By Howard Tullman
One of the most critical choices you’ll need to make when you start out in your career is exactly what kind of person you want to be. I think it’s somewhat back in fashion these days to be a workaholic. For some of us, it never went out of style. Almost everyone today wants to be an entrepreneur; build a business; and be a big honking overnight success. But that’s only part of the story. Just as we say at 1871 that ultimately it’s not about making money, it’s about making a difference; it’s also about more than making a living – it’s about making a life. And the “you” you become is a big part of the life you build outside the office right alongside your business.
It’s really important – in the frenzy of the work and the world – that you don’t lose your sense of purpose, perspective and proportion and risk losing yourself in the process. Your business and your work will always be what you do. These things are not who you are. And it’s critical right from the start that you not confuse or conflate the two. This isn’t as easy to manage as you may think. Today, too many of us worship our work; we work at our play (fitness uber alles); and we play at what little worship we make a part of our lives. Where’s the soul and the value in that? And – assuming that we want to – how exactly do we get ourselves back on top of things before they veer entirely out of control?
To handle the constant barrage of useful information, occasional insights and useless chatter as well as the increasing assault on all of our senses and, in fact, just to get successfully through the day; we need a new plan. You can drown in many ways today – in data, in documents, in deliberations and in endless discussions. So, the fact is that we each need to develop new skills (for managing both the data and the people in our lives) which probably most resemble the triage process in any emergency room. It’s all about radical and rapid choices – as always – but there are many different kinds of choices in the mix.
At work, we tend automatically to focus on the fiercest fires and the highest flames. We let a great deal of how we spend our days and how our attention is directed be driven by the newest crisis rather than remaining in some kind of control and attending to the critical things that really matter. Attention is a slippery substance (a lot like mercury); easily and quickly redirected and readily dissipated. If no one is paying attention to the right things and the things that count, people just stop caring. Once you stop paying attention to the people in your business that are important and they stop caring about you and your business; they’ll go someplace else to find someone else who does pay attention and who does care. It’s just a matter of time. But that’s mainly the business side of the equation.
As the number of physical, mental and emotional inputs we absorb each day continues to increase; our attention spans are shrinking and it’s easy to fall back on systems and formulas and – before you know it – just by force of habit and circumstance, we’re applying the same approaches and mental checklists that work so well at the firm or in the factory to our friends and families. This is where things can go very wrong very quickly. Because some of the people decisions we’re confronted with every day aren’t mathematical or subject to standard rules and procedures – they’re choices about others, about feelings, and about our relationships. These concerns are fundamentally different, non-mechanical, and far more complex and they defy easy explanation. People aren’t products, positions or policies – they’re our co-workers, friends, and family. There’s no fixed formula for getting these things right.
But it’s just as much our job and equally incumbent upon us to decide all day long what’s truly important in these interpersonal instances – both in the moment and in the long run – and to spend the time and direct the required attention to making sense of these situations with the same passion and energy that we apply to our business problems and concerns. It’s a given that there’s never enough time in the day (and that’s never going to change); there’s never enough of any one of us to go around (cloning may help this someday); and it’s way too easy to find an excuse rather than finding the time to deal with these issues.
But here’s the bottom line: your family (when you have one) will be a much more important extension of yourself than any work you do. There’s always more work – you only have one family. And, believe me; good friends are also few and far between. Friends are the family that you get to choose – they are hard to find; even harder to leave; and impossible to forget. So as you make them; make a plan to hang on to them. They’re as important an investment over time as anything else.
Take a little time now to decide how you’d like things to turn out when you look back in 50 years at your accomplishments, your family, and what you’ve built. It’s all right there before you; it’s all possible at the moment; and ultimately it’s all about what you’re going to make of it.
Howard A. Tullman serves as the CEO of 1871 and the General Managing Partner for G2T3V, LLC and for the Chicago High Tech Investors, LLC; he is Executive Chairman and a Director of Music Dealers and a Director of SnapSheet, PackBack Books, VEHCON, and BCV Evolve. He is a Board Advisor to Hightower Advisors, The Starter School, Built in Chicago and many other start-ups in Chicago. He was previously a Trustee of WTTW in Chicago and the New York Academy of Art in New York. He serves as the Chairman of the Endowment Committee of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, and an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Evanston and at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago.