In a recent interview, Bill Gates, the world’s second richest man and founder of Microsoft, stated that he does not believe in weekends and holidays for start-up founders. According to him it, is the sacrifice for building a company. At first I filed it under “catchy headline” but I kept thinking about his point of view. Do entrepreneurs fail if they take a break? I also reflected on my own experience and would like to elaborate my views and how I agree or disagree with Gates’s statement.
Where Bill Gates Is Right
No pain, no gain. I totally agree with Gates. I get annoyed about the media frenzy about the so-called “start-up lifestyle” – an image of founders just hanging out at coworking spaces or hipster cafés doing nothing. The founders I have met and consider successful share one thing in common: they are all obsessed with their company. And if you are obsessed, you work extremely hard. It is difficult to take a break.
I constantly think about what I want to do next, the tasks on my lists or even take notes when I watch a movie or browse through lifestyle magazines. But I do not consider this a bad thing. I am just so excited that I want to do it all the time – or at least most of the time. It would be unrealistic to say that everything is always exciting. But I never really think in terms of work-life-balance. For me, the lines between work and life are blurred.
I always had issues with the strict separation between professional and personal life. I always aimed at finding a job where I do not mind working long hours. Even in my corporate job, I did not mind sacrificing the weekend for an interesting task. I sometimes even forget about which weekday it is because I usually also work through the weekends.
Where I Disagree with Bill Gates
While sacrifice is unavoidable to run a successful business, we are all human beings in the end. We are no robots and need our breaks. When I started my first business, I clearly overdid it. I had no weekends, slept only a few hours, took not a single holiday or even a day off. I had conference calls until 1 am, started another one at 5 am to overcome time zone differences. I cancelled most of the social events or even coffees with friends and just became obsessed with working on my project.
In the end, it hit me right in the face. I reached a point where I could just not keep doing it anymore. I felt and looked exhausted and sometimes blew up randomly about the smallest things. I knew I had to make sacrifices. But honestly, after that experience, I also knew that there was a limit to sacrifice as well.
If we only work, we tend to lose focus. I found it hard to be creative and come up with new product features or campaigns. It reached a point where I even hated the product which I had loved so much in the beginning.
What I Learned and What Works Best for Me
I totally agree with Bill Gates’ opinion about sacrifice and success. Success is always hard work – and a bit of luck. If we all just sit around and wait for our dreams to come true without doing anything for them, nothing will happen. Furthermore, the difficult side of running your own business is not sexy enough for social media or articles. Most interviews and editorials focus on the positive sides and depict success as a string of luck or coincidence.
I would appreciate if the view on start-ups became more balanced. We should all share more realistic insights into our work life and maybe even more about the lows of the rollercoaster. One the one hand, it would make it easier for non-entrepreneurs to understand what we actually do for a living: that it is more than just sitting in hipster cafés. The effort, risks and the emotional strength required to survive on that rollercoaster is something few people can actually imagine. On the other hand, it would also encourage fellow entrepreneurs – we would all see that we are not alone.
To sum up, as much as I admire Bill Gates, I do not think that there is a black-or-white view on sacrifices, work-life-balance and breaks. I now look back at five years of being my own boss. And one thing I learned is that balance is key for me. Obsession is required, but I do need breaks as well. A nice holiday, a day off or just a coffee with a friend can put things into perspective – even when we think we do not need it. Even though I wished I was a robot, I had to accept that in the end I am just a human being. And what is the biggest success without being able to enjoy it and share it with those you love?
What do you think about it? Do you agree with Bill Gates? What is your personal experience?