Sunday, December 14, 2008

Putting off the good life

When I was at Microsoft, I remember how struck I was by the sheer focus and determination of everyone around me. Coming to the company, I was working hard to build a name for myself and gain credibility in the organization - so I worked crazy hours to secure great performance scores each year. Luckily Bobbi and I did not have children yet, and she also was working full time as a newborn intensive care nurse.

One day I was looking through the MicroNews, the Microsoft campus weekly paper, and read an obituary for a man who was about 32 years old, who had died of cancer, leaving a wife and 3 children. As I read further, the most active theme of this obituary was how passionate he was about working at Microsoft. He was well known for keeping long hours. The article even insinuated that he was so focused on work that he failed to get regular medical physicals. Colon cancer had suddenly struck and took his life.

As I read his obituary, I began to weave this persona in with the stereotypical "Microsoftie" of the time. In sum, he worked too hard, spent little time with his family & friends, and died early & tragically of what I can only describe as "self neglect." He must have been putting off the good life, with every intention of getting to it at some point. That point never came.

Today, nearly a decade later, I think about that man a lot. I imagine how his life could have gotten that way, and I am determined not to let it happen to me. The cards are stacked against me a bit though. Not only was my father a workaholic throughout my childhood, but I am also now a business owner, where undoubtedly every hour of effort counts toward your success. I know I can do it, as long as I make a daily priority.

Recently I sat down for coffee with an angel investor who was former Microsoft; he had made a fortune as an early employee of the Redmond giant and now invested in early stage companies. As with any first time meeting, we spent some time talking about family, interests, and the like. His children had long ago grown up and left home for college. They were now scattered across the country. As he told me about them, I could sense that he missed his kids. In as many words, he eventually revealed that he looks back on his children growing up and regrets how quickly it went by.

As I described to him my two young boys and our vacation plans for the holidays, he smiled enviously and commended me for making vacations and recreation with the family a priority. He then recounted many times in his distant past when he could have put his family first, ahead of business and work, but simply kept putting it off. Pretty soon putting things off became easier and easier to do, a habit.

"Once that time with them is gone, Neil, it is gone," he said with conviction as we started to shift gears into a business conversation.