My dad worked a lot. He tried his best to make time for his wife and kids, but as a business-owner he did not have the luxury of a 9-to-5 existence. And having started working myself at a very young age for my family’s underground construction company, I didn’t learn to have a timetable or work-life balance either.
When I was 19, I didn’t date or go out and do things that young men of my age normally do. Instead, I worked. I helped out actively at my church, went to school and sold real estate at the same time. Three jobs, really, that accounted for 100 hours per week — and I didn’t see the need to slow down.
College wasn’t negotiable, and I had to complete my education, but it was work that called me to go more, try more and save more. I realized the value of saving money quite early in life, and was investing and maxing out my Roth IRA allowance by the age of 19.
When my Dad told me I needed to invest in order to go into business with him, I went to Timberlake Bank, met with a vice president and got an unsecured line of credit of $20,000. Next thing on my list was to buy an Acura Legend, my dream car, and I worked and saved so I could get that too. Sacrificing the small stuff was never a hardship, as long-term goals were much more meaningful to me.
I was living the textbook lifestyle of a certifiable workaholic. And setting goals and accomplishing them was like a fever in my blood. I didn’t see the point of making early-life mistakes, just so I could look back and call them `learning experiences’ at a later stage in life. I knew where the pitfalls lay, and it was simple a matter of sidestepping them and carrying on in my path with minimal disruption.
When I turned 23, I got into the brutal business of managing rental properties. Renting low-quality apartment and condo complexes to tenants with drug habits, history sheets and domestic violence records (one guy, I remember, had 80 unpaid parking tickets). Dubious track records, in other words, as honest, upright, rent-paying citizens. I started interning as well, in order to learn how to build homes, and in a few years, went off to start my own business.
I believed God had a plan for me. For the time being at least, it seemed, my calling was to prove my mettle by working 100-hour weeks without losing trust, vision or motivation. It was a test perhaps, so I knew that I could shoulder more workload than I would ever put on another employee, colleague or work partner in the future.
Holding off on relationships was a test too perhaps, because Stacy came into my life as the most ideal partner I would ever find, and we got engaged in 2004. But this was also the time when I was leaving for YWAM mission work in Hawaii and India for 6.5 long months. Jesus needed me to travel halfway around the world to South India to make money for the mission, and again, my path cleared itself of doubts, fears and regrets at leaving my new fiancée behind as I set off to do God’s work. I knew my life, and my future wife, would be waiting when my service in India was over. And it was. Stacy and I got married in 2005 and now we have two beautiful children.
But working too well, too long and too hard, has consequences – and not all of it is good. My first wake-up call was a bad investment in a piece of property. My father tried to intercede but I went ahead anyway, and bought into a losing deal.
My second error of judgement was again property-oriented. When I was 29, in 2010, I made a decision to buy a house. It was a flipper’s dream house, but for a man trying to do the whole renovation job on his own, while working long hours each day selling real estate and managing a construction business, it quickly turned into a nightmare. I bought it right before my daughter was born and I had overextended myself, trying to create a home I could welcome my wife and daughter in, and the decision gave me pause to re-think the pace at which I was hurtling down the path of life. Even though it was a great financial and life decision, it put so much pressure on my family.
The full realization finally came when my daughter Samantha was born in May 2010. I suddenly had a helpless little human being who was entirely dependent on my wife and me for love, care and protection. I didn’t want to be an absentee father, who popped in from time to time to drop a kiss on her head and tuck her into bed. I wanted to be physically, mentally and emotionally there for her at all times.
That meant dialing back on the work front. Seriously dialing back. I needed to rebuild my life to create a controlled environment where there was a balance, and a rightful place for everything.
I had to be fully present in the moment when I was with my family, and not be distracted by phones, emails and other work-related stuff that follows you home. To be successful in business for the long-term and still be a happy and contented man, I had to make a success of other areas of my life as well.
I see God’s hand in this path-changing life decision too, because many lessons of good business-building came to me on account of this changeover. For example, the ability to say “no” to people and to professional demands when they threaten to tie you up in pointless nitty gritties and make you lose sight of the big picture.
I wanted 3-day weekends, so I could devote enough time to my children’s development, and I did it. I decided to use summer as a season to expose my children to simple activities like road trips and camping and that became our family rule. I shaved time off my workdays to be there for my wife. I spent quality time with my parents.
And none of this made me any less of a businessman. By re-adjusting my priorities, I was in fact a better business manager and consultant than ever. Because now I was working smart. Not hard.
Matt is a founder and CEO of Mastodon Media. He’s a Christ-inspired entrepreneur with a mission to help professionals grow and companies flourish with the Christ-led principles of Business Discipleship.