies on how to incrementally move there in each area as well as a date of when you want to be there. We will go further into creating these strategies in future posts, but for now, start with these goals and get your mind wrapped around the idea that all of this is possible.
We all work too hard to be governed by the rollercoaster of euphoria and terror; true wealth is achievable, and we can all get there.
¹The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Horowitz, Ben. Book. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. Print.
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