When Enough Is Enough

The past 10 months have been explosive for my company, Bottlerocket. In 2012, we’ve grown in almost every way. We’ve grown the team, taken on more diverse projects and tripled in revenue from 2011. And yet, it has left me wondering what it is I really want to do and how I want to be spending my time.

In one of our recent bi-weekly phone calls, Brian Hoff and I were discussing how growth is addictive. There’s a rush that comes from watching your business double every month. And while growth can be a great thing, I’ve found a subtle shift taking place in how and why I work. I’ve started basing all my decisions around maintaining the growth rate. It’s gotten to the point were I feel down or upset when one month is the same as the previous month, even when I’m making more money than I need and more than I’ve ever made before.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how busyness becomes an end in itself. We stay busy without really examining or knowing why. Growth has turned into the same thing for me. I’ve started chasing the money. And in doing that I think I’ve lost sight of why I started Bottlerocket in the first place.

The reasons I launched Bottlerocket in 2010 where largely about lifestyle. I wan’t to be self-employed. I wanted to make enough money to support my wife, who is a stay-at-home mom, and my kids. I wanted to have the flexibility to work from home and be around my family, to take the afternoon off and go to the park with my girls, and to generally work when and where I please. Most of these things have suffered this year as I’ve begun to chase more and more growth and income.

A lifestyle of “more” can never be satisfied. With more income comes more purchases, with more clients comes more employees, with more infrastructure comes even more infrastructure.

I realize that if I wanted to build a company, some of this growth has to happen. But I never wanted to build a company. I wanted freedom and independence. I wanted to be a craftsman, an artist. And there seems to be a line where more money actually starts taking away from those things.

So all this week I’ve been asking myself how much is enough? At what point can I say, “I’ve got enough money and I don’t need any more.” And that’s really tough because it’s ingrained somewhere in my head that more is always better. I spend so much time accumulating. Eventually accumulation has become the hobby. I buy more books than I will ever have the time to read. I buy bigger cars and houses simply because I can afford them. It’s as if the joy of reading, for example, has been replaced by the joy of owning more books.

It is ridiculous how much “stuff” I have. At 32 I have a bigger house, newer car and more money than my dad ever had. And yet I still feel that I haven’t arrived, that I haven’t yet achieved success. My dad didn’t have a super-important, super-high-paying job. But he also wasn’t gone all the time (physically or emotionally). He was around. He provided. I felt loved. How have I lost sight of these things?

I’ve worked several evenings a week and every Saturday for the last several month. I’ve told my wife that it won’t last forever and that I’m just in a growth phase. But there’s no end in sight. And honestly, however much money I made by working instead of going to the fall festival with my girls and missing Saturday trips to the aquarium seems completely insignificant now.

Just to be clear, sometimes, as providers, we have to put in tons of hours to make ends meet. And there is no shame in that. Providing for one’s family is honorable. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about after that point; when you’re able to provide, but keep going full-speed because enough is never enough.

I’m not yet sure what this means for my future. I’ve already started taking some steps to restructure my business so that I’m not working all the time. I’m looking for things to cut out and ways to change the pattern of accumulation that drives me. I don’t know how to do it yet.

One of the ideas I’m starting with is intentionally limiting my income. I’ve picked an amount that I need to faithfully support my family and I’m not going to work beyond that. I’m not going to build an empire (of stuff or work) that I don’t need and don’t want at the expense of time with my family and enjoying what I already have.

Contentment is a hard discipline to practice. I’ve failed miserably at it and have, ironically, experienced less satisfaction in life.

I’ve got some interesting ideas for my business and personal life over the next couple of months and into 2013. I’m not sure if it will work, but it’s worth a try.

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