While many young people believe they will never retire, a significant number of others will. It is important to think about how choices made now will affect your later life, particularly life after retirement. I watched a TV program the other day that included a story line about a firefighter who was forced into retirement due to injury. This man was driven to attempt suicide because he had nothing left in his life once his job was gone. The similarity to many entrepreneurs who put so much of themselves into their business that they lose their personal lives is clear and compelling. We need to build strategies that enable us to have a personal life in concert with our business.
Everything you read stresses that open communication is the key to any good relationship. It is so critical that it bears repeating. We wouldn’t be entrepreneurs if our business wasn’t important to us- why otherwise would we be putting it all on the line every day? Learning to translate both our enthusiasm and commitment to family and friends is a trick that takes practice. However, if we prepare them for what to expect from us in time and attention, everyone is happier regardless of what level that is.
One strategy that works well is to set up a yearly meeting with family and your closest friends where you share outcomes from your last year and goals for the next. Let them know where you are in the growth curve of the business and how it will affect the time you have to give them. Use broad strokes and avoid details that are specific, technical, and hard to understand. If you will be unable to take a vacation or accompany a spouse on a family trip or to an important reunion because of a known business commitment or financial concerns, now is the time to share that information. It is the last minute surprises that damage your relationships, not disappointments that are acknowledged as soon as they are known. Like any other obligation, once you have set expectations, you must monitor your progress against them. Assign a task to your calendar at least once a quarter (better once a month) to take an hour and think about how you are doing meeting your personal priorities. Has your spouse been grumpy lately, and if so, is it because you have not met a promise you made? How often have you seen friends? Are you as involved in your kids’ lives as you had planned to be?
Setting boundaries between work and home is another important step in “having a life.” My significant other and I were partners in a business for ten years. We spent many hours together, both at work and at home. There were days when we went home on the high of a huge new account win, and others when we left the office on the low of a customer who refused to take many thousands of dollars of product that we had already bought for them. We had to leave those details at the office or the relationship would never have survived. While we live in an imperfect world where total separation of our work and home lives is a fantasy, we need to learn to leave as much as we can at the office. Take a few minutes when you first arrive home and share the highlights of your day with your spouse, children, roommate, or BFF. Then pack it away and have a great evening. Keep work out of the bedroom. Find a location in your home where you will work, and always work there. This provides another boundary, since if you are not in your work area you, will be concentrating on other tasks and the people around you.
An inventive strategy I found years ago to make sure I shared special time with my partner was to issue “coupons” that could be tendered at will. One was for a dinner of his favorite cabbage rolls, with his choice of guests. Another was for an evening of music anywhere a particular Jazz guitarist was playing. As long as you are willing and able to fulfill the coupon on demand, this not only gives the recipient something fun, but reminds him that he is important in your priority system. A win-win if there ever was one! This strategy works very well for children, as it is concrete and on paper, as opposed to making a promise that is easily forgotten by all.
And finally, as cliché as it sounds, try a hobby. You will need things to replace work time later on when you hit retirement age. I was able to replace some of my work time participating in SCORE, but know many who find they retire and have nothing to fill the empty hours when they formerly were at work. My career was male-dominated, and I moved across country mid-life. By participating in outside activities I was able to replace the girlfriend network I no longer had and enjoy my retired life. Classes provide both a scheduled commitment to doing something for yourself and an opportunity to meet new people. Go sign up!
And finally, remember that life isn’t always perfect. We are going to fail at work, we are going to fail at life, and we are going to fail at our attempt at keeping a balance. What keeps us going is the knowledge that we can keep on trying.