Why your career will fail if you don’t set clear boundaries and get a life

05 Feb 2016 Jon Westenberg

I took in a staggering amount of email on Christmas day last year.

It would have been an anomaly on a working day, let alone on a holiday. My inbox filled up on Boxing Day and New Year’s too. I didn't rush to reply to any of those messages but I genuinely felt dismayed.

A lot of the messages were from startup founders I keep in touch with quite regularly, but they weren't holiday greetings, they were work focused.

It’s getting rare these days to find people who believe in boundaries - who can set those boundaries out clearly and then stick to them.

The productivity obsession that tech, startup and business people are getting caught up in is slowly eroding a sense of separation between work and home. It’s a trap that’s easy to fall into — surely, the more you work, and the busier you are, the more chance your startup will have of becoming a billion dollar company - right?

Wrong.

Blurring the work-life balance

Your startup won’t accomplish jack shit if you’re too wiped out, drained and wasted to be its long-term driver.

When you fail to draw a line between the time that you’re going to spend on building a business and the time that you’re going to spend investing in the people around you - your private enjoyment of a hobby or just a glass of Merlot and a Netflix binge - you become a doormat.

You lose the consideration of others. You’ll pay for that and so will your business.

When you can’t set boundaries, you fail to demonstrate control, and when you fail to demonstrate control you show that you aren't the one running the show, the show is running you.

Your investors don’t want to see that. They don’t want to see someone who isn't able to exercise clear management and project separation. And they don’t want to support someone who is a walking collapse a few years down the track.

Control is the power to say yes or no. If you can’t exercise that power to create a divide between your work and your personal life, there’s no chance that you’ll be able to exercise that power when you need to make a tough call for the future of your business.

When you can’t set boundaries, your support network falters. Getting anything done in life is 50% sheer willpower and 50% support.

If you ask a successful person how they got to where they are, you can guarantee that there was a wide range of people rooting for them all the way. Awards acceptance speeches are mostly horse-shit, but the endless thank you messages are genuine.

If you aren't able to show your support network of friends, family and mentors that they matter enough for you to spend your time on them, you’ll weaken their dedication to you.

Don’t dream about making Big Macs

Let me give you some context. When I was working at a struggling McDonald’s one of the managers burned out completely and almost collapsed at work. He was a guy who cared a lot about his work, whether it was the degree he was studying or the day job in fast-food. His work ethic was awesome, and I’ve never forgotten it. But he took his work home with him constantly. He never let up, never stopped going over numbers, rosters, targets and goals.

He told me he’d go to sleep every night and dream about still being at work. He’d spend every night in his sleep making Big Macs, shifting rosters and tallying totals. When he turned up to work the next day it felt like he’d been there all night.

If you do that with your startup you’re going to end up collapsing in the breakout room, crying from exhaustion, with no chance of meeting a single goal.

You have to pick where your line is going to be. And you don’t compromise.

For example, my partner is the COO for a growing legal startup. The two of us have working lives that are always in danger of encroaching on our home life so at least one night every week, my partner and I sit down to dinner across the table from each other at home. We take turns cooking that dinner, and no phones are allowed. It’s one time where we draw a line.

Every Sunday, we switch our phones off and go for a walk, a jog or a hike. Every Friday night, we go out for dinner. We stick to these because it prioritises our time together away from work.

If you can do that, you’ll be OK. If you can’t, if you email me next Christmas - your startup is going to fail.

It needs a foreman - an architect - and when you don’t set clear boundaries, you’re a wrecking ball.


Jon Westenberg is an entrepreneur, startup advisor and writer. You can follow him on Twitter. This piece was originally published on Medium.  

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