Work is for life; Life is not for work

It’s 2019, and I’m sleeping in a toilet cubicle in our office.

I hear a sharp knock on the toilet cubicle door.

I’m jolted awake.

For some reason, there is only one cubicle for the men’s room at our company, and I’m pissed. I needed more sleep. I’ve burned the candle from both ends followed by dousing the other candles in petrol and chucking a match on them.

Taking a secret nap during the day had become a necessity.

In 2018, I had just started my business and was offered a new job at the end of the year. I could shake the idea of making more in a month than a minimum wage employee earns in a year plus I was afraid that my business would not last.

The ultimate safety net of having multiple income streams was too big of an allure, so I took the job.

Cue 2019. I’m earning more money than ever. We had just finished purchasing an apartment, and our rent went from € 2K a month to €700 per month. My bank balance swelled pretty quickly.

However, it could have been better and I was miserable.

I was living on 4 hours of sleep a night. My freelance business, which started as a side hustle, morphed into something bigger as my client started to refer people to me. It was growing fast, and it was just one person. Me.

I then started another company aimed at alleviating the awful Irish rental market pressures on tenants and landlords, which added to the sleep deprivation.

My solution was to give my worst effort to my employer while splitting the rest between consulting and the new company. I slept in the toilet every day. I neglected my health and some of my personal relationships.

In my head, I justified everything by saying “f you” to the man, but I was putting my teammates under pressure. I was hired as a senior engineer, but I was making mistakes that could only come about because of tiredness and poor attention to detail.

I should have quit the job because my business was doing well, but the allure of a massive bank balance was too great. I’d been led astray by the hustle culture, which exclaims loudly that working 24/7 is the only way to get ahead.

Luckily, my employer decided to sit me down and ask me to leave. In the exit interview, I didn’t pay much attention; my answers were on autopilot because, ruminating in my head, I thought of all the things I had to do when I got home. The whole experience with my employer is a fuzzy memory because it was clear that I was just not present. Every thought was about what I had to do when I got home. From CI builds to design as well how to implement the next feature. I had more work to do when I got home than I was given at work. It was todo list as long as my arm.

“Do you have anything lined up for work after this?” - my former boss.

“To be honest, I have work to do when I get home,” I responded. His jaw dropped, followed by an “oh”.

I was telling him to hurry on with the formality. It probably hurt him, but I didn’t care because I was too tired and busy. They were having this conversation with me at 12 which was great because that meant I could get home early and work. This toxic line of thinking is how bad things got.

According to my Fitbit, my sleep went from 4 hours a night to 8 in the following weeks. Later, I stepped away from the SASS business(the market didn’t want what we offered) and focused on consulting. Another significant client came along, and the rest is history. Since then, I have freelanced using my own monthly retainer business model.

I have also never slept in a toilet cubicle since.

Along with the poor sleep during that period, I suffered weight gain that I have not been able to shift.

The above story is a real-life embrace of hustle culture. I would never recommend that people do what I did at the expense of their health.

Not All Bad

Now, there were some things I did right. I started my business on the side without taking on risk. I tested the waters to see if this was something I could do.

This is advice I would give again.

If I had started a SASS (as is often recommended) compared to a freelance business, I would still be employed because making money from SASS is complex and risky. It involves a lot more skill than simply selling and coding.

Finally, the business model that I employed was unheard of. I had taken a bet that many small businesses needed a developer but couldn’t afford them and needed one part-time.

Outside of the software industry, there are 1000s of businesses screaming for software solutions, and the market is not serving them. From insurance brokers to builders to sports clubs and gyms, there is still a massive need for software outside the software industry.

Enough is enough

So if you are neck down in hustle culture, hoping that those nights and weekends at the expense of experiences, health, friends, relationships and family are worth it, think again.

It took a while for me to learn what genuine wealth is.

It’s enough.

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