Building a Great Business Requires Sacrifices Which Cause an Imbalance

by Apr 18, 2023Advisory Groups

Living a balanced life is a myth. Greatness doesn’t come from balance.

I’ve written before about the goal of living a so-called “balanced” life, where you allocate similar time to your personal and business pursuits. But there’s a bit of a wrinkle in this argument. If you want to accomplish something remarkable or even great, balance is a myth.

I interview hundreds of CEOs as part of my work with The CEO Project. And one question I always ask these CEOs is how many hours they work. Invariably, their first response is to laugh. That’s especially true of the great CEOs, because the truth is they are always working. Whether in the shower or on their daily commute, they’re constantly thinking about ways to improve their business.

Put another way: their lives are completely out of balance, because most of their mental energy is spent building something great, a business. Very few CEOs coach their kid’s baseball teams. Ask any super-successful person; they have been badly out of balance for large chunks of their life.

And that’s OK.

Pursuing greatness

The truth is that when you pursue greatness, living a balanced life isn’t possible. It’s going to require sacrifices.

Just look at examples of professional athletes, like the late Kobe Bryant. I had a friend who knew Kobe, and they would get together to practice occasionally. But whenever my friend suggested they meet, Kobe would say, “Sure, let’s meet at 5.” My friend would then ask, “Do you mean 5 p.m.?” Nope–Kobe wanted to meet at 5 a.m.

This was when Kobe was already a world-famous player, paid incredibly well, and headed to the Hall of Fame. But in pursuit of becoming one of the best of all time, he was still getting up at 5 in the morning to run dribbling drills, shoot free throws, and work on his fitness. He most certainly wasn’t living what we would call a balanced life.

Or what about the inventor Thomas Edison? Edison famously slept for a mere two hours at a time to maximize the time he could spend working on world-changing inventions like the lightbulb.

I’ve seen similar behaviors in the billionaires I’ve met over the course of my career. They are driven to achieve great things, and they make difficult sacrifices to get there. I can admit here that I will probably never be a billionaire.

Going out of balance

Even if your goals aren’t to become a billionaire, there can be times when it makes sense to go out of balance.

I have a friend who spent a stupid amount of time building up his business to the point where it finally became stable. He then spent six months away from his business, serving as a Christian missionary. In both cases, his life was out of balance. But he felt it was important to fulfill his goals of building a business and serving his faith for a while.

Think about someone you know who has tried to lose weight. Pursuing a goal like this requires sacrifices–like spending more time exercising than hanging out with friends or going out to restaurants. Their life might go out of balance for a while as they seek out their goal. Then again, perhaps this revised model might be a better balance.

Similarly, life circumstances, like caring for an elderly or sick family member, might also require you to live out of balance while you do your best to care for your loved ones. In the end, finding that focus will reward you more than finding balance would. I have found that some periods when I was the most out of balance were the most rewarding in achieving important objectives.

A time to focus

In my book, Great CEOs Are Lazy, I introduced the concept of “peanut-buttering” your time, where you allocate a bit of time for many different things with the result that you don’t achieve anything meaningful in any of those areas.

The point is that when it comes to achieving greatness, you might need to find a singular focus and go out of balance with your time and effort. Then you can come back into balance once you’ve reached your goal.