Are you happy? I mean "really" happy? - Mark MacLeod

July 17, 2020 - Mark MacLeod

Are you happy? I mean “really” happy?

In my conversations with CEOs, a common topic that comes up is their happiness. Or lack of happiness. Perhaps you’re wondering how it is that these masters of the universe, founders of companies, in full control (or so it would seem…) could be unhappy. Trust me, they can.

In much the same way as celebrities can be trapped by their own, well, celebrity, CEOs can be trapped by the never-ending demands of their role. This only compounds with the growth of the company over time.

Yes, these fully self-actualized people with all the authority to build a company according to their exact needs and desires often feel that they cannot do this. They are bogged down by established ways, stakeholder demands, meeting after meeting after meeting, etc.

Many founding CEOs in particular often miss the ‘good old days’ when they were builders. When they were in the trenches building product. As the company grows, the CEO goes from a paradigm of individual success to succeeding through others. From playing the cello to being the conductor. This can be a tough transition.

And of course, it is very difficult to achieve true greatness and remain balanced as a human being. Michael Jordan, Kobe (RIP!), Lebron. They must all have struggled to maintain balance across all their roles as athlete, husband, son, etc. Perhaps when they retired they tried to make up for lost time.

This is another refrain I hear regularly. ‘Once we exit, I will get my balance back’. This sounds good, but it puts you on the deferred life plan.

I lived this myself. Whether it was as a CFO rushing to raise capital for my companies, a VC trying to make a first time fund work or an investment banker pushing a never-ending stream of deals forward, I always worked.

While I was fulfilled and successful, I was also stressed and, in some ways, unhappy. It took the end of my marriage to get perspective on that. That perspective is what led me to become a coach.

Good things take time! The average time to exit is getting longer, not shorter. There is no avoiding the roller coaster of the startup journey. You will always have good and bad days. But even the bad ones should not come at the cost of your fundamental happiness.

Questions to consider

Am I happy? Really, truly happy?

What does ‘happiness’ mean to me? What makes me happy?

Am I deferring happiness to the future? What cost is that taking on me? My family?

What if I lived life today? Not tomorrow?

What changes can I make to how I work, my role scope, my commitments, etc. to make more space for the things that truly feed me and make me happy?

If I were truly happy every day, what impact would that have on my energy and my performance?

What impact would that have on my team and overall company performance?

My family?

What one step can I take today to make myself happier?

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

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