It's Your Hourglass — Handle with Care
The sad truth is that far too many people spend their days in jobs they just don’t like very much. In a recent survey of more than 400 workers in Canada and the United States conducted by Right Management, a subsidiary of the giant staffing firm ManpowerGroup, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were unhappy at work. Only 19 percent reported feeling content.
These are astonishing numbers when you stop to think about it: for eight hours a day—minimum, given how the working day has expanded—the majority of the working population is unhappy. When you’re stuck in a job you don’t love, satisfaction is all about the externals: the regular paycheque, the benefits, having a badge of identity and belonging, and job security (an increasingly meaningless concept in this economy). You give up on the possibility of finding enrichment or of feeling truly energized at work, because you know it’s never going to happen. Now, some people are okay with that. They never wanted more.
But for others, that sense of disconnection between who they are as individuals and what they do for a living is unbearably unpleasant. It wears you down, like little drops of water on stone, to spend hour after hour doing something that doesn’t provide the level of emotional or spiritual return you’re looking for. Work becomes a drag, something to be survived.
Years before Michael Merrithew bought a small travel agency and grew it into Merit Travel, the largest specialty travel company in the country, he was one of those workers doing time in jobs he didn’t really like. It’s not that the jobs were dead-end. Far from it. He worked first in the training and marketing departments in the aviation, telecom, and marketing industries, and then moved on to a business development job in advertising. But what started out as a sense of restlessness morphed into extreme discomfort for Michael, who was trying to ply his entrepreneurial instincts in a corporate setting.
“I was constantly making recommendations, but really wasn’t in the position to be able to act on them. I started to wonder whether I was having any impact whatsoever.”
For me, work is the place where I feel most fully myself, and I think that’s true for most entrepreneurs.
One afternoon, while sitting outside a client’s office waiting for an appointment, he saw an ad in The Globe and Mail for a travel agency that was for sale. It said, “Be Your Own Boss.” He followed up on the ad, bought the travel agency, and has never again questioned whether his daily efforts are having an impact. As an entrepreneur, he knows that he calls the shots and bears the consequences of those decisions.
Of course, all entrepreneurs have problems and challenges, and there are parts of our job we don’t exactly relish, like having to fire people. But entrepreneurs don’t have that whipped-dog look you see on the faces of people who hate their jobs. For the most part, we find our work extraordinarily fulfilling. In fact, a sense of anticipation jet-propels most entrepreneurs out of bed most days. We want to get to work because it’s engaging, challenging, and fun. For me, work is the place where I feel most fully myself, and I think that’s true for most entrepreneurs.
That’s why you don’t hear us grousing about work/life balance, at least not in the same way that unhappily employed people do. In fact, I think most entrepreneurs don’t really want “balance.” It’s freedom we’re after. We wish there were more hours in the day, yes, but not because we’re desperate to relax. We’d just like time to accomplish even more. We’re not fans of limits, period. And time is limiting. It’s also a commodity we can’t create more of.
“I know some people who have lots of time and others who have lots of money, but few who have both,” says Charles Chang. “I wanted to create a lifestyle that could give me time and the money to be able to really enjoy that time.” When he launched his business in 2001, Charles decided he would set up his business in such a way that he would be able to take one extra week of vacation each year, and that he would avoid working on Wednesdays in order to spend time with his wife and three children. By carefully setting up processes and systems, hiring smart vice-presidents and putting them in charge of profit and losses within their own departments, and training his senior staff to function without his constant oversight and supervision, Charles is able to take 14 weeks of holiday a year, and he rarely works on Wednesdays.
“I have so many passions,” Charles says. “Business is one of them, but I’m also passionate about fishing, cycling, travelling, and spending time with my family. The magic of being an entrepreneur is that you have the ability to control time so you can fit in the things that are important to you.”
As a species, entrepreneurs are hyper-aware of time. I also live with a sense of urgency, as though time is running out to cram in all the living I want to do, and that feeling has only increased with age. Many people believe that successful entrepreneurs live by the maxim that time is money, and to some extent that’s true. Making money is not irrelevant—we’re running businesses, after all. But most entrepreneurs I know, myself included, aren’t driven by a desire to go rake in more cash. We’re driven by a desire to get the most of life that we can, and I think because we are both dreamers and doers, we have bigger ideas about what’s possible. I don’t have one eye on the clock because I want to make more money. In fact, I think it would be sad to feel that I had to link every time-management decision I make to its potential financial return. When I consider how to apportion my time, I try to figure out whether what I’m thinking of doing will enrich my life, not whether it will make me richer. I believe most successful entrepreneurs think the same way.
Excerpt from All In © 2013 by Arlene Dickinson. Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. All rights reserved.