By Erica Etelson (Founder, Sharemore) When I started telling friends about my plan to launch a startup, eyebrows were raised. People who know me wondered aloud how I would fare without going to the gym, sleeping eight (okay, nine) hours a night and being home by five o'clock to spend unhurried time with my family.
They have a point: I’m a 44-year old mother who does not have the expansive time and energy of a single, childless 23-year old. Is it possible to found an e-commerce website without losing my life? Tech founders have lots of advice for those of us just starting out, but the operating assumption is clearly WORKAHOLISM, as in, handcuff yourself to your laptop, partake strictly of ramen and shun direct sunlight and the company of people who are not likewise handcuffed to laptops. Am I right?
There are probably some valid reasons why startups roll this way, chief among them investor pressure to get the show on the road. But I suspect the workaholic expectation also has something to do with the fact that investors, many of them former founders themselves, feel that today’s founders must go through the same hazing ritual they themselves did. It’s the same reason medical residents are worked beyond exhaustion (health outcomes be damned) and law students are tormented by the Socratic method - mentors and teachers feel obliged to do unto their pupils what was done to them, even if there are healthier approaches that could achieve the same goal.
Working “x-tremely” hard is widely admired in our culture. Success, we are led to believe, is for those who are not merely driven but are, literally, tireless. Yet, pick up any spiritual self-help book and it will tell you (what you already know) - that what really matters in life is taking care of ourselves, our loved ones and communities.
Many of us nod our heads in agreement, then go right back to obsessing over whatever it is that keeps us from leading fulfilling lives. (Except for Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur and author of Wall Street Journal bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek. I just learned about this book and, believe me, it went straight to the top of my reading list).
Four hours a week sounds dreamy, but I’d settle for 30. In fact, I’ve long dreamed of working for an organization where everyone works 30 hours a week – I never found that workplace but have always managed to negotiate myself into a part-time role. My co-workers have often commented that I seemed to get as much done in 20 hours as others did in 40; this isn’t just because I’m a good time-manager – I think many people, given the chance, could be more productive working fewer hours.
During off-hours, our minds and bodies recharge, reset and refuel – some of my best ideas and insights have come to me on the treadmill, listening to an inspiring story on NPR, walking in the woods or just interacting with people. If I hadn’t had the downtime to exercise, socialize or commune with nature, these “aha” moments would never have come.
As a founder, working less than a million hours a week means asking for help. With all of the open source social media tools now available, this is easier than I expected: I ask a question on LinkedIn and get an answer from an expert (instead of spending five hours googling my brains out). When I needed to produce a short video introducing my business concept, a former co-worker offered up his services (for free). When I needed advice on how to trademark my business name, I emailed my college boyfriend who’s now an IP attorney (okay, he hasn’t responded yet, but I’m sure he will any day now)!
The point is, the workahol-a-beast can perhaps be tamed if we ask for help and adopt the uber-efficiency strategies that I hope to God are spelled out in The 4-Hour Workweek. I wonder how many of the dot com boomers ever slowed down enough to consider whether there was another way. Or did they think that seeking a more sane and balanced approach, one that involved asking for help, just wasn’t macho enough?
My business model is sound and, if it flies, it will help people who are struggling financially, and it will help protect the environment. That’s as far as it goes – my business won’t save the world, so I don’t need to become some kind of Ayn Rand Super-entrepeneuer. I’m going to try building it my way. If the founders of yore are right, and I have to choose between having a business or having a life, I know which I’ll choose.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. Photo credit: Giorgio Montersino on Flickr About the guest blogger: Erica Etelson is the Founder of Sharemore, a website that facilitates renting, borrowing and buying second-hand stuff. She’s a former environmental and human rights attorney, journalist and sola marketing strategist, and lives in Berkeley with her husband and son. Follow her on Twitter at @sharemoretweets.