It’s probably no great surprise I if confess to being consumed with the concept of balance…obsessed if you will. I am, after all, a CPA by training. But I have always professed to have the brains of an accountant and the soul of an artist. And the kind of balance that truly interests me has absolutely nothing to do with columns and numbers. It has to do with life.
How did this all begin? Once upon a time, I was an overworked, over-achieving successful entrepreneur. In March of 1994, I celebrated the 10 year business anniversary of my CPA firm, D. J. Lessin & Associates. My 40th birthday was also looming on the horizon. And as one tends to do, especially around birthdays, I seriously began to look at my life. The number one question I kept asking myself was “Why am I working so hard?”
Money wasn’t my primary motivation once the debt to grow the business was finally paid off. I had built a successful accounting practice that exceeded even my own “type A” expectations. I had grown my business and then subsequently downsized it as I learned that for me, bigger wasn’t necessarily better. The thrills of the start-up phase were long gone. The heartaches and headaches of business growth were a fading memory. The burning flames of my professional passion had long been extinguished. And while I had discovered a newfound comfort and security that came with prolonged entrepreneurial survival, it was ironically coupled with boredom and confusion in anticipating where my life was headed. Something important to my personal happiness was clearly still missing.
I’d always thought that one of the benefits of owning my own small business was going to be increased flexibility. And yet in growing the business, I found that my life was anything but flexible. I needed to figure out how to work less, play more and work smarter. I needed to figure out how to balance my life!
But what did really that mean? Until then, “balance” for me simply meant that debits equaled credits. What I was looking for was a different kind balance - more of a mental, physical and emotional equilibrium. And I knew that in order to find that balance, it was time to make some changes in my life. Slowly but surely, step by step, I took actions that literally have changed my life. Changes in fact, that in looking back, amaze even me. If I knew then what I know now, I would like to believe that I would have lived my life differently. But life doesn’t work that way. Each step is part of the process, a stop along the way, a lesson to be learned. And trust me. It has truly been a process of baby steps.
For me, it has been 13 years now since I began my quest for life balance. And even over those many years, there are times when my life is in balance and times when it is not. That is simply the way things are. If you are a start-up entrepreneur, chances are your life may not be in balance for a while. And that’s okay. You have to pay your dues. But once you have grown your business, you have to ask yourself how big is big enough?
I have always been turned off by the magazine articles that only talk about growing your business. Because the reality is that there are probably more small entrepreneurs out there who are choosing to stay small. You can have a business and have a life!
I’ve learned many things in finding my road to balance. It was just his summer that I realized that for me, that being an entrepreneur is now about the unique opportunity to create my own life. How many people really get a chance to say that? It is a unique gift that I have given to myself. And it is a gift that I know will keep on giving. Of course it will take some effort on my part. But it is effort that I happily take upon myself because I know the rewards.
The primarily reason that I have more balance in my entrepreneurial life is that I have chosen in my accounting practice not to be all things to all people. I focus on what I am good and enjoy. I say enjoy with a grain of salt because after all these years, it is hard to really enjoy doing taxes. Certain clients procrastinate to the point of my utter frustration at impending deadlines. Tax law changes in the blink of an eye. On the flip side though, I have many clients that have been with me from the beginning of the practice. We have grown up together. I am an integral part of their financial life. And the truth of the matter is that I am good at what I do. By choosing to limit my practice both in terms of the services I offer, I have probably saved myself from a malpractice suit too as well as allowing myself the opportunity to have more of a life.
By choosing individual and small business taxation as my practice specialty, I know that there are periods of time where I work inhuman hours and times where there are not pressing deadlines. And thus, I have learned not to sweat the slow times but to relish them. Yes, I work hard from February 1st – April 15th. But it is a focused 10 weeks. I work reasonable hours, albeit long, knowing that I can not bill my clients if my brain is not working well. Certain easier tasks are saved for late in my work day. Saturdays I try only to process returns, a great way to end the week. And while in the early years I did go into the office on Sundays during tax season, I stopped so may years ago that I don’t even remember when I did work Sundays. I often take administrative work home to do on Sundays mornings. But I never take client work home even during tax season. I need a day to let my brain and my body rest.
I reward myself post April 15th by working 3 days a week for most of the summer. When the fall extension deadline periods approach, I pick up the pace again by adding another day or so to the work week. But I still usually manage to take 3 day weekends. I have managed my practice by choosing not to take on too many clients. I can still remember the early years where I took every client who called. Being selective has worked to my advantage.
Granted, not everyone has a business that is as cyclical as mine. But there are boundaries that you can create. You simply need the courage to create them and the discipline to stick to them. Ask yourself if there really is such a thing as a work emergency in your business? My guess is that most emergencies are created by ourselves or demanding clients for no real reason than we think that they are emergencies. Is there really such a thing as an accounting emergency? I think not!
Did a balanced life happen for me overnight? Of course not! I started first by taking Friday afternoons off in the summer. Then the afternoon became the entire day. The truth is that work expands to fill the time available. I probably get as much done in 3 days as I would in 5. I am focused on the task at hand when I am in the office and try to avoid distractions including personal calls and even going out to lunch. I’d simply rather get my work done and leave the office to get on with the rest of my life. What I found important was that as I added more balance opportunities by working less, I tried not to take away the things I had already given myself. Although, realistically sometimes you have to swap one thing for another.
As you read more of my articles, know that I have, by choice, created more articles for you to peruse. Sometimes less is more. You might find it easier to read these one at a time, absorb what you read and then come back for more. And let’s not kid ourselves – time is balance. So why take too much time to read one article when you can retain more words of wisdom by reading shorter articles more frequently.
Either way, happy reading! If you’d like to share your balance stories with me, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.