Startups are all-encompassing. Many people avoid them because of the horror stories of 100 hour weeks and personal stress they have heard coming from founders.

But there are plenty of counter-examples. I’ve worked at startups as an exec or co-founder for the last 15 years, all of which were great companies with successful exits.  But I’ve also managed to be a competitive triathlete (several times All American), ultra-distance runner, cyclocross racer, plus have taken some great vacations and sabbaticals, had lots of fun, made plenty of friends.  Oh, and I got married and had two great kids along the way!

We even named Vontu, my third company, after the legendary Mont Ventoux in France, a 6000-foot beast of a climb often featured in the Tour de France:

montventouxsummit
Not to brag, but I feel very passionately about the topic of can you have a life along with a challenging career (YES).  So I can offer a few tips, starting with broad thoughts then narrowing to specific tips and tricks.

  • Working at a startup is challenging, but you can’t think of it as uniquely so.  So is being a doctor, military officer, lawyer, bus driver (well maybe not for Muni), etc, etc.  And many folks in many professions have managed to live a very balanced and happy life. So don’t feel like you are trying to solve something that has not been solved many times before.  Lots of people pull this off.
  • Think of working at a startup as a long-term career, not as a one-time project.  You need to do it at a pace you can sustain for years.  The myth of “work really hard then retire in three years” virtually never happens (even by people who *could* do it).
  • And, you cannot mentally set up a conflict between a successful career and a fulfilling life.  We all know that you can really only be productive for a limited number of hours per week.  We also know that you need to have a happy personal life to be effective at work and to be a great co-worker to other folks.  You also need to be fit and well-rested to be creative and productive.  Since you know this, act on it, and insist the rest of your company does as well.
  • Work at a company (or if you are a founder, found a company) that lives these values.  You culture cannot value hours worked over productivity.  You can’t burn people out short term and suffer long term pain.  You don’t want to work with people who have no life and don’t want one.  You can’t only hire people who are so desperate for a job that they are willing to work in your sweatshop (you can’t get good people that way).
  • Don’t stock your office with sugar drinks and candy and treats.  You’ll both save money as well as send your staff the message that you value their health.
  • The leaders need to set an example by working reasonable hours, staying healthy, pursuing hobbies and interests, taking their vacations, and supporting that others do the same.  They need to establish a work culture oriented around results and not face time.  Does this sometimes mean that untalented folks who work 100 weeks don’t get rewarded while superstars who work 50 hours get promoted?  Sure!
  • Give yourself multiple workout options.  I find that just relying on a gym is limiting.  You can walk.  Run.  Bike.  Sports leagues.  Step class.  Climb stairs.  The more variety and options you have, the more freedom you will have.
  • Work out in the morning…it is one of the only ways to get it done consistently.  It always sucks for the first 5 minutes, then it is great.
  • Work your workout into your commute.  Walk to work.  Or run home from work.  Or take the bus halfway and walk the rest.  Or bike.  Or run to the gym, workout, take a shower, then go to the office.  I spent the last five years walking and running to/from the office every day. Two hours of free exercise per day!  Thousands of “free” workouts.
  • Get into a healthy rut when it comes to breakfast and lunch.  Pick a healthy breakfast that you like and eat it every day.  Eat a salad every day for lunch. Be careful about restaurant meals for lunch…order a salad, or else you’ll be downing 1500 calories every time you grab some chinese food, mexican food, sandwiches, even sushi (seriously, look up the calories on some of those items).

A few resources I really recommend.

Great HBR essay called “The Making of the Corporate Athlete.”  I’d make this required reading at my next company:  https://docs.google.com/viewer?u…

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a master work and, in my opinion, still hasn’t been surpassed.  The chapter called Sharpening the Saw speaks to this topic brilliantly.

The Quora thread where I originally answered this question.