There is a lot of romanticizing of the business elites from the media. Journalists will highlight the glitz and glamour at the top but overlook the sacrifices and carnage along the way.
Nothing in this life is free — and to be the best, one must pay.
Many entrepreneurs talk about wanting to be the best in their respective industries. Still, they refuse to even do the basics of the best — you know, like consistently staying late and forgoing a social life. The truth is, most people don’t have the pain tolerance required to be the best.
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of spending time with a couple of ‘the best’ at what they do entrepreneurs. One a billionaire, the other not far off. They created business empires that impacted various industries and span many countries. What they sacrificed to get there was almost identical — and some of the sacrifices were sad. I want to share my observations of their sacrifices while respecting their privacy, so no names as some information is personal.
Before the list, an important observation is that neither of these two amazingly successful entrepreneurs were notably different from you or me. Regular joes who grew up in pretty typical environments. As kids, one was a great student, the other most certainly wasn’t. One a former athlete, the other a bookworm.
Interesting observation: in adulthood, they both spent their free time voraciously reading — a common trait among elite entrepreneurs.
1. Both sacrificed their fitness and health while pursuing their empires: While this isn’t a requirement of being the best of the best (at least I don’t think it is), don’t expect to be in tip-top shape while pursuing entrepreneurial excellence. There simply isn’t the time for daily, hour-long spin classes or powerlifting sessions. Regrettably, both entrepreneurs had health scares early in their careers. Life on the road, eating out, and skipping exercise will catch up to any of us. Interestingly, they became highly health-conscious after reaching the pinnacle of the business world.
2. Said goodbye to their loves: One was twice divorced while pursuing his entrepreneurial vision, the other gave up his life-long love affair with golf. Again, I don’t foresee this as a requirement, but there is a theme here. You can’t successfully be married to more than one thing. The reality is they were married to their businesses. It’s a life choice.
3. Developed an intensity that couldn’t be turned off: I think when they realized what was required to be the best, and from going through some of their competitive and even legal battles, their brains were ‘rewired’ forever. Their level of intense focus just became all-encompassing in their lives, and they have a hard time in casual social settings because, I presume, it just seems trivial to them.
Competing and striving to dominate an industry will change you as a person.
4. Neither sleep well. Lasting effects of their pursuit.
5. They are distrusting of people: Let’s face it, the longer you compete in business, and the bigger the prize, the more shitty behavior you’ll experience from others. Hard to shake the feeling of being lied to or ripped off.
In summary, work-life balance is impossible to find when on the path of being the best. Some would say that trying to be the best is unhealthy in itself. I disagree, but buyer beware is all I’m saying.
My observations are not meant to dissuade anyone from pursuing entrepreneurial excellence. Not at all. I want to be objective about what it requires so that if it is something you want to pursue, you are prepared for the sacrifices needed and know the potential personal costs. The truth is, most entrepreneurs are willing to sacrifice and grind (within reason), but they are happy just being near the head of the pack. And there’s nothing wrong with that.