As a business grows, entrepreneurs must often reinvent themselves as a rite of passage. It’s often the very work habits that help you achieve a level of success that hold you back from getting to the next level. Being involved in all areas of the business, making every decision, and managing every outcome in the company becomes unsustainable as your business grows. I’ve gone through several reinventions as my own business grew and changed.
I started my company in 1989 at the age of 21. I was involved in every area of the business including strategy, sales, management, and administration. I always put the business first and grew it with stubborn single-mindedness. The company was structured in a hub-and-spoke model and I made every key decision. As we grew, I began to feel overwhelmed by the increasing complexity of the business. There was never enough time in the day. It seemed there was no end in sight and I began to resent my business. In fact, the more we grew, the worse I felt.
In 1995 I was invited to join a Young Entrepreneurs Organization event (then YEO, now EO). My first EO educational experience featured Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth. Gerber yelled at the roomful of entrepreneurs driving home this point: “If you’re trapped working in your business then you’re not an entrepreneur! You just have a job working for the most unreasonable boss in the world…yourself!”
Here I had started my own company to have more freedom in my life, yet I was feeling trapped by it. It became powerfully clear to me that the purpose of my business is to serve me, not enslave me. Gerber’s powerful message sank in that night and I resolved to improve my relationship with my business or prepare myself to walk away and never look back. This began the next phase of my entrepreneurial journey: learning how to develop a better relationship with my business.
Redefine Your Role
The next day, I informed my staff that I would no longer be involved in day-today projects. I explained how my focus would now be on the future and designing and building the company. My transition involved going from “getting things done” to “making things happen” and I put my energy into creating the vision, strategy, systems, and structure necessary to build a better organization that was less reliant on me.
I promoted my top staff members, developed a leadership team, and empowered them to make important business decisions. Every member of the leadership team had a clear role and responsibility for distinct areas of the business, including business development, project management, finances, human resources, and regional management. It became apparent over time that not every member of the team was up to the task of being a leader in the company. We had some candid conversations and they returned to their original roles, grateful for the opportunity. The remaining team members were encouraged to work together and maintain open, candid communication about the transition in regularly scheduled meetings. There was a definite period of adjustment for everyone as I changed my daily role and activities, but it created the space I needed to start thinking more strategically about the company and my relationship to it.
Take Control of Your Schedule
I examined where I was spending my time each week and decided it was time to control and own my schedule. The typical five days on/two days off workweek just wasn’t working for me. When my son Daniel was born in 1999, I decided to take Fridays off for a more balanced four days on/three days off schedule. This time was to be dedicated to my family, to be physically active, and to focus on the other priorities and goals in my life. Initially, I had to endure my own doubts and guilty feelings as well as social pressure and comments from others about taking the time off from work. I came to recognize this resistance as part of the adjustment toward living according to my own priorities, not according to other people’s opinions or beliefs.
As a result, I realized that spending time away also benefitted my business. The separation not only recharged my batteries, but helped me to see some big picture issues. Through this process, I was able to identify some larger trends happening in our industry (insurance) and we shifted our focus to diversify our client base into untapped vertical markets before many of my competitors could recognize what these changes would mean to our industry.
Use Your Entrepreneurial Skills in Your Personal Life
Entrepreneurs have the advantage of knowing how to take an idea and turn it into reality. We may develop a vision, mission, values, strategy, goals, meetings, reports, and accountability in our companies, but many of us don’t leverage these same effective tools in our personal lives for a greater purpose and results. Some entrepreneurs get so immersed in running their business that they give little thought about how to run their lives. For others, it’s been so long since they’ve focused on anything but their businesses that they may have a hard time remembering what they wanted from their lives, while many know what they want but are unable to focus, commit, and take action.
When you begin to pursue having a more integrated lifestyle, some areas to think about include: career, finances, health, family, friends, personal (solo time, psychological well-being, how you feel about yourself and your life), spirituality, recreation, community, and household (location and living situation, cleaning and organizing, decorating and remodeling). Once you’ve identified what you want with a clear vision, mission, values, strategy, and a few simple S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals, it’s helpful to have some form of support and accountability to create results.
Through this process, I have identified a handful of priorities at this point in my life that provide me with a sense of balance and fulfillment, such as spending quality time with family and friends, having a positive impact in my growing business, having a positive impact in my community, and pursuing my dreams of being an athlete and a “rock star.” As a result of getting clarity on my priorities, I’ve been able to:
- Grow my business revenues and profits by 10 percent to 15 percent in the last year
- Establish and lead a peer-to-peer network in my industry
- Spend quality time with my wife, our 12-year-old son, and 10-year-old daughter
- Schedule more than six weeks of family vacation involving fun and adventure
- Create regular social plans for quality time with extended family and friends
- Found a charity supporting arts and music public education in my community
- Compete in and complete two Olympic distance triathlons
- Perform as lead singer and guitarist in a rock and roll band that plays live regularly (Rock Steady!)
At the 2005 Stanford University commencement address, Steve Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
As a result of listening to my inner voice and following my heart and intuition, as Steve Jobs urged, I’ve been able to live more “on purpose,” in alignment with my personal vision, mission, values, strategy, and goals. The personal and professional areas of my life are integrated to support and serve one another. As a result, I’ve become a much more happy, healthy, and fulfilled person and entrepreneur than ever before. I love my business, enjoy my personal life, and live a life without regrets. I’m happy to share my experiences and pay it forward to other entrepreneurs who are interested in getting a life, having it all, and realizing their dreams.
Damon Gersh is the president and CEO of NYC-based disaster recovery experts Maxons Restorations Inc. (www.maxons.com). He has been the recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Inc. 500 Award, and Fast 50 Award for Leadership for his firm’s leading role in the massive cleanup of lower Manhattan following 9/11. Maxons Restoration was named as one of 10 Great Entrepreneurial Places to Work by NY Report in June 2011.