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Why Entrepreneurs Shouldn’t Try to Change The World

What's the true cost to driving innovation?

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Vulnerability has been a big topic recently, especially in the world of entrepreneurship.

In a recent article for Quartz, writer Aimee Groth detailed the gut-wrenching struggle for survival most business founders experience. For example, she mentions Elon Musk’s period of despair when Tesla nearly went bankrupt in 2008, and what Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick describes as the “blood, sweat, and ramen” years. (Groth’s piece is a great read, and I highly recommend it if you or someone you know is starting a business.)

But although emotional turmoil is commonplace for entrepreneurs, few are willing to talk about it.

Why not?

Groth explains:

“For a lot of entrepreneurs, maintaining a game face, and showing confidence in the project goes hand in hand with persuading talented people to work for them, and investors to fund the operation.

But that disconnect can inflict a lot of damage. For the entrepreneur, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions–all of which make it even more difficult to perform well. And for employees, and in particular, for investors, it can deny them an opportunity to help.”

Many startup founders are motivated by lofty goals: They believe their product or service can truly change the world.

But as Zach Ware, who started the (now-defunct) transportation startup Shift, so poignantly put it: “It is often difficult for founders to remember that the world is not a better place if you build a billion-dollar company that kills you.”

THE PRICE YOU PAY

I fully realize that the Apples, Amazons, and Ubers of the world probably wouldn’t be where they are without their founders and many employees nearing the brink (and some going over the edge). And it would be disingenuous of me to claim that I don’t enjoy these companies’ products, or the innovation they’ve introduced.

But when Marissa Mayer makes headlines because she claims the road to Google’s success was paved with 130-hour work weeks, regular all-nighters and employees who make vacations few and far between, we have to ask:

What’s the true cost to those who drive innovation?

Admittedly, my own competitive nature and desire to create value have caused me–at times–to work more than I should. But I’m always striving to place my greatest priorities outside of the professional sphere–to spend time with my wife and children, for example, and to satisfy my spiritual need. This isn’t always easy, but it’s something in which I strongly believe.

I currently serve as an adviser to a startup that’s on a major upswing, but who’s definitely had its struggles (as every company does). Through it all, though, the founders have been keen to hear what I have to say about maintaining balance, and seeing life beyond this company–something that’s very challenging for persons in their position.

In the end, you could sum up my advice for business owners like this:

Work hard. Work smart. By all means, build something that provides value to others.

But don’t forget: Balance is the key to life. What if you only had 5 years to live? How would you use your days? Pay attention to your answer, because time is short.

And changing the world is way overrated.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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