In praise of working yourself sick

working yourself sick

Each winter for the last few years I have worked myself sick.

Literally, sick.

I’ll give you an example. In the fourth quarter of 2020, I was fully booked when a client came to me and said, “We have money left in our budget for a special project. We’ll give you $40,000 but you have to get it done in the next six weeks.” This was going to require a crazy effort. I discussed the situation with my wife and decided to take the job.

More recently, I was once again fully booked for the fourth quarter. Another opportunity came in at the last minute that required me to give an insane number of workshops over a two-week period, including 32 hours of presentations over five days.

In both cases, I worked so hard that I became exhausted and sick. At the end of this year, I lost my voice for 10 days.

Conventional wisdom would say that this is a terrible way to live, and maybe even dangerous. Perhaps I’ve fallen into the “hustle” lifestyle that puts a premium on endless hours of work as a badge of honor?

But today I’m going to bust open that conventional wisdom and tell you why working myself sick was a rational decision. And, I would do it again.

The entrepreneurial truth

I have a good friend who created a freelance consulting business several years ago. After a few months on the new gig, he asked me, “How do I create a consistent income flow?”

My answer was, “You probably can’t.”

Freelance consulting work and public speaking (my bread and butter) come in cycles. You have to take the work when you can.

In fact, if it doesn’t come in cycles, that means you have a consistent schedule, which means you have … a job. So why are you a freelancer in the first place? Just go get a job.

I have a few sources of passive income including books, online classes, and sponsorships. But any regular flow of money usually requires a regular flow of work and my choice at this time in my life is freedom. Sometimes I want to work, sometimes I want to play, but the one thing I never want again is any schedule requiring me to be in a certain meeting at a certain time, every week. That’s no different than having a regular job punching the clock.

So I make the trade-off. Sometimes work gets crazy. But most of the time, life is great. So I justify the short-term craziness for the long-term freedom.

Take it when you can

I should mention that I am writing this post from a beautiful white beach in Florida. It looks like this.

working yourself sick

I’ve been here for a month. I’m working one day a week throughout January, and today is my work day so I’m writing for you.

By working myself sick for a month, I enabled this month on a beach, which is pretty cool. It’s a harsh winter in America but I’m rested, and exercising in the sunshine every day instead of shoveling snow.

I should also mention that most of the rest of the year I only work four days a week and only take meetings three days a week. I make enough money responding to customer sprints to have a lot of freedom most other months.

I’m not writing this to brag. I’m writing this to provide perspective. Sometimes being an entrepreneur means you work like a dog. But if you’re focused on the long term and you have a positive trajectory, it’s worth it.

There’s a tremendous amount of social media pressure on people to achieve this unattainable dream of work-life balance. An independent observer of my schedule late last year might conclude that I have an unsustainable and unhealthy lifestyle. But I’m making a choice that favors the big picture. Sprints of hard work are part of being an entrepreneur or a freelancer. It doesn’t mean I’m unwell, although it might look that way over a few weeks each year.

Make your own choices

I want to STRONGLY emphasize that I am not encouraging anybody to make my choices. It’s probably stupid for some people to work so hard they get sick.

But I’d like to encourage you to stay centered on your own path. Look at the big picture and your long-term health, wealth, happiness, and goals. Don’t be defined by social media truth bombs about “balance.”

It’s easy to look at a difficult week or month or even a year (thank you COVID) and feel guilty for not being a good enough … (fill in the blank).

But is your long-term trajectory correct? Is the short-term pain worth the long-term gain?

Be intellectually honest about your work and life, and carve your unique path. You only have one chance at life and you shouldn’t let it be determined by the opinions of social media friends and their views of success.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He occasionally works himself sick. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

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