The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
Hello, my name is Larissa Uredi, and I have a genetic predisposition to workaholism.
When I was a kid, my dad wasn’t home much. Growing his construction company demanded long hours in the office and most of his focus. It was his greatest passion and what drove him to succeed.
Most of my time with him was at his company, answering phones, delivering faxes and learning how to keep an office running. I remember being enamored with the process and the energy, but also not quite understanding why it never felt like his family was a similar priority. As I grew up, I knew I wanted to be a business owner and work for myself, but I also vowed to never let my job get in the way of my life.
Fast forward 25 years and I’m living the dream of business ownership. I’m also on a long-overdue vacation in Colorado, frantically digging around my coat to answer my cell phone and renegotiate a portion of a client contract while riding up a ski lift. I literally told the client I had to call him back later because I needed to ski down the mountain.
In retrospect, it seemed a little ridiculous to take that phone call then and there, but I had fallen into the Startup Trap without realizing it. I was quickly becoming what I had promised myself I never would: a workaholic just like my dad. I had made the self-imposed “classic workaholic mistake” of thinking being able to work from anywhere and set my own hours meant I had to work from everywhere, all the time.
As a small business owner, entrepreneur and wearer of many hats, to say that I take my client relationships seriously would be an understatement. They are literally the life of my business and the driving motivator behind coming to work every day.
But the fulfillment I got nurturing and cultivating those professional relationships was hurting the other extremely important relationships in my life — not only with my family and friends, but my relationship with my own sanity.
I had this feeling that if I missed a phone call and wasn’t right there to put out all the little fires that crop up in business ownership, then the whole thing was going to fall apart. I loved what I did, but since success of the business was on my shoulders, I had this tremendous guilt whenever I let anything take priority over that success. I had this perception that since I’d made this thing, I had to be all-in, all the time, right?
And it was slowly killing the other valuable relationships in my life and making me impossible to be around.
I’d like to say that I woke up one morning with this epiphany and made some overnight life changes with lasting results. But, let’s be realistic. It took another two years and several tearful breakdowns over not being able to find good WiFi before I would get my real wake up call.
It was June and I was caught in the emotional storm of guilt, excitement and terror over committing to nine days backpacking with friends through Rocky Mountain National Park without WiFi or even cell service.
I was excited to go but I was also stressing the rest of the group out with my “what if something happens at the office?!” outbursts and making myself crazy trying to solve for every hypothetical problem that was going to arise while I was gone.
But I had committed to the trip; the packs were loaded and ready to go. I couldn’t back out. And it was the best thing that could have happened for me and my business. I spent nine days not staring at my phone, absorbing nature, the challenge of the hike and catching up with friends. I finally had this feeling being a complete version of myself instead of just this small-business owner version of myself.
Nine days later, I was back in the office and none of my clients’ worlds had exploded.
Looking around at my still-standing business and remembering that “wholeness” I’d felt for the first time in years, what should have been a “well, duh” thought finally occurred to me: while success in business is important, so is success in life in general. We don’t get far in business without relationships and we literally go nowhere without strong relationships in our personal lives.
I didn’t let it stop with that realization. I took steps that day to change how I ran my company, setting boundaries that helped me become a better communicator both at home and with my clients.
I learned how to manage personal and client expectations. When people know exactly what to expect from you from the get-go, they can be flexible. Managing these expectations in a way that is professional and proactive instead of reactive is a lofty goal, but one I’m mostly able to achieve with a little planning. I started planning my schedule — both at work and at home — to do away with the “always on” concept.
It’s something I’m still experimenting with regularly, and some weeks my boundaries are successful, while others are a complete failure. The difference is, I know it, and have a new self-awareness that helps me manage the inevitable stresses of business ownership.
If you have ideas or things you’ve tried, leave them in the comments!
Larissa Uredi is the marketing and sales director for The DeviceShop, a small business accelerator out of Shawnee, Kan. that offers office space, workshops, and manufacturing and prototyping services. The DeviceShop considers itself to be a community of innovators aiming to develop successful and profitable entrepreneurs. Uredi is also the business developer for No-Where Consultants.