Years ago, when I was in college, we had a guest speaker come to our department who had achieved much success after starting his own firm. As he delivered his comments, he continually stressed how working long hours was necessary for him to achieve this high level of success.
As a soon-to-be-graduating college senior, I must say that I was not enamored with the thought that my future career would be comprised of toiling long hours. It brought visions of working from sunrise until late into the night while sitting alone in a windowless room, all in the pursuit of a successful career. Certainly, I thought, there must be another alternative? Could I not work smarter, be more productive and efficient, and still achieve a desired level of success… while also having time for a life outside of work?
Thirty-five years have now passed. Like the speaker who came into my college classroom, I have also been fortunate to realize a level of success after starting my own firm. Of course, this begs the question, did my success require me to spend long hours working, whether at the office, on the road, or at some other location, for days or weeks on end?
The short answer is yes. I have put in long days. I have worked numerous weekends, during vacations and even on holidays. And all of this was necessary to build my business.
But I also realize that there is a difference between my perspective on working long hours and the aforementioned speaker. This businessman spoke of his long hours as if it were a badge of sacrificial honor. He held it up as if it were the spoils of battle, painful but necessary. I seem to remember him as even being somewhat angry. If I were to paraphrase his attitude, it would be “I was required to work long hours. I struggled and I sacrificed my personal life all in an effort to succeed. And if you want to be successful, plan on doing the same.”
Even today, as the owner of multiple businesses and investments, with many employees, I continue to find myself spending a significant amount of time working. As I experience more demands on my time with a long list that needs to be addressed, it is common for my day to start early in the morning and end late in the evening.
But I do not find that working long hours makes me angry or resentful. Actually, my attitude is quite the opposite. I have come to understand that there are reasons why I accept, and even embrace, working long hours.
First, I enjoy my work. I look forward to the challenges work presents, the interactions with others it allows, and the opportunity to contribute to the greater good of an organization or a community. The adage “you should love what you do and do what you love” is overused, but it’s also correct. When work is enjoyable, the long hours are not burdensome drudgery. Certainly, there are aspects of my work that are not enjoyable, and occasionally these are the tasks that can lead to a long day or late night. But they constitute a small percentage of my work life. Overall, I find I prefer to spend time and energy on my work and businesses rather than other activities that may be available.
Second, I am driven by a sense of accomplishment. One of the most gratifying aspects of my work is the ability to recognize a tangible sense of achievement. This provides me both satisfaction and a sense of purpose. When I am working, I remain focused on the end goal or reason for doing the work. The effort and time required to achieve that goal becomes the driver, resulting in the work being just as enjoyable as the end goal.
Third, I make it a priority to achieve a sense of balance between my work life and personal life. I place a strong emphasis on family time, hobbies, vacations, and personal pursuits, and maintain a level of awareness that lets me know when it is time to pull away from work and engage in other pursuits or hobbies. When my children were younger and involved in childhood activities, I put those activities on my calendar just as I would any business meeting. Still today, I plan and schedule time for both personal activities and work activities. This focused attention on scheduling personal pursuits prevents feelings of personal denial when long work hours do become necessary.
The speaker who visited my class 35 years ago was generally correct. Working long hours will most likely be required to build a highly successful business or career. When I speak to college students today, and they ask me what it takes to start and build a successful career or business, one of the requirements I tell them is to work hard and work often. I tell them that consistently working 40 hours or less per week will not likely provide the highest level of results; however, neither will working a consistent 80-hour workweek if accompanied by some level of anger and resentment.
The key is to enjoy the work, and to have an end goal or clear understanding of the purpose of your efforts. Only then will you become fully engaged in the tasks at hand and find the greatest level of satisfaction. Identifying your desired accomplishments, combined with maintaining an overall sense of balance between work life and personal interests, will eliminate the anger and resentment of working long hours, and ultimately lead to the highest level of success.
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers, and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts, and via his blog.