Working hard to be lucky but not working too hard

by on July 2, 2012


When I was young people used to ask me what I what I wanted to be when I grew up. As a cheeky young lad, I’d tell them “I don’t know. It hasn’t been invented yet”. Little did I know how true that statement would end up being. Technology has evolved so fast. Most of the stuff I do on a daily basis wouldn’t have made any sense if I’d tried to explain it 10 years ago. If I went back 100 years and tried to explain it, people would think I was nuts.

I just read Jud Valeski’s post about his 3 steps to Software. Like Jud, my journey to software began with making little blocks dance around the screen with some BASIC programming on an Apple IIe computer that my dad bought my me. I’ve shared the story of how I became a programmer before and how I too became addicted to building software. There’s something incredibly powerful in building things that matter and having the chance to really impact the world with your work. The amount of influence one man with a laptop can have is mind-boggling. Yep, we’re lucky. I can’t think of a better time in history to be alive.

Earlier today I had the following exchange with Vinicius Vacanti on twitter:

While I’m certainly a believer in hard work and putting yourself in the position to be lucky, I’m not convinced that just working hard is enough. You see, at my last company, I worked my butt off for 3 years. I went 3 years without a vacation, 3 years working nights and weekends to make my dream come true. But in the end it didn’t matter. EventVue failed. Since then I’ve tried to have more balance in my life. I’ve learned to close the laptop and go outside. Today I spent my afternoon rock climbing at Castle Rock and building some new friendships. It was a much needed break after a long week of work.

I have an addiction to building things. I work hard. Although I don’t write code as much as I used to, I still get immense satisfaction from staying up all night cranking out some new functionality for Torbit. I love surprising customers with 5 minute response times to support emails that come in at 3am. Part of the reason I work so hard is I feel like I’ve been handed the best hand of cards I could ever imagine. It feels irresponsible to not make the most of it. At the same time, I’m trying to find more balance in my life. As Micah Baldwin said, I want to make sure I’m running to the right place, not just running hard.

While my search for work/life balance often feels like a losing battle, it’s helpful to have role models to emulate. Brad Feld is a living example that it’s possible to work hard and still find balance in life. Go read Brad’s post about falling into the busy trap if you haven’t yet. Elon Musk is another example of someone doing incredible work. As the founder of both Tesla and SpaceX, it’s hard to imagine a busier guy… except he’s sitting on a beach in Hawaii right now.

If Elon Musk can take a breather, so can you.