My partners and I have a running joke. One of us will pose the question “how much would someone have to pay you to do ___?” Most of the time, we just fill in the blank with the most obscene things our minds can conjure up, and then vehemently debate just how much money you’d need to humiliate yourself. It makes for some entertaining discussion.
Sometimes though, we’ll pose a business related question. Like “how much would someone have to pay you to teach basic computer skills to the elderly every day for two years?”, or more realistically, “how much would Google/Facebook/Twitter have to pay you to relocate to Silicon Valley and work for them for ___ years?”
Most people would jump at an opportunity like that. This is only an interesting question to us because we all value the lifestyle that our business has created. I generally assume that if you move into an important role with a fast growing, competitive, high-tech company like the aforementioned, that you’ll be working a lot of hours, traveling a lot, and be working in a more stressful environment.
I – like my partners – certainly have my price, but it’s very very high. Almost no company could match the quality of life that I have right now. Consider:
- I have great flexibility with my time. I work two days a week from the warehouse from 9 AM to 3 PM. Otherwise I control when, where, and how I work, and how I balance my work with my personal life. Even the warehouse time can be shifted around – Mike was able to take a month-long trip to China and we simply shifted our resources to accommodate that.
- I have great flexibility with my work load. I can control what I work on and when I work on it. If I’m having a super busy week personally, it’s generally no big deal to push my work back a week or two, so long as I do my day to day tasks and communicate my plans with the team.
- I get to work on exciting, innovative, and challenging projects, which means I’m often choosing to work instead of do other things because I am truly more interested in, say, building a new feature on LockerPulse than I am playing the latest video game.
- I find it highly rewarding to work with great people who are also good friends of mine. I want success for them as much as I want it for myself.
In almost every way, I’m working in my ideal situation. If I was handed a ton of money tomorrow, not all that much would change with how I lived. I mean, I might go on a crazy spending spree for a little while, but I think I’d settle back into a lifestyle very similar to what I’ve got now. In a sense, I’d probably “retire” to what I’m doing right now.
When I think about this, I’m always reminded of the parable of the Mexican fisherman from The 4-Hour Workweek (I posted the full excerpt back in 2007) Once you have all of your basic needs met, you have to ask yourself – what do you want to accomplish with your work? Do you want to make as much money as possible? Do you want a high-status job? Do you want a flexible lifestyle? Do you not want to have to answer to anyone else? Do you want to have a large impact on the world? Do you want to be famous?
There’s no “right” answer, and none of those necessarily exclude you from doing any of the others. I look at 37Signals as the prime example of a company that I’d aspire to own. They’re “small” by many standards. They’re bootstrapped. They don’t have a lot of employees. They’re flexible in terms of work hours and locations. Yet, no one can deny that they’ve had huge impact. They have an immensely popular suite of web applications, a blog with over 140,000 subscribers, a NY Times Best Selling book, they do seminars from their new offices, and oh yeah, they started Ruby on Rails, the open source programming framework that has been the foundation for the success of many other web startups.
I feel like from the time we’re little kids we’re conditioned to pursue the highest paying, highest status jobs. Companies are supposed to be grown to be as big as they possibly can be, in every sense of the term. But if you value your time, your relationships, your health, the enjoyment that your work gives you, and the impact that your work has on others, it becomes a much deeper question.