Hump Day: There are perks and pitfalls in marching to your own drum

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Every week, I put together a free newsletter for friends, clients and readers. My Sunday evenings are mostly spent putting it together to send out on Monday. Come rain or shine since December, I’ve made a point of ensuring the newsletter gets sent!

One of the sections in the newsletter contains articles of lists, for example: “10 best perks for employees,” “4 ways to tell you’re about to be fired,” “25 best websites for business,” etc. Lists like these are very popular online and generate a ton of hits for the authors. They’re usually always quick reads, too, which is good if you’re in a hurry — which most people seem to be.

In my never-ending search for entrepreneurship work-life balance (which many of these articles promise me is achievable), I’ve come across so much conflicting advice that it just boggles the mind. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re in business for yourself, you just pretty much have to do what works for you and your sanity. And when you feel something start to snap, it’s time to make a change.

One article will tell you to book a month’s worth of vacation every year. Another one will tell you that six weeks is what you deserve, not a month. And yet another one will tell you that if you even take five minutes to go to the bathroom, well then you deserve nothing short of immediate bankruptcy and a public flogging for daring to look away from your computer screen for five minutes like the uncommitted jerk you are!

I have to admit, I’m a bit confused. I’m terrible at taking vacations, so when I read an article about how healthy and necessary it is to take time off (I agree, by the way), I read another one shortly afterwards that berates any entrepreneur who’s so pathetic that they feel the need to actually rest.

Isn’t that what three hours of sleep per night are for? You can rest then. Oh, and there’s Christmas Day. Maybe. And that’s only if you didn’t sleep for six months in order to ensure the universe doesn’t fall apart while you’re chowing down on your turkey dinner while trying not to collapse from fatigue face down onto your plate.

Perhaps I need to find a happy medium — like taking a week off and crying the entire time. Eventually, I’d probably faint from dehydration from shedding so many tears and would end up in the hospital, hopefully heavily sedated. That would be a good way to rest, no? OK, maybe not. Maybe then I could write one of those list articles and post it to my blog. “10 ways to stop listening to others’ dumb advice.”

In fairness, there’s always something in these articles that provides some level of wisdom. Not everything, but something. I just wish it wasn’t all so contradictory at times. One article tells you to work 24/7 or you’re not worthy of calling yourself an entrepreneur, while another tells you that if you’re not home by 5 p.m. every day, your business owns you and you don’t own your business and shame on you, loser!

So many clichés, so little time. Everything has a nugget of truth in it, I just wish there was a rule book out there that would give a clear set of failure-proof guidelines. I do sincerely think that taking six weeks off per year and going home at 5 p.m. every night is a ridiculously unrealistic dream if you own your own business. There are exceptions, of course, but I haven’t met anyone yet.

It’s hard work, but I love it. It’s challenging and rewarding. Sure, I get tired. Who doesn’t? But you have to give yourself a break sometimes. I know I have to give myself a swift kick when I get tired and berate myself. An entrepreneur I was talking to the other day was complaining that he got tired and had to rest. He blamed it on age. When I asked him what time it was, he said it was 9 p.m. when he got tired. Yeah, it was 9 p.m., but he was probably awake at 5 a.m. and working diligently since then. Tired at 9 p.m.? You should get a medal, not feel bad about it. We’re only human.

I’ve done that too many times. I’m hard on myself for feeling worn out by 5 p.m., not taking into account that I’ve been awake since 6 a.m. and worked the entire day, including a working lunch with clients and no other breaks. So, 11 hours later, I need to rest for a bit and watch television and perhaps even, horrors, take a short nap. Others in the regular working world, meanwhile, are home by 5 p.m. and had a few breaks and an entire hour for lunch. And paid vacation. And benefits.

I don’t begrudge them anything, of course, but there are benefits to being an entrepreneur, too. The harder I work, the more money I make. I set my own schedule and don’t have to answer to anyone — except for my clients, of course. If I want to make more money, I just get more clients or more projects. If I worked for someone else, especially if you work for a set salary, earning more money is extremely difficult. Raises are often so minuscule and far apart that you barely even notice them.

But at least the income of a regular salaried job is usually predictable, barring a layoff. When you’re in business for yourself, there are good months and bad months — good years and bad years. Last year for me was not great. The year before was good. This year is spectacular and I’m on track for my best year yet. For that, I’m grateful.

So I’m not sure which lists to believe. Should I risk a good year and take time off that I really can’t afford to take? Or should I continue working like a dog? I’ll take working like a dog for now, thank you very much. I’ve been poor; I’ll take being tired any day of the week over wondering how I’m going to pay the bills.

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