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The Dark Side of Doing What You Love

When it comes to business, 'doing what you love' is the holy grail. But it can be risky territory.

Photo by David Siglin on Unsplash

Do what you love and love what you do.”

Do what you love and the money will follow.”

“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

We’ve all heard this advice. I’m not here to tell you it’s wrong. But you do need to know that it’s dangerous.

Why? Let me explain.

I never planned to be an entrepreneur. I worked for the same organization for 13 years, and I loved my work. Overtime was a part of the job, but I had decent work-life balance. In time, however, personal circumstances led me to move to Germany, to be closer to my wife’s family. As I struggled to find work, I took some consulting jobs. Because I worked for myself, I stumbled into starting my own business … and so it went.

The beginning was tough. Your company is like your child. I’m a guy, but I’ve experienced pregnancy pangs and birth pains–in the form of cold calling and getting paid late. I’ve sat up late at night nursing complicated tax forms.

I raised my company. Nurtured it. Watched it grow. It taught me lessons that I never would have learned otherwise, and for this I’m thankful. It is a very rewarding experience.

But it became dangerous. Because eventually, I started to love it.

I loved it so much it was all I ever wanted to do–I wanted to work all the time. If I was away from work for more than a couple of hours, I felt uncomfortable. As soon as I got an opportunity, I was back in front of the computer. Unwittingly, I subscribed to Mark Cuban’s recipe for success: “There are 24 hours in a day, and if people like their jobs, they will find ways to use as much of it as possible to do their jobs.”

After time, I realized this is a major problem. I already had children–real children. And a wife. And other things in life that I care about more than my business. I think most of you do, too. But when you own a business, and especially when you enjoy the work, all of those things start to play second fiddle.

It’s not who I wanted to become.

But the great thing about life is that we all have freedom of choice. What we do with our choices shapes not only who we are today, but also who we will become. Some business consultants say you have to eat, breathe, and sleep your business. If you don’t, the competitors who do will eat you alive.

But that’s not 100 percent true. Don’t get me wrong–starting and maintaining a business is hard work. A lot of hard work. But I know those who have done it while keeping a good balance. I wanted to be one of them. If you want to be the next Apple, or Uber, then you’re probably going to have to work all the time. That’s your choice. I chose another direction.

I’d like to conclude by sharing a story. It’s been told thousands of times, with many variations:

A businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The businessman complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”

The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” The man replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, then stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos; I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The businessman scoffed. “Listen, I’m a Harvard MBA. I could help you. You should spend more time fishing–with the proceeds, you could buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from that bigger boat you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then L.A., and eventually New York City, where you would run your expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman then asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?” To which the businessman replied, “About 15 to 20 years.” “But what then, señor?” The businessman laughed and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions? Then what?”

The businessman said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings, where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

The fisherman just smiled. “Thank you for your advice, señor.”

I still own my own business, and I’m still doing what I love. But I have to constantly remind myself that there are other things that I love more. It’s a struggle to find balance and continue to see the big picture. (My wife helps a lot.)

I encourage you to define your priorities. The key is in asking questions. Questions like “Who and what are most important to me?” The whens, wheres, and hows are significant, too, but the most important question, and sometimes the hardest to answer, is “Why?”

Don’t worry; I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some kids to play with.

Enjoy this post? Check out my new 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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