There is a great story that I often read. There are several variations, but it goes like this:
An American investment banker 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 American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, "only a little while". The American then asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican replied that he had enough to support his family's immediate needs. The American then asked, "but what do you do with the rest of your time?"
The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life."
The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the 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 would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening 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 LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise."
The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"
To which the American replied, "15 to 20 years."
"But what then?" asked the Mexican.
The American 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 American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."
There are several lessons from this story, but for me, the biggest one is to start with the end in mind (which is a chapter in the brilliant 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Steven Covey).
Thinking about what are the really important things in my life, and then making sure I don't lose sight of these, is one of the lessons I have learnt over the years. Business can be, and often is, all-consuming. It is easy to get lost in the work, in the emails, phone calls, quotes, HR decisions and projects. It's easy to focus so heavily on your work, and in my case building a business, and lose sight of the other things in your life, like my wife and family.
I genuinely love my business, but it is part of my life, not my whole life. I don't want to spend 20 years focussing so much on it that I ignore the other, more important things in my life.
It's easy to lose sight of this, especially in the midst of a busy week (is there any other kind?!) but something I have been trying to do recently is slow down at work. I'm not going to say it's an easy thing to do, but with this story in the back of my mind I am trying to take a little more time with things, think more and spend more time with my team.
Putting it into practice
Stop. If you can, take a day to be by yourself and think about the really important things in your life. Write them down.
Which of these things are you prepared to compromise, which are you not?
What can you do to protect these things?
I hope you have found this useful. Let me know in the comments below if you have any tips for putting this into practice!