What I learned about life from Steve Jobs

Published on Friday, December 2, 2011 By Brad Wardell In Business

I started my company when I was still a teenager. And I can tell you, looking back, I wish I knew now what I knew then. Starting a company with no capital and no partners is most definitely the hard way to do things. But I had no money and none of my friends were comfortable taking the necessary risks. The result was many years of long hard slogging. Sheer brute force in terms of hours being put in.

Capital trumps time. Anyone who says time is money really has no idea what they’re talking about. Time is pulling the plow by yourself. Money is a tractor. 

But I didn’t know any of that back when I started. And even if I did, it wouldn’t have made much difference because I didn’t have any money. What I did have, was time and I used it. All of it. To build my company up.

Time, not being an infinite resource, means that choices were made. And if I was putting all my time into the company, I wasn’t putting it in at home. During this time, I got married had a kid, another kid and then another. I didn’t spend the kind of time at home that I knew, deep down, I should be. 

As I began to learn that capital trumps time I concluded that once I had capital, I could really start to do amazing things. Because then I could afford to bring in people who were more talented than myself in a given area but were less fond of the crazy level of risks a start-up involves. Together, we’d do some amazing things.

In the last several years, the company has been successful enough to generate a substantial amount of capital. And with it, I have been fortunate to bring in people with great talent. And so I started thinking of all the amazing things we would do. I would put in crazy hours to do it, of course, but we would go and do amazing things.

Then Steve Jobs died.

And suddenly I realized something. What is the objective here? My oldest child just turned 15. My other two are no longer little either.  And I have been missing out on them. And my wife.

For all the success and amazing accomplishments of Steve Jobs, in the end, nothing could save him. Death can come at any time.  And I realized that if I found myself on death’s door, I would regret deeply not having spent more time with  my kids when they were…well, kids. 

That isn’t to say I will retire or stop working really hard. But at the same time, you know what? I think I can find a better work-life balance.  Maybe just 40 hours a week instead.  I can use the capital we have to help direct the amazingly talented people we have in the right direction without having to jump into the trenches and help execute every step of the way. 

It may mean we’ll release fewer things per year but it also means we’ll have to pick and choose carefully what we do want to focus on and I think, in the longer view, that’s a good thing.

Because no matter how successful you are, you never know when your time is up. And while I admire the accomplishments of Steve Jobs, his biography makes clear, he wishes he had found a better work-life balance.